Mondays kinda suck. And they suck worse after a Saturday like we had.
For all the valid points about the latest loss coming as a result of bad play calls, dropped passes, horrific refs, and an improved WSU Football team, the most glaring ongoing preventable mistake by U.C.L.A. Football team is penalties.
U.C.L.A. is the most penalized team over the last 4 years, and after an early improvement this season, they have reverted to their old ways. From the OC Register's Joey Kaufman on Sunday, the Bruins are now the third most penalized team this year:
Only two teams, Hawaii (90) and Miami (96) have been penalized more this season.
In 2012, Mora's first season, the Bruins were the most penalized team in the country, averaging 9.2 penalties per game, though they made incremental improvements the following two seasons, penalized eight times per game.
This season, it's back up to nine per contest.
Miami, Hawaii, and U.C.L.A. Maybe it's a beach thing.
If so, then today's weather on campus should help. It was an unbeachlike chilly blustery day in Westwood as the team had meetings and film review as they transition from their annual (times 3-4) gaff, this time to Washington State and look ahead to a, I hate to say it but it's true, "must win" game against Utah this Saturday.
Must win games haven't typically gone very well for U.C.L.A. either. Even the mainstream media is latching on to what we've been saying for the last couple years. The Bruins and Jim Mora got called out for their recurring pattern of self destruction and faceplants in the LA Times post game recap with our friend Chris Foster, and colleagues Lindsey Thiry and Bill Plaschke (who is usually ignorable but parrots Foster well this time). From Foster:
I would like to say I'm surprised but I've seen them gaff games before and they really outdid themselves...
They've reached a level under Jim Mora. I think they could go higher, but until they start getting over some of these hurdles and becoming a more disciplined football team, this is U.C.L.A. football. 8 or 9 wins a year and crowds streaming out of the Rose Bowl at half-time because they're kind of tired of the play they're seeing.
So with that in mind, the Bruins began regrouping today and they have reason to do so. Fate let them off the hook for the time being as far as the conference is concerned. Because of Utah's double OT loss to Arizona on Saturday, the Bruins, the Utes, and yes, the trogans are in a 3 way tie for the Pac-12 South at 6-3. Because U.C.L.A. still gets to play both (and both on the road, thank goodness), the Bruins still, improbably, control their own destiny. Win two and go to the Pac-12 Championship.
Defensive line coach Angus McClure met with the media after meetings and film review this morning and talked about reviewing the WSU game and preparing for Utah.
A few commenters pointed out the on-field shoving match on Saturday night between Takkarist McKinley and Matt Dickerson after Dickerson jumped offside and McKinley was clearly frustrated by the mistake. McClure said it has all been ironed out, and was pleased overall that it was only the first time a D lineman had jumped offside in 10 games this year. Unlike some of the Bruins opponent, McClure says he does not coach his line to call out cadences (ala Oregon State) in an attempt to trick opposing O Lines into committing false starts, but it is something they have been doing intentionally in practice to try to help the Bruins' offensive line learn to keep from reacting. I should be glad to hear they are doing this as the Bruins have been a disaster with false starts in the last two games, and to a lesser degree all season, but McClure said they've been working on this since San Bernardino, so whatever they are doing isn't working. Ahem, Klemm.
McClure also responded to a question about the glaring lack of holding calls buy saying all they can control is their own fundamentals and technique, and that they aren't going to try to go soccer player and sell the holding calls.
McClure also said he felt the run defense, which has been undoubtedly weaker from the loss of Eddie Vanderdoes and Myles Jack, has been slowly improving, but will need to be especially good this weekend against a "big physical athletic" Utah offensive line (which will never commit a holding penalty) that regularly commits 2 guys to the point of attack
Thanks to Tracy Pierson and David Woods at Bruin Report Online for the video:
With all the talk about the various individuals on the Bruins coaching staff, Angus McClure isn't mentioned very frequently and that's a compliment considering the topics being discussed lately. The Bruins have had some really excellent D linemen the last few years with Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa (I've missed typing that guy) and Kenneth Clark headlining that group, and McClure's innovative coaching techniques like including martial arts has been a bright spot in the development aspect of our players. Though there are some current concerns about recruiting, he has done a good job in that area previously as well, and it seems fair to wait until closer to NLI day before making too much of things. If McClure gets Eddie Vanderdoes back next year, and I think there's a fair chance at that, and with the emergence of McKinley and Dickerson and Eli Ankou this year, the Bruins look to have a good front 3 for at least another year, even with the presumed early departure of Young to the NFL at the end of the season.
Paul Perkins spoke today also and said the team's goal this year is winning the Pac-12 title and, despite the team's mistakes, that goal is still in reach and they are focusing on improving their play and reaching that goal. He admirably acknowledged that penalties are really hurting the team and the Bruins need to make a special effort to fix that aspect of their game, though he admitted he has no answer for why the flags keep occurring.
Perkins missed the opportunity to destroy his offensive coordinator when asked if he wanted the ball in his hands at the 2 yard line though the fans aren't going to let Noel Mazzone off the hook so easily. If he wants to use the jumbo package, fine. Put some big reserve D linemen (not Kenny Clark) in the backfield to bulldoze a hole, tell everyone 10 times what the snap count is, and run the damn ball forward, preferably in the hands of Paul Perkins. Nate Starks is a reasonable second option. All other plays are fluff and there are no extra points for style. Just for touchdowns.
The Bruins home schedule for 2015 is now complete, and attendance was down this year. Back to Joey Kaufman:
In six home games at the Rose Bowl this season, UCLA averaged 66,858 fans per game, the lowest for a season under Mora.
The previous low mark was 68,481 during Mora's first season, but attendance improved the following two seasons, including a school-record 76,650 last fall.
The announced attendance Saturday night against Washington State was 76,255, the second highest figure this season.
Thursday night games in Pasadena don't help, but the number reflects more than just traffic avoidance. This is a tangible sign that Bruin fans are losing either interest, or patience, or both, in the football team. As Foster said above, the fans are tired of the product they are seeing. Even with the emergence of Josh Rosen as the best young quarterback in the nation, don't expect attendance to improve significantly next season. Morgan Center's genius plan to gouge loyal season ticket holders with required donations will do nothing but hurt renewals. Higher prices, fewer fans, and more yellow flags doesn't sound like a recipe for success. But it does, unfortunately, sound exactly like Bruin football.
The Bruins will return to practice tomorrow so we should get some updates on the possible return of players like Isaako Savaiinaea, Devin Fuller, and John Johnson. Savaiinaea's potential return is especially important to the Bruins' run defense as it prepares for an excellent rushing team in Utah. The Utes are led by their outstanding RB Devontae Booker (remember the guy who ran the same two plays all the way down the field at the end of last year's game?) though according to a Salt Lake City new site, his availability for Saturday's game is a bit of a question mark at the moment.
Booker sustained an injury to his right knee midway through the game against Arizona and was held out for a quarter as medical staff attended to him. Booker re-entered the game in the second half but was not his explosive self.
"He usually runs with a lot of violence and tenacity, and you could tell that he had lost that edge just a little bit," Whittingham said.
"It's a question mark right now," Whittingham said. "We'll know a lot more after today (Monday). There's more evaluations that have to take place."
I do hope the young man is totally healthy, and I also hope he doesn't gain a yard on Saturday. It's likely those two hopes are mutually inclusive, but I can imagine rainbows and unicorns right now if I want.
Of course, the rainbows in my sky skip ROGI & V.