Well, if ever an epilogue was really just a teaser for the preplanned sequel, this might be it. I happen to know there will be a football season next year, and last night's game already has me looking there and wondering how this story goes from here, because that was freakin brutal and I am not remotely satisfied with how things are left hanging now.
And while I sincerely appreciate the kind words many of you have shared with me this year, I'm pretty sure that what I'm about to write will be pretty unpopular. However, I do try to be honest. And frankly, we were all a bunch of chumps yesterday, and I'm counting the team, the coaches, and us fans in that.
From a football standpoint, there is no question that we were outclassed in every phase of this game. Well, except for punting. If punting really were winning, we'd be national champs again this year.
We were outclassed on offense. Our QB played like a freshman, the receivers dropped passes they should have caught, and we couldn't convert enough plays to keep drives alive. We abandoned the inside running game and didn't have the speed or the bodies to force things outside. Our thin offensive line that overachieved this season and got us farther than I realistically could have believed finally broke with injuries and a bad scheme and was awful. The Bruins ran up a deficit which made the offense one dimensional very early and let their defense tee off like it hasn't all season.
Baylor had 13 sacks all season and racked up 6 last night. Against the next to worst defense in the NCAA, our punter was our second leading rusher, we were 1-17 on 3rd down, and we scored
19 26 points. Bad.
We were outclassed on defense. Baylor boasted the number one overall offense and it looked like we played scared. We allowed big holes at the line of scrimmage and our LB's and DB's couldn't make the first, or sometimes the second or third tackles. The negated our good pass rush by rarely passing, and when they did, they knew to throw quickly, or pick on our corners, or find mismatches we couldn't win. When they did run, they produced a one hundred yard rusher and another one just missed that mark by two yards. Our big name defensive players were barely named at all in the game.
We were outclassed in the maturity game. We had a player left at home because partying was more important than playing. And for those who did make the trip, we came out totally flat. I would have thought the team would get up for this game the way we got up for *$c. Pretty sad now that that was our last win of the season. Especially after losing two in a row to Stanford and being so close to the Rose Bowl I thought our team would want to prove we belonged. But we didn't look like it at all. We had our usual assortment of dumb personal fouls and other assorted penalties. We had our chippy pushes and shoves and slaps when we were way down. We had players arguing on the sideline. We celebrated a touchdown on the last play of the game like it won the game. I love our seniors and am appreciative of all they have been through and thankful for all they have done, but I am disappointed in the lack of leadership on our team last night. Baylor wanted this game more and it showed.
We were outclassed in the coaching game. Our team was unprepared emotionally and unprepared on the field. Our scheme was awful. Baylor repeatedly exploited mismatches, getting their receivers out wide against our linebackers in a one-on-one matchup. They recognized our defensive advantage in the pass rush and rarely passed, while we negated our best offensive advantage by rarely running. We didn't counter their frequent blitzes, esp from our right side, with extra blockers or throwing quick hitters over them or to the opposite side. Our game plan looked like one of panic that desperately threw downfield over and over in an effort to immediately match them for points, rather than control the ball the way we want to with a steady run game up the middle and quick lateral passes to the outside and opportunistic shots down the field. We let the refs get away with giving them a first down when they were nearly a yard short, and they scored three plays later. And I thought we were done with spiking the ball after making a first down.
Finally, I have to say, and here's where I offend everyone I care about here at Bruins Nation, we were outclassed in the fan game. I'm as disappointed and angry and frustrated and confused as anyone here, but I hated seeing the venom directed at this football team in the thread last night. The mocking jeers about culture change and calling the team soft and F-bombs hurled at coaches and calling the loss in the first quarter and everyone acting like the team intentionally went out of its way to personally insult us were too much. And I'm just as guilty because even if I didn't type them, I was thinking plenty of them. Yes, of course, there is a mountain of criticism for last night's game. I just wrote four paragraphs about that and I could easily write forty more. But this is the same team that dominated *$c and killed Arizona and beat Nebraska and nearly beat Stanford, and we were singing everyone's praises back then. So it was ridiculous to hear the completely opposite tune during the game thread last night. I understand it's a fan's right to be passionate and emotional, but that doesn't exclude the need to be intelligent and mature and analytical about what we are watching. As is always the case, reality lies somewhere in the middle of the highs and the lows. There was Arizona and there was Cal. There was *$c and there was last night. The Bruins were not a BCS team and they were not as bad as the Holiday Bowl team. The culture in Westwood is not where it needs to be yet, but it's far better than last year and any years in recent or distant memory. I think everyone's fury last night is a reflection of the current expectations for this team, which speaks to the steps this program has taken. Was anyone this mad after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl? Does anyone even remember the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl? This is still by far the best U.C.L.A. fan community anywhere, but we can and need to be better, too.
On Wednesday, Coach Mora (allegedly) talked about winning a national championship in football at U.C.L.A. Last night showed us how far away we are from that ultimate goal. But it is still the right goal to have. Don't we all wish we had an AD who set the bar that high? But we will refrain from giving Coach Mora the keys to Morgan Center just yet. Though we had some great moments this season, we ended the year on a 3 game losing streak. We played two complete dogs of games this year between Cal and Baylor. We had a good record but with a very favorable schedule. For every pro there was a con. But for every con, there was a pro. And after a decade of mostly cons, I'm willing to take what we got this year and trust that the coaches and returning players will consider the pros and expand on them, and consider the cons and eliminate them, and that the coaching staff will work full time to make sure things continue to improve. And I trust that we as Bruins fans will keep a vigilant and sophisticated and intelligent and rational eye on what is happening without reflexively nuking the entire thing for one total POS performance in the Holiday Bowl.
If last night's epilogue is just the cliffhanger that is the prelude to heroics and happy endings, then we still have a lot of good things ahead. If last night's epilogue is really the direction of the program, well, we've been there before and we certainly know what to do about that. Unfortunately, our next chapter is still six weeks away, and it won't be much fun watching other teams write their happily-ever-after endings in the meantime, because I really really want that ending for all of us who are loyal die-hard blue and gold blooded fans of the U.C.L.A. Bruins.
Our team came a long way this season. Last night showed that we still have a long way to go. I intend for us to take those steps. As players. As coaches. As fans.