After a soul crushing, 47-30 loss last weekend against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, the UCLA Bruin Football team (3-3, 1-2 PAC 12) returns to the Rose Bowl tomorrow night to host the Oregon Ducks (4-3, 1-3 PAC 12). Both teams are struggling mightily, each having lost three of its last four games.
Oregon at least has an excuse—the Ducks lost starting quarterback, Justin Herbert on October 1st, in a 45-24 victory at home over UC Berkeley. Since then, the Ducks have played two QBs in two losses, 33-10 to Washington State in Eugene and 49-7 against Stanford in Palo Alto. Ducks QBs have only one touchdown passing and five interceptions between them since Herbert went down.
If the Ducks are smart, they will follow the same recipe that Stanford and Arizona used against UCLA: pound the rock against the second worst rushing defense in the nation. Oregon has the personnel to do so. Starting tailback, Royce Freeman, has racked up an impressive 797 rushing yards on 133 carries on the season and an excellent 6.0 average yards per carry. Freeman has found the end zone 10 times. When Freeman needs a breather, Oregon turns to Kani Benoit, who has 8 rushing touchdowns and 361 yards on 51 carries, a 6.8 yard average.
UCLA will likely once again rely on Josh Rosen to win the game, which leaves the Bruins will little margin for error. Last week, Rosen never found the end zone and threw three picks in his worst performance of the season. If Rosen plays well, UCLA will have a chance. If not, UCLA and Bruin fans could feel a sense of déjà vu in a high scoring loss.
One thing going for the Bruins: they have won at the Rose Bowl. All of UCLA’s wins have been in Pasadena and all of its losses have been on the road.
I am not optimistic about the rest of the season. The sense of futility around the program, for me, is very similar to Steve Alford’s 2015-16 season. I pretty much checked out on UCLA basketball that season, as it became increasingly hard to stay up to watch the Bruins get slaughtered night in and night out until the wee hours in the morning on the east coast.
Even if the Bruins win tomorrow night, I am not sure that they are capable of improving through the rest of the season, which gets considerably tougher with road games at Utah, Washington, and Southern Cal. It is fascinating (and depressing) to me to watch other teams in college football improve as the season passes, while UCLA always seems on the down slope. It is a feeling of hopelessness. This is captured perfectly in this week’s musical selection, “Everything Turns Grey” by Orange County legends of surf punk, Agent Orange.
Yeah, the sound is raw and the lyrics are bleak, but IMO, it perfectly summarizes how many feel about the UCLA football program at this point in time.
This is it, the darkest hour
Isn't it depressing how our
Minds create an atmosphere
That won't happen here
Unless we make some new demands
To grasp the future in our hands
You know I wish I could but it's too late
For senseless minds that love to hate
No matter what they think or do or say
Everything turns grey
I am going in a different direction with the first pregame guess this week. Instead of focusing on specific, identifiable statistic or metric, I am going to suggest a more subjective topic. The exercise will compare the game decisions of the UCLA coaching staff and its Head Coach, Jim L. Mora, with that of what each of us perceives to be the “perfect coach,” the “arête” of coaches, if you will. For example, my “perfect coach” would never punt on 4th and 2 on the opponent’s, 40 yard line. Going for it and failing, for me, does not outweigh the chance of punting the ball into the end zone for a net of 20 yards, especially given that UCLA’s defense will likely give those yards back in short order. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 1: Using your “perfect coach” as a baseline, how many times will UCLA’s coaching staff make a coaching “mistake” by deviating from what you believe the “perfect coach” would have done. It could be anything from not benching a player, to mismanaging the clock at the end of the half, to a bad substitution, a bad play call, whatever.
Philosophy only gets one so far. The devil is in the details. Moving on from PGG #1, the remaining two PGGs will be statistically based and will focus on UCLA’s production against Oregon’s defense (UCLA’s defense is so bad--#126 of 129 in total defense in the nation—I don’t want to talk about it). For Oregon, the weakness is its pass defense. Oregon is #97 in passing yards allowed with 246.3. This may not be great news for UCLA, as Arizona is #101 and we know how Josh Rosen did against the ‘Cats. Nevertheless, this appears to be the best matchup for UCLA. I expect a pass heavy offense from the Bruins, whether from necessity due to trailing in the game or simply a matchup issue. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 2: Predict the play calling ratio of the UCLA offense broken down between passes and rushes (for example, last week UCLA threw the ball 34 times and rushed the ball 38 times).
Will UCLA try to rush the ball against Oregon? Time will tell, but the Bruin rushing attack looked better against Arizona last week. Jalen Starks, Soso Jamabo, and Bolu Olorunfunmi all had solid games, although Starks got dinged up. In all, UCLA rushed the ball 38 times for 190 yards, an average of 5 yards per carry. Not bad. Can they keep it up against an Oregon defense that is ranked #22 in the nation, giving up only 115.7 yards per game? PGG number three is a three parter. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 3: Predict the number of total rushing yards for UCLA, identify UCLA’s rushing leader, and predict that back’s rushing yards.
BONUS GUESS: The Bruins are back at home, so let’s see if we can predict UCLA’s attendance at the Rose Bowl for an unseasonably warm kickoff at 1 p.m.
Thanks for reading. Fire away with your guesses and thoughts in the comment section. Hoping that UCLA can right the ship but hope is not a strategy.