Since basketball season unofficially started yesterday afternoon, I will start with a personal hoops story. This dates back to 2001-02 season. I am not going to languish into too much details because we have written about it numerous times before how that year was supposed to be a "monster" season for Steve Lavin as had a team made up veteran seniors and juniors such as Dan Gadzuric, Matt Barnes, Ray Young, Jason Kapono that was going to be freshly infused with a "monster" recruiting class (Lav loved using the word "monster) of Cedric Bozeman, Dijon Thompson and Andre Patterson. That was the season Bruins were going to finally win the Pac-10 regular season championship, and set up a tourney run with a high seed.
Instead the team had one of those classic Lav regular seasons with embarrassing and humiliating losses (such as losing to Pepperdine in Pauley, getting blown out by Ball State, getting swept by Stanford, mixed in with an "inspirational" win over Arizona at Pauley). Bruins then got PWNed by Cal in the first round of the Pac-1- tourney and got shipped out East to play in Pittsburgh. At that time DC Bruins and yours truly were becoming good friends because we would get together to watch the games here in town. So the Bruins win the first round game against Mississippi that year and had set up a date with number 1 seed Cincinnati with a record of 31-3, which was a top-5 team led by Steve Logan
featuring mercurial superstar like Kenyon Martin (Martin left the year before as pointed by LA Seitz in the comment section, my memory got hazy there. -N). I remember right after Bruins beat Mississippi I got a call from DC, asking me if I'd be willing to drive up with him to watch the game against Cincy. Both of us knew that our program was still a joke under Lavin but we knew that it would be amusing to watch the team against the Bearcats because it's the exactly the kind of game an underachieving by talented Bruins team would win.
I wasn't really all that excited about doing a 4-6 hr drive through the rain and kind of crazy Pennsylvania turnpike to check out a team coached by Lavin. I was pretty sure that while I'd get a chance to watch the upset, it'd be meaningless because we would most likely face plant in 3rd round because that's as far as the magic of "Steve-16" would last (sure enough we lost to Missouri the following week blowing what was essentially a home court game in San Jose). Anyway, going back to the game, we went. It was one of those emotional roller-coasters in which Lav "coached" the Bruins to a 105-101 win against Cincy and apparently once again "vindicated" himself to his critics. But I remember the "feeling" after the game. We were jumping up and down and feeling good about the team winning. It felt "good" while we drove back late that night through the rain and dangerous turnpike back to DC in the same night.
It was fun but we knew how screwed the program was going to be if that victory meant it saved Lavin for another season. We knew while it was "fun" and the Lavinistas were once again out in force, defending their beloved "coach," imploring the UCLA community to forget the previous body of work, we knew it was all a charade. There were lot of UCLA alums expressing those "mixed feelings" in the message boards. They were attacked as non-Bruin fans and chastised for not "enjoying" an "inspiring" win. Few years later we saw the scenario play out during Karl Dorrell era, when we saw Dorrelistas reveling in a close loss against Southern Cal, enjoying a "10 win season" that was built on house of cards, and then go nuts over 13-9.
Well here we are again. We are reading silly clips of Rick Neuheisel's getting a "signature" win of his UCLA head coaching career at the Rose Bowl and listening to the narrative of "vindication." I understand that this "blog" has become lot bigger than when we started 6 years ago. I understand a chunk of the "UCLA fans" come here to "feel good" about the Bruins. But we started this place for one big reason - to discuss Bruin athletics with a perspective based on reality and without constantly having to drink blind kool-aid with the mantra of supporting the team at all costs. It's the reality based perspective that led us to the decision of wanting a wholesale regime change in Westwood, two weeks ago following the Debacle in Desert that put an exclamation of decade of football underachievement in Westwood.
I am not going to belabor the point about why Arizona State, while a top-25 team was not a ‘great' or ‘solid' opponent. You can read that here. However, I am not going to apologize for feeling the same ambivalence I am feeling about this Bruin "two game winning streaks" as I did following those exhilarating Lavin wins in the second round. I am not going to apologize for feeling the same sense of blasé about a football program, which looks just as mediocre (if not more) like it did when Darrell's football teams was having to pull out miraculous come from behind victories against bad conference opponents in 2005.
Despite all the talent in the roster Bruins remain a meddling 5-4 program on top of a terrible Pac-12 "South" Division, that by all accounts have thoroughly underachieved all season. The win on Saturday was nice but as the "Eye Test" will show after the jump, nothing has changed in the big picture.
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
I guess after 9 games into this season the key factor in answering this question is exactly what does a "prepared" UCLA defense really mean to us? What does being "prepared" really mean for a team that has the following statistics at this point of the season:
- Total defense that is ranked 95th in the nation
- Scoring defense that is ranked 94th in the nation
- Rushing defense that is ranked 86th in the nation
- Passing defense that is ranked 83rd in the nation
- 3rd down conversion defense that is ranked 116th in the nation.
It doesn't matter if our defense is "prepared" if we our defensive backs are giving up huge cushion and we are in "bend don't break" mode for pretty much the entire game with not much pass rush. The Sun Devils racked up 465 yards of total offense, 29 first downs (to UCLA's 19), and moved the ball on UCLA's defense with ease, piling up 201 yards on the ground.
I guess the silver lining here is that our 3rd down defense wasn't totally atrocious as the Sun Devils converted just half of their 3rd down opportunities. Our defense didn't look completely hapless throughout the game as they did in numerous other occasions this season featuring disastrous performances against Arizona, Texas and Stanford.
I am guessing some folks want us to be happy with the Donahue mindset of the D not totally breaking like it did in those aforementioned occasions this season. The D made a key stop deep in the fourth quarter after we turned the ball over during a kickoff return. As written by Tracy Pierson on Bruin Report Online (article not behind a paid firewall):
Instead of rehashing much of the game, there was one series that really was huge in contributing to the win, and epitomized UCLA's newfound intensity. The Bruins had led for most of the game, but in most fairly evenly-matched games momentum can flip back and forth. It looked like ASU had picked up the game-winning edge when they were ahead 28-23 and UCLA fumbled a kickoff that the Sun Devils recovered at the UCLA 27-yard line. There was 7:43 left in the game, and a score here, even just a field goal, would put UCLA two scores down (or a touchdown and a two-point conversion). UCLA's much (and deservedly so) maligned defense had just given up a 96-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown and looked like they were gassed. So then they had to come back on the field for a quick change. It didn't feel good. You could easily envision one run by ASU's Cameron Marshall busting through a beleaguered UCLA defense for a 27-yard touchdown. But it didn't go that way. On first down, Marshall runs to the 24, and UCLA defenders look quick to the ball. On second, ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler runs the zone read, there's good pursuit, he takes it himself for a yard, and its third and six. On third, Osweiler drops, and UCLA goes with a four-man rush that actually puts some pressure on him, Osweiler can't see anyone open and has to run, and gains two. ASU's kicker Alex Garoutte misses the 37-yarder and the Bruins get new life.
UCLA's defense was more or less getting run over by ASU's running game for most of the night, but on this series they came up big. UCLA's pass coverage clearly shut down Osweiler's options on third down. What was so stunning about it was that it was completely out of character, for UCLA's defense, and against the flow of the game. To be able to make that stop to change the direction of the game's momentum was perhaps the best series for UCLA's defense yet this season.
So that series was nice. I also liked the effort of few of other defensive players. I thought Stan McKay had a solid game last night. It's weird to me how a kid like Seali'i Epenesa, who keeps his motor running for the entire game, doesn't get to start over Nate Chandler or Justin Edison. It was fun to see Randal Carroll coming in on a blitz to throw off Osweiller and get all hyped up on D. I spotted Aramide Olaniyan for one play when he lined up at DE and he made it count by putting pressure on ASU and helping us hold them on third down. So yeah, there were some flashes of good moments of D in yesterday's win.
If I were to forget about the whole game and just key on the flashes of brilliance, I consider giving this D a B+ effort for last night. Unfortunately for the Neubs though, this eye test is not about just particular play or series it's about the whole game. Based on the whole game I will give the defense an overall grade of C: 2.0. They were below average all night except for those moments.
BTW, we are not going to back away from calling people Neubs, who after last night's game have magically (but predictably) decided to wipe away the previous 8 games of this year following last night's choke job by the Sun Devils.
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
Let's get to the numbers from Saturday night's game. UCLA offense had a total of 65 plays against the ASU on offense. The run to pass ratio was almost 3 to 1 (48 rushes to 17 passing attempts). On the positive side, the Bruin offense could be described as "efficient" as Kevin Prince made each of his 11 completions count (averaging 11.5 yards). Prince IMO is showing signs why he had won the starting job two years ago and is getting more and more comfortable with the read-option aspect of our pistol-based offense.
It was cool to see a UCLA QB actually doing a pump fake and throwing a defense off guard when he executed throwing that bomb to Nelson Rosario. Rosario had perhaps his most complete game as a Bruin finishing with 151 yards and 5 catches. On the rushing side, Derrick Coleman continued to solidify his "team MVP" campaign for 2011, putting together another big game with 119 yards rushing, 2 TDs (clutch) in 17 carries.
Now while this may have one feel good about the offense, I am not sure if anyone would consider it to be a dynamic unit that can consistently keep the opponents off-guards. Perhaps it can be efficient against teams that are not good with making in-game adjustments. Yet most of the times it strike me as an offensive that is pretty predictable. The coaches also continue to do a pretty mediocre job in utilizing all the explosive talent available in the team. Jordon James had a grand total of 1 touch the entire game. Joe Fauria (more on him later) had a total of 2 completions and was mostly a non-factor. Productivity from the F-Back position was non-existent.
It also remains mind boggling how coaches do not go with Coleman early on in the game. When Josh Smith made a huge kickoff return in the first half, I thought for sure the Bruins were going to go with Coleman near the end zone but instead they never called on him in that sequence.
So the answer to this question is also a mixed bag. The grade for this category is a B-:2.7. I am being generous here.
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
Well to answer this question we have to take into a similar factor I alluded to in answering question number 1. It is tough for our players to look like they are always focused, when it's the coaches who keep making decisions that do not make any sense.
Let me start with what I mentioned in the answer to previous question. What the heck is going on with the coaches' mindset in starting Jet Ski over Derrick Coleman. Coleman did not get a single carry in our first quarter. He was nowhere to be found when Smith put together a 67 yard kickoff and the Bruins found themselves on ASU's 19 yard the line. That was a golden opportunity for the coaches to bring Coleman in and step on ASU's throats. Yet Coleman didn't get a carry until the Bruins' 5th series. He ripped off a 20 yard blast in his first carry and anchored the Bruins in a 14 play drive that gave us the lead right before half time. So does it really matter what the players are doing if coaches are not putting in the right personnel necessary for our success at all times?
There was also what is now becoming the regularly dysfunctional end of the half sequence typifying our pathetic "playing not to lose" mindset. Just like we did against Cal towards the end of first half, the Bruins went with a Johnathan Franklin draw in the first snap. Franklin got a nice gain but IIRC it was negated by a penalty. Then the Bruins made no effort to use their receivers and their TEs (I hear we have a tall TE who is supposed to be a "beast" and a Macky Award candidate) to drive the ball and get themselves in position to score. The players looked like they had no idea how to run a short 2 min drill but this goes back to the coaches, because we have no idea what they practice during the week.
Bruins also appear to have no clue how to handle or manage pass rush. It's why defenses have no problem blowing up our read-option set at the point of attack. It would be nice to have an offense that coaches up the QB to use his hot-reads (for starters Neuheisel and Mike Johnson can sit down with our QBs and have them watch how Jim Harbaugh has brought along Alex Smith this season), so that he can make something out of nothing when we get in trouble. But we just don't seem to have a clue.
Speaking of having no clue, it is frustrating to see Aaron Hester getting burned on PI, without ever bothering to turn his head. Our DBs don't seem to be all that fundamentally sound when it comes to techniques and some of them are supposed to be veterans.
At least our OL is coming along nicely now. Bob Palcic is one coach who has been steady all along since he has arrived his program. It appears to me with the pieces available to him, his unit is finally gelling. Our running game is now solid as the OL has been more than holding their own against solid defensive front. I like how this unit has looked for two straight games against quality competition. Because I think OL is such a huge key (making gbruin happy), I am going to give this category a B: 3.0.
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
Just like last week the answer to this question is satisfyingly easy. The effort from Saturday night warrants a clean A: 4.0, making it the first time we have gotten straight A's in any category for two weeks in a row. The question becomes why did it take games 8 and 9 to reach this point? There lies one of the answers for why we need a wholesale regime in Westwood.
5) Do our players execute?
Well if our players executed and were focused the game against a charitable ASU team wouldn't have been a nail biter. Once again we hurt ourselves with bad timed penalties (something a Neuheisel coached team seem to excel at unfortunately). There were multiple penalties last night that negated huge Bruin gains in key moments.
During midpoint of Q3 UCLA found itself deep in our own end zone at the 9 yard line. At that point Franklin took off what appeared to be a huge run getting us near the midfield. With Bruins up by 9 (24-13) the play appeared to be one of those bullets that could have taken the ASU out for good for the entire game. Instead multiple penalties negated that run. ASU accepted the holding penalty because it was enforced from the LOS. The Bruins never got out of their end zone and set ASU up with great field position, who promptly took advantage to close the score to 21-23. That was potentially a 14 point swing for the Devils. Similarly another holding penalty wiped out a big chunk of Prince run later in Q3. Instead of 1st and 10 around 15, we were stuck with 2nd and 20 around our 40.
I also thought Fauria didn't help us much. Perhaps he was too consumed with his one-on-one rivalry with Vontaze Burfict. I get that Fauria and Burfict has a "history" going back to their days of Southern California high school scene, where Burfict developed a well deserved reputation of being a head hunter and dirty player. But Fauria didn't seem to be locked in. In key two point conversion opportunity, he was not in the same page with Prince. He also drew an offensive PI call that hurt the Bruins. Fauria has a lot of talent and has not been utilized well by his coaches. Still his lack of focus hurt us on Saturday night and could have turned out o be costly if ASU had not choked on their FGs.
Josh Smith continues to drop easy passes on quick outs from Prince. This happened on Saturday. It also happened in Arizona. His head sometimes is somewhere else. Special teams continue to be a roller coaster as we missed an extra point, which again could have proved costly. Speaking of costly, we had those fumbles by Franklin and I will just leave it at that.
So not a clean game. We haven't had one the entire season. The grade for this category is a C: 2.0.
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
The answers to this question is similar to last week. Once again Derrick Coleman and Kevin Prince stepped up in a big way. As alluded above Coleman IMO now is the clear favorite to win the "Team MVP" award for 2011 season for his hard work, dedication and now what it appears to be clutch performances in two big win seasons. He is the leader of our offense. Meanwhile, Prince is coming along and finally showing why coaches thought he was the better starter as a "pistol" QB. I also like how Prince is running with confidence and not looking like a scared cat out there.
On the defensive side, it is hard to develop leadership when coaches go with less talented players by leaning on "experience" factor. Unless coaches embrace and trust the youth movement, I doubt we are going to see leadership from this unit any time soon. The grade for this category remains average at B: 3.0.
Final Grade Card for Arizona State Sun Devils
Based on the discussion here is how it shapes up:
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play? [C: 2.0]
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard? [B-: 2.7]
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times? [B: 3.0]
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game? [A: 4.0]
5) Do our players execute? [C: 2.0]
6) Do we have leaders on the field? [B: 3.0]
Arizona State GPA: 2.78
The grade card for California was 3.28, Arizona was 0.13, Washington State was 1.95, grade card for Stanford was 1.97, grade card for Oregon State was 2.12, grade card for Texas was 0.22, the grade card for San Jose State was 0.67, and the grade card for Houston was 2.05. So the cumulative GPA after 9games according to our "Eye Test" is now at 1.69 (up 1.55 from last week).
So after 2 "big wins" Bruins cumulative GPA for this season is finally approach a C-.
Let me add another note here before I close. While I made the comparisons to results from those Lavin and Dorrell years, I hold Neuheisel at a much higher esteem than those two coaches. Lavin by all accounts was a total fraud. Dorrell was incompetent and not really all that liked by his players. Neuheisel is a terrific and tenacious recruiter and a fighter who has kept his players inspired. I give him credit for that. However, as a head coach he doesn't have the skills of a good organizer and manager of his program. He has also proved to be a poor talent developer and someone who hasn't showed uncanny game-day instincts giving our staff an edge in the areas of game planning and scheming. Plus there are these numbers that Fox71 pulled up on Neuheisel's 20-26 record in Westwood:
Margins of victory of a field goal or less in 5 of this 20 wins, or a touchdown or less in 6 of the 20.
Margins of defeat of two touchdowns or more in 20 of the 26 losses. (That's a staggering number.)
20% of his wins against WSU. (In those 4 years, WSU is 8-38 and 3-30 in conference.)
Blow-out losses at home by more than two TDs in 8 games (including a nice 35-0 loss to Stanford last year.)
With the win against ASU, it looks like a total of two wins in four years against teams who finished over .500.
So there you have it. If you want to celebrate this kind of mediocrity and feel good about "Steve 16" like victories go right ahead. However, don't come here to tell us to "enjoy" this kind overall results and impose your low standards of success for UCLA football on us. This team has a long way to go to meet the baseline expectations for this season. Even if it does meet those results, multiple performances from this season has so stained the big picture, there will be no salvation for Neuheisel in Bruins Nation.