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Sunday Morning Quarterback: UCLA Bruins Jump Into Pac-12 South Hunt

The Bruins overcame adversity to beat Arizona and are on the verge of a first place tie in the Pac-12 South.

NCAA Football: Arizona at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The UCLA Bruins accomplished several things with last night’s victory over the Arizona Wildcats at the Rose Bowl.

The biggest single accomplishment was probably the fact that the team overcame adversity. Think about that for a moment.

Last night’s game was the type of game where, under Jim Mora, the Bruins would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Instead of getting a defensive stop on their own 11-yard line, Mora’s Bruins would have allowed a go-ahead touchdown to the Wildcats and, then, on the subsequent final drive they would not have scored, sending Bruin fans home with thoughts of “What if?” as in “What if Jim Mora was not UCLA’s head coach?”

But, last night was different.

Last night, the Bruins started off strong and, more importantly, the team played their best when their best was needed — on Arizona’s final drive.

In some respects, the defense played their worst game of the season last night. UCLA gave up 289 yards on the ground. That is, by far, the most rushing yards they’ve given up all year. They gave up another 231 yards through the air. That’s a total of 520 yards. The previous high was a total of 485 yards to Oklahoma.

The Bruins were also penalized a ridiculous twelve times for 103 yards. Ouch! That’s definitely in Jim Mora territory.

Meanwhile, Arizona was penalized just six times for 64 yards.

Offensively, UCLA overcame adversity as well. Starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked very good during the first quarter. He was looking so good, in fact, that I was preparing to eat my words regarding his status as the starter moving forward.

Then, to make matters worse, Wilton Speight looked at times like he had, somehow, contracted a case of “DTR Disease,” as he had numerous passes which were overthrown or underthrown.

It really was enough for me to decide that Thompson-Robinson should be the starter moving forward if he’s healthy enough to play.

But, despite the injury at quarterback, the Bruin offense managed to continue to move the ball well enough to put up 31 points, which was just enough to eek out the win as opposed to doing just enough to eek out a loss which was UCLA’s trademark during the Mora era.

Something else which may get overlooked in the win is the continued improvement of the offensive line. The Bruins have now rushed for more than 150 yards in their last four games. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

Last season, UCLA rushed for more than 150 yards a total of three times and never in consecutive games. In 2016, the Bruins ran for 150 yards only twice. To find four consecutive games where UCLA ran for at least 150 yards, you have to go back to the first four games of the 2015 season when Paul Perkins was still on the team.

Line wins games. And, UCLA’s line continues to improve weekly.

Last night’s win puts the Bruins, who are 2-2 in conference play, in the conversation in the Pac-12 South. That’s good for a third place tie right now with Colorado, but, more importantly, the only reason we aren’t talking about the team being in first place in the South is because both Southern Cal and Utah have played one more conference game than the Bruins. Both the Trojans and the Utes are 3-2 in conference play after Utah crushed the Trojans yesterday, 41-28.

This raises the stakes for Friday’s home game against the Utes significantly as a win will put the Bruins into a first place tie in the Pac-12 South, at least until the Trojans play the Sun Devils on Saturday.

Yes, you heard me right. UCLA will move into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 South, even if it’s short-lived, by beating Utah at home on Friday night.

That brings me to the final item I want to discuss this morning.

I want to talk about the atmosphere at the Rose Bowl.

I’ve noted on more than one occasion how dismal the games have been from a fan perspective. I’ve written about how it’s terrible that fans seemingly sit on their hands every single week when the team really needs all the support we can give them.

Earlier this season, I discovered at least a partial explanation as to why Bruin fans don’t seem to cheer as much as we should. The fact is simple: There was no one leading them and encouraging them to do so.

Following the retirement of Geoff Strand, it seems that the Athletic Department made a decision to also retire the on-field microphones that Strand and the UCLA Yell Team would use to encourage Bruin fans to put their hands in the air for an 8 Clap or for a Bruin Spell Out. That was a horrendous decision.

But, this morning, I’ve got some props to give to Athletic Department. You see, at last night’s game, the Athletic Department put more of those microphones back in place.

Senior Associate Athletic Director Josh Rebholz mentioned this earlier last week in a tweet:

It was an overdue and a much-needed improvement to the atmosphere of the game.

It’s easy for Bruin fans to complain about the Athletic Department when things aren’t going well. An 0-5 start for a much-heralded coaching hire will tend to do that, too.

But, how many of you are willing to do something to praise this move by the department? Please take a few minutes to do something to give the department some props from making this much-needed change. Give the department a call or shoot them an email. If you were at the game, use complete the game feedback form you were emailed last night. They deserve props for this.

Believe it or not, they are committed to improving the atmosphere at Bruin games and positive feedback will let them know that the decision to add the mikes back was the right one.

But, of course, don’t forget to also encourage them to add mikes to the West side of the stadium too! Most Bruin fans are sitting on the West side after the sideline switch and a 50-yard line mike on that side of the stadium will do even more to building to right kind of game atmosphere while providing UCLA with a better home-field advantage.

With enough support, this could be done as quickly as Friday night.

Given that Friday’s game is now a pretty important game, your Bruins need as much support as possible.

Finally, if you’ve stayed away after years of bad Bruin football, consider coming out to Friday’s game. I know that rush hour traffic to Pasadena won’t be fun, but it’s a 7:30 pm kickoff, not a 6 pm kickoff. That gives you 2 12 hours to get to the Rose Bowl after you get off work. Come out and