By the cruelty of their schedule and the great extents to which college football goes to accommodate a certain Catholic university in the midwest, the UCLA Bruins were forced to take a trip to Berkeley for a final, meaningless game after being throttled in their rivalry game at the Rose Bowl the previous week.
After beginning the season as favorites to win the division, only to end up with a sub .500 record, playing for the 5-7 bowl loophole wasn’t particularly inspiring to the fanbase, nor, it seems, was it to the players and coaches.
Bruin fans who actually sat down to watch the game on television on Saturday night may have been longing for happier times during the holiday week, like sitting with their politically divided families on Thursday and rehashing the presidential election. But most Bruin fans probably just skipped it, or changed the channel to see what was happening in Boulder, CO. Anything else, really.
The Bruins played like a team that didn’t want to be there, and got their butts kicked by a team stocked with inferior talent, but clearly—playing at home, not expecting much from the season to begin with, and on senior night—eager to have some Bruin for dinner.
But there is some good news, Bruin fans: The season is finally over.
Let’s Talk About the Game For a Bit
There’s not much useful to take away from this one. From very early on, the Bruins betrayed that there wouldn’t be much effort put forth to win. The two most dependable UCLA receivers, Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley, had early drops. The run game started out as anemic against a pretty terrible run defense as it has been all season. The defense, after stopping the Bears on their first two drives, allowed four consecutive scoring drives; though miraculously held UC Berkeley to only four field goals, making the halftime score only a 12-point differential. The Bears logged their first first-half shutout since 2011 against pre-Leach Washington State.
Fafaul put together a few big passes and led a touchdown drive early in the second half to cut the deficit to five points. That and a Nate Meadors pick-six looked like the Bruins may be able to stir up some inner life and forge a comeback, but the interception play was flagged. The Bears then scored another touchdown, and the route was on.
It was a good time to change the channel and give up for the night.
The Bruins played like a team that wanted to change the channel too, but they couldn’t. They played like a team that knew it was going to lose and just had to get through the next few hours to move on with their lives.
It's most certainly for the best that the Bruins ended their season last night, rather than suffering another few weeks of bowl practice and potential loss to a mid-major conference team with a mediocre record in New Mexico or Las Vegas or wherever those bowl games get played. Better for the program to begin to put the pieces back together and look forward to 2017.
Already this morning Jim Mora has announced that Kennedy Polamalu will not be retained as the offensive coordinator. This is an important first step, and it’s also a sign that the athletic department (as expected by most) will give Mora a chance to prove that the worst season of UCLA football since 2010 was an aberration on his record.
Polamalu has had a great career and reputation for coaching running backs and, when he previously held the title of offensive coordinator, he wasn’t in a playcalling role. He was both in over his head as the playcaller and sole designer of an offense as well as given the nearly impossible task of building a pro-style, power running attack with an impossibly thin crop of interior lineman. The poor hire and the inability to see that a scheme change would lead to failure lies with the boss, Jim Mora.
What direction Mora goes with on the offense will be something to watch. Will he continue to try to force a square peg through a round hole by hiring a coordinator to retry to implement a pro-style scheme, or will he hire a coordinator who runs a spread system, but—hopefully—is a bit more creative and better at the chess game than Noel Mazzone.
Bruin fans have a few other names on the offensive staff that we’d like to see go—Klemm, Yarber—but we’ll have to wait and see who, if anyone, follows Polamalu out the door in Westwood; either because they are let go by Mora, or choose to move on on their own. A new coordinator may also want to bring in his own guys to fill these roles.
Josh Rosen will be playing for his third offensive coordinator at UCLA in three years and time is running out for the Bruins with the wunderkind from Manhattan Beach with the golden arm.
Can Mora make a solid coordinator hire and set the Bruins back on track after one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory? If he doesn’t, it may be his name being read out at a Sunday morning press conference next year as the guy who’s not coming back for another season.
The next few weeks and months will be interesting to follow.