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The Morning After, Part 9: UCLA Football v WSU

Consider the circumstances. Consider the occasion. Consider the program and the people running it. Now does last night's result really surprise anyone, and if not, what should we do about it?

There's a leader we can follow. Anyone else?
There's a leader we can follow. Anyone else?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After the game, Jim Mora said in his press conference that "This is something we gotta get over quickly".

I'll say. Jim Mora's team has lost on Senior Night each of his 4 years. It was already time to get over that.

Sickening. Sad. But not so surprising.

It was yet another example of the most U.C.L.A. way of doing things.

This team had everything to play for, and we got upset at home. Been there. Done that.

Last night we rightly honored our Seniors, guys who have devoted 4 or 5 or sometimes 6 years to our football program, spending endless hours on the field and in film rooms and meetings and the weight room and the training room and getting injured and coming back, and all the while being U.C.L.A. students, too.  That was something to play for.

We nobly honored the Navy SEALs, in part for their involvement with our teams over the last few seasons and in part for what they and their colleagues in the armed forces do on a daily basis, something made all the more relevant following the horrific events in Paris on Friday by what those servicemen and women will be doing in the weeks and months ahead. These are men and women who literally put their lives on the line so we can spend Saturdays watching football. That was something to play for.

We honored the family and memory of Nick Pasquale, a young man taken too soon, but whose spirit in life and afterward has been an inspiration to all those he touched.That'll always be something worth playing for.

And if all that wasn't inspiration enough, there was the little matter of grabbing the Pac-12 South title and a chance at the Pac-12 Conference championship.

And with all that on the line last night, we got another flat, soft, undisciplined, underachieving performance. It was our Colorado game against a slightly better opponent who had the playmakers to take advantage of our sins and showed exactly why U.C.L.A. is still struggling to maintain credibility with its own fans.

So where do we go from here?

A few weeks ago, I took some online questionnaire that asks you a bunch of questions about immigration and the economy and the environment and foreign affairs and a variety of other political issues and then has you rank their importance to you, and then calculates your overall stance and compares it on a graph in relation to the stances of the right and left wings and libertarians and authoritarians and the various presidential candidates.

With unsurprising dismay, my overall position fell exactly in the middle of the graph as a true centrist, and pretty much equidistant from the nearest candidates on either side. Apparently if you eschew dogma and take a few ideas from each side, you end up with nothing in common with anyone. Thus, I'm a man without a representative.

Now we try very hard not to let politics come in and stir up our little sports blog, but I bring this particular issue up because my biggest purpose on Bruins Nation is to make this a place is that available for everybody (except late night Cougar trolls), open and respectful to all opinions, and willing to discuss any U.C.L.A. sports topic with intelligence and fairness. Being the centrist that the Internet tells me I am, I figure that gives me some standing to reach out to the various sides and try to bring folks together from the extremes. I'm not ready to be so drastic as to fire the whole coaching staff as some are, but anyone who doesn't recognize there are some serious chronic problems isn't being objective. Come meet me in the middle. After all, we're all here because we are fans of the ideals of U.C.L.A. and not because we're neither beholden or opposed to any particular person who may or may not be helping those particular ideals come to be.

This is a difficult time for us on BN because basketball just got started, and not so well unfortunately, and basketball is by far our most polarizing topic. It's not a lot of fun to write about things when a divided audience is ready to fight. But for much of the past 3 years at this time, most people seemed hopeful about the direction of the football program so it was nice to blog about some of the recurring concerns with football while still enjoying their relative success, with the expectation that progress would continue as the years went by.

So after the opening basketball game, I was really needing football to play well and give us something to feel good about, something to bring us together for at least another week and let me put basketball at the back of my mind for a little bit longer. Unfortunately, last night's game did the opposite, and games like last night are becoming much more common rather than the occasional exception for U.C.L.A. We've already laid turds against Arizona State, Stanford, Colorado, this year. Now add Wazzoo.  And we have two much better opponents coming up in the next two weeks.

And when emotion gets dumped into the equation (and isn't that what being a fan is all about?) the extremes of the spectrum of opinion widen. Just watch. We're going to get snarky mocking comments today from people who were nowhere to be found when the team was winning the last two weeks reappearing to say they told us this was going to happen, and we're going to have similarly defensive comments from people bringing up the SPTRs and the injuries and pointing out we still control our own destiny and so things aren't really that that bad.

And from my point of view in the center of it all, both sides are right and both sides are ignoring the valid opposition.

It seems to me that with any sort of critical thought in America, distancing yourself from the opposite position is even more important than defending your own opinion. It's easier and safer to criticize an opponent than to trumpet your own precarious perch. It's why virtually every political ad is negative. Presenting your own side makes i open and vulnerable, and any conciliation toward the opposite side could be seen as weakness or being soft, so the right move is to attack the opponent, no matter how far of a reach it becomes.

