(This week's song/video is "That Summer Feeling" by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. This, of course, is not the original Modern Lovers, it's JR's later version. It's one of my favorite melancholy songs.)
Thursday, 1:30 pm …
I have a number of random thoughts and feelings going through my mind right now and I’m just going to let a few fly and see where I end up. It’s not the best way to write a well thought out blog post, but I’m not thinking very clearly today. If this ends up reading like a ramble or a lament, feel free to skip down to the guesses – I won’t be offended.
The first (random thought) is that, as I sit here right now writing this post, is that I feel really disconnected from UCLA football right now. Before starting to write, I spent a bit of time reading through the current posts and comments on Bruins Nation; I also spent a few minutes glancing at posts on Bruin Report Online’s premium football message board. And as I read through it all – I just didn’t feel connected. It was like I was reading Iowa State’s blog or message board. I mean, I recognized the names and the topics were fine – I just didn’t have much feeling for any of it.
It’s no one’s fault. I’m most certainly not making a point about the quality of the posts or the comments. I just couldn’t get all that excited about any of it. I’m not sure why.
I’ve been trying to figure it out and all I could come up with is that this particular version of the UCLA Bruins football team is just not all that exciting, at least to me. We have some good players, sure. But I’m not sure we have any great players. If we do, the great plays are few and far between.
Believe it or not, I was a Raiders season ticket holder in the 1990s. I was also a Clippers season ticket holder. And I remember when the Raiders had Bo Jackson, there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the Coliseum hours before the game would begin. By game time, the stadium would be in a quiet frenzy and by kickoff it would be raucous. But nothing compared to those moments when the Raiders had the ball and the quarterback was calling signals, Bo in the deep eye about seven yards behind him. At risk of being crass, that moment was sort of like when your girlfriend is about to slip her bra strap off her shoulder for the first time. You hold your breath, waiting, excited. You’re excited because in the very next moment, something great might happen.
It was like that when the Clippers played, too, but (sadly) not because of any of the Clippers. Nothing personal Loy Vaught, but watching you grab a rebound in another Clippers loss didn’t get anyone out of their seat. But in those days, you didn’t buy Clippers tickets to see the Clippers, you bought them to watch the other team. And when the Bulls came to town, it was like the Rolling Stones or something. They were rock stars, led by the ultimate rock star, Michael Jordan. Going to see the Bulls in those days is now to be indescribable. Every time Jordan got the ball, every eye was on him, waiting. And if he got the ball on the move, in the open court, everyone rose as one. If he merely dunked the ball, you were almost disappointed, because you were hoping for the poster.
I know it’s not really fair to compare college athletes to Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan. I get that. But DeShaun Foster wasn’t that long ago. Maurice Drew wasn’t that long ago. Cade McNown and Danny Farmer and Freddie Mitchell weren’t that long ago. I remember how exciting it was too watch them play. I remember being excited for hours, maybe days before a game, excited not only for the chance to watch UCLA win a football game, but excited because one of the Bruins might do something that took my breath away.
Even if last year was the first year you got into UCLA football, you might relate to what I’m writing. Remember how exciting the Arizona game was? Remember how you moved to the edge of your seat when Myles Jack and the rest of the defense jogged in on offense? That’s the fun part of football.
And I’m just not feeling it all that much this year. I mean, sure, we make some good plays once in a while. Jordan Payton has had some cool catches where he just gets higher than the defender and brings the ball down. Marcus Rios’ pick at the end of the Berkeley game was incredible. But, I think the most excited I’ve gotten at a UCLA football game lately is when we force a punt, because Ishmael Adams might run one back.
I dunno, it’s just hard for me to be a football junkie when the stuff I’m mainlining is so, so, so … ordinary?
I’m sure there’s more to it. Maybe I’m just weary of the team never, ever being in contention for much more than the Holiday Bowl. I mean, Oregon proved it: we have a long, long way to go to be a real player in the game. And this isn’t even one of the better Oregon teams. They’re good, sure, better than us, no doubt, but I’m not sure they are the same juggernaut that they were under Chip Kelly.
Speaking of which, the second thing I’ve been ruminating about this week and that’s that Jim Mora is a pretty conventional coach in the long run. He is definitely not an innovator.
Credit where credit is due: He moved Anthony Barr from offense to defense and he did allow Noel Mazzone to use Myles Jack and friends on offense in certain occasions. Those were not necessarily conventional moves. On the other hand, I wouldn’t call them game changing.
But mostly, our game feel very predictable, very vanilla. We run the same offensive plays over and over. We have the same running back and wide receiver rotations seemingly every game and we seem to give the walk ons and fourth stringers more run than most teams do. We never run reverses, fake field goals. We rarely go for it on fourth down or try for two after a touchdown. We punt when the book says to punt and we kick field goals instead of going for touchdowns. What’s worse, our defense is really basic. Hardly ever see us gamble. Can’t remember the last corner blitz we tried. As far as I can tell (and I’m definitely not an Xs and Os guy) we’re running a straight 4-3 most of the time. You tell me if it’s effective or not, my point is that it’s not all that interesting or fun to watch.
I’m just going to say it: I feel the team is generic. It’s a little boring even. Yes, it’s my team and I’m a fan and when the game starts I can get into it. But, truly, it’s starting to feel more like ritual, more like an obligation than something I truly feel in my bones. It’s like: I'm a UCLA grad and a football fan, therefore I must watch all the games and go to as many as I am able to and root for the team as hard I can. I will stand on third down because I’m supposed to and I will do the 8-clap when the band plays the fight song --- but at the same time I’m doing these things I’m watching myself do these things and asking myself if I’m really into it or if I’m into it because I’m supposed to be into it.
Why I’m feeling this way is not clear to me. I also wonder if others are feeling this way, too? I also feel that the Guesses posts are sort of not relatable this season because I’ve been in this mood for a bit but don’t know if anyone else cares to know it. Which is fine, there will be another post up in a few hours and I’m sure it will be better than this one.
The final thing that’s been on my mind is that I had a good time attending the Cal game. We stayed nearby and got to Berkeley about 9 am. Everywhere we walked there were Bruin fans. We grabbed some beers and breakfast in some spot on Telegraph, then stopped in a liquor store for more beers and some brown bags to carry them around in. I’m pretty sure the Berkeley police could not have cared less if we were drinking them, but why take a chance?
I have to admit, the home fans were fine to hang around with, too. Our seats weren’t in the UCLA section and none of the Cal fans we sat near were obnoxious or anything. The atmosphere was almost like a high school game. It was very mellow, the Berkeley yell leaders were into stuff like "Block that punt" and "Push ‘em back, way back." I’ve been to other road games that felt a hell of a lot more hostile.
I just re-read everything I’ve written to this point today and the word that popped into my mind is malaise. I apologize for that, I’m sure you didn’t want to wake up and read a lament, you wanted something to fire you up. Sorry, I’m not very fired up about UCLA football right now.
I get that some people are calling Jim Mora the best thing to happen to UCLA football in generations. I see that on the message boards much more than on this blog, by the way. But some fans and pseudo-media are saying it. And maybe if you have access or go out to practice, that’s the feeling you get. Maybe if you’re just comparing him to the last two coaches Mora is Bill Walsh. But that’s a strange way of looking at things.
If you were ranking the coaches in the conference, would you put Mora at the top? Why? Why would you do that? Is our recruiting that great? Has he put together a superior staff? Is our offense or defense innovative? Have we yet to beat a great team?
I’m serious about that. We haven’t beaten Oregon. We haven’t beaten Stanford. Baylor kicked our ass. We’ve beaten two inferior SC teams. I’m willing to go along with it if you insist we’ve beaten a few good teams: Nebraska and ASU come to mind.
Anyway, it’s not just about winning, at least it’s not for me. I’d settle for exciting at this point and I’m just not feeling it this week.
Tomorrow we play Colorado in Boulder. I’ve only been to Boulder once and got to see Karl Dorrell lose his inaugural game as head coach. But tomorrow is a must, must win. We have Arizona, Washington, USC and Stanford after Colorado and while all are winnable games, they’re all losable, too. We could be 6-2 and bowl eligible when we wake up Sunday morning and finish 7-5 with a trip back to El Paso to look forward to.
I’m kidding. I won’t look forward to a trip back to El Paso.
And with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Colorado Buffaloes edition:
- How many different UCLA players (other than Brett Hundley) will get at least one offensive carry tomorrow?
- What number will be higher: UCLA rushing touchdowns, UCLA passing touchdowns or UCLA field goals?
- True or False: UCLA will convert a fourth down tomorrow.