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The Morning After, Part 3: Texas

There really isn't a whole lot to say today.  The product on the field yesterday pretty much did all the talking.  And that's the problem.  The product on the field is awful.  We are witnessing the single worst period of football in U.C.L.A. history.  And that's on the coach.

Three seasons and 3 games with different players and different staff, but just one head coach and the same old uninspired, unprepared, undisciplined, underachieving football team.  Rick Neuheisel's run in Westwood has been an utter failure.  I am surprised.  I am disappointed.  And I am tired of it.

Want to see the Cliff's Notes version of U.C.L.A. Football under Neu?  A short series of occurrences in the first quarter was a microcosm of the Neuheisel era.

Already trailing due to an early mistake, our offense faced a third and one near midfield with about 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the quarter.  For whatever reason, we failed to get a play in on time and were forced to burn a timeout.  Coming out of that timeout, UCLA broke the huddle with 12 players and was flagged for an illegal substitution penalty, making it 3rd and 6.  Forced into an obvious passing situation, the defense pinned its ears back and pressured our QB into a poor throw and an incompletion.  The Bruins got a huge break when the subsequent punt was fumbled by the Texas returner, and the Bruins had the ball at the Texas 19.  With a chance to capitalize on the mistake and even up the game, the Bruins rushed twice for 3 yards, faced another 3rd and long, and turned the ball right back on an interception.

Football plays are the most complicated act in sports.  There are 22 players running complex formations and schemes requiring precision timing and brute strength and fine technique, and a bit of luck, the result of which determines which team makes the plays, scores the points, and wins the games.  And you could look at this series of plays and say that the Texas players simply outplayed ours at this time.  But it happens this way all the time.  This series demonstrated the failure of our coaching.  Look at each step in this series.

Our coach chose to start a QB who was returning from a concussion and an injury to his throwing shoulder, and who has a history of playing badly when returning from injury. This QB started in place of another who almost led his team to a comeback win in week 1 and did enough to get a win in week 2.  A poor mistake from this week's starter helped put us in an early hole, but that QB shouldn't have been starting yesterday.  That's on the coach.

We wasted a timeout in the first quarter because we couldn't communicate a play in a 3rd and 1 situation at midfield.  Getting plays in to your QB is one of the most fundamental parts of an offensive football system.  Perhaps the team was unprepared for such a situation in the game?   Maybe not.  Maybe there is a problem with the system.  That's on the coach.

With the difficult choice of which play to run on 3rd and 1, the team went on the field and then got flagged for breaking the huddle with too many players.  I'm going to assume the players don't decide amongst themselves who is in on a play.  Someone called a formation or player package or selected some personnel for the play, but failed to make that message clear to the players.  That's on the coach.

Now in an obvious passing situation, their defense outplayed our offense and we were forced to punt.  Were we simply out-executed on that play?  Perhaps.  But after the 3 games we have seen this season, can we really say we are simply getting out-executed by the opponent's players much the time?  I don't think that Houston had better players as a whole.  I'm pretty sure San Jose didn't have the athletes we have.  Texas is always talented, but they are very young, and they happen to have brand new OC's and DC's, just like us.  Maybe it's not that everyone has better players.  Maybe it's a problem with our scheme and teaching and preparation.  That's on the coach.

And after a rare break that went our way, when we had a chance to pile on their mistake and get the game even, instead of smelling blood in the water, we went soft.  We ran 2 unimaginative plays for a total of 3 yards.  There was no attempt to use a bigger more powerful back in the red zone.  There was no surprise first down pass.  There was no creative play that caught the defense off guard.  There was just the same conservative play calling that got us into another obvious passing situation in which the subsequent pass, by that injured QB, got deflected and picked.  That's on the coach.

Texas took that turnover down the field to make it a 14-0 game and we were never closer than that for the rest of the game.

Like I said, football is complicated.  Someone could defend Neuheisel with argument that the Texas players were just better than our players.  But the biggest indictment is that these same problems - the uninspired play calls, problems with communication, bad time management, poor preparation, unimaginative schemes, poor personnel decisions, lack of killer instinct, stupid penalties, terrible fundamentals - all happened last year.  And the year before.  And the year before that.  The players are different.  The Offensive Coordinator is different. The Defensive Coordinator is different.  Several position coaches are different.  Hell, the uniforms, the cheerleaders, and the stadium scoreboard are different.  The one thing that has remained the same is Coach Rick Neuheisel.  

Now if you want to point out that Neuheisel has not been a complete failure by pointing to his recruiting track record, you would be right.  The argument that Neuheisel has excelled at recruiting is accurate, and it makes it even more damning that with the talent level on this team is so high, that this team makes high school mistakes all the time and struggles against less talented teams and loses far more often than it wins.  That's on the coach.

I feel badly for the players.  These were highly rated players coming put of high school.  They were winners.  We competed with other Pac-10 teams for them.  These were great players and winners.  No one can argue that this team doesn't have a roster that can win games.  But they don't.  That's on the coach.

The comments in the game thread reflect anger, frustration, hopelessness.  I heard the same tone from the alumni viewing party I was at yesterday.  The fans don't have faith in this program.  The fans don't think this program will turn around.  It's reflected by attendance at the Rose Bowl.  Last week saw the second smallest "crowd" ever for a U.C.L.A. game, and the stadium was barely half full yesterday, and that was with 10-15 thousand Texas fans.  The fans are staying away.  That's on the coach.

Conference play begin next week against a winless Oregon State team that lost to Sacramento State in week 1.  In our preseason expectations, we said that this team needs to win 6 games, compete for the conference division title, get to a bowl game, and pass the "eye test" with the fans.  So far, this team has failed the eye test by a mile.  And that's on the coach.  

This is on Rick Neuheisel.  He is the head coach and he is the leader of this program.   And Neuheisel must bear the responsibility and the consequences for this mess. 

Unless you want to take this argument, and consider that we have actually had two head coaches, Neuheisel and Karl Dorrell, with all these same problems.  Then maybe we see there is someone else who must bear some of the responsibility, too.