Consider the polarizing topic of gun control. I saw all over Facebook on Friday night, as innocent Parisians were being murdered in the streets, people were using the unfolding tragedy as an opportunity to push their particular opinion on guns by ridiculing the opposing opinion. The death count was still climbing but people were already spinning the horror to bolster their personal position.

Ok, first, please, seriously, do not weigh in on that. That's not what this is about and I'm too busy today to be hiding any political comments here. I currently don't care about your position on an armed citizenry. What I do very much care about is addressing and solving the bigger and more immediate problem. Despite our own opinions on guns or immigration or global warming, we need to find productive common ground and we would all agree that international terrorism is a bad thing. Right? See? Easy. Centrist brings sides together. Now part of my life is involved in disaster response and I'll get to deal with those issues elsewhere, but the issue we have in front of us this morning as Bruin fans is how to address the problems with this team and program.

Whether you're one of those who think Coach Mora is doing a great job and his staff is fine and we're lucky to have him and look at all the success we've had since he was hired and of course we aren't going to win every game, or you're one of those who says he's plateaued and even regressing this year and we'll never win the South championship let alone the Conference or ever look at a playoff spot because we can't even beat a team like WSU, we can all agree that last night's game failed in many ways. Right? Right. So let's look at those and figure out the problem and think about solutions.

Penalties:14 penalties including two false starts in the red zone on our opening drive, one from a defensive end that is in on offense, a false start on a WR which should happen just about never. A lazy and needless defensive holding when their backup QB is struggling to even get the ball to an open receiver in the flats that gives them new life. Lining up offsides. And the one penalty we didn't get flagged for was that disgraceful targeting play that somehow wasn't called, but who the hell teaches or allows that sort of thing? These aren't penalties of aggression. They're penalties of poor discipline, and they are a problem. They've always been a problem, and they will continue to be a problem. They hurt us in the game and they hurt the image of our team, and it's ridiculous that they have continued like this for 4 years. Who is responsible and what should be done?

Play calls and schemes: Bringing in a jumbo package on the goal line is fine and creative - as long as you are going to run power football straight ahead. But then handing the ball to a defensive tackle when you have our crew of running backs seems an unnecessary gimmick. And running that jumbo crew on a stretch to the outside negates and actually reverses all of their advantage. Punting at midfield on 4th and 2 while WSU goes 2-2 on 4th downs suggests one side is playing to win. Playing your DBs 8-10 yards off receivers who run slants all night might prevent the occasional big play but it gives up easy yards and first downs and extends drives and keeps the defense on the field. Why are we getting outcoached by teams like CU or WSU? We've seen this overall strategic passive mindset now for 4 years. Are we in the right spot or would we be better off with a more aggressive Oregon/WSU approach or should be reel it back ala David Shaw at Stanford?

Yes, the refs were a special kind of awful last night, but what, if anything, can be done about it? I mean, if they aren't going to ever see our stud outside linebacker getting his facemask palmed in live action, and if they can't see a forearm on the ground before a fumble occurs on slow motion replay from multiple angles, what are we going to do? Those idiots aren't getting any better, so maybe we just have to not shoot ourselves in the foot to a point that their gross incompetence affects us.

Or here's another problem: A young athlete gets his head bounced off the ground and he has to be helped off the field as happens in football. But then that same kid is allowed to return to the game about 30 minutes later to get his brain bounced around some more? Believe me, I'm loath to second guess a medical staff when I'm not doing there and doing an exam, but if that kid was concussed, and it's going to hard to convince me otherwise because he couldn't even fucking crawl, then we need to discuss why that coach and his staff should ever be allowed on the sidelines with college players again. I've seen the sickening results of that sort of carelessness with lives of student athletes. How does that get addressed? Believe me, I'll take the character over the W every time.

Rather than us staking out and defending our various positions, let's have some conversations about these issues and try to find some solutions. I know our political process would be more effective if people took this approach rather than trying to bully or scare everyone else into agreement. Maybe what U.C.L.A. football needs really is is to can the coach and start over. Maybe what it needs is for the coach to can his OC and week some smaller parts. Maybe what it needs is for everyone to just be happy with 8-9 wins and in some bowl somewhere on December 21st. What I really think is most critical, is that for these U.C.L.A. related issues, Jim Mora has to have a long honest conversation with himself and ask if there is something he hasn't considered, or wanted to consider, that needs to become part of the equation. The results speak for themselves. It's not time to nitpick tangential philosophies. It's time to admit, address, and fix the problems.

I don't expect we will all agree on things, but I do think we all need to try to find some common ground because we all do want what's best for this Bruin team. We'd all agree, that with Senior Night and the salute to the SEALs and Nick's family at midfield and another season of opportunity on the line, last night's game simply wasn't acceptable. So starting there, where do we go? Because I honestly don't know anymore. I'm good with nearly all the players on this team. I just believe that we'd all like to have a leader step up that the team and fans can feel proud to follow and trust that we're going the right way. Who's that guy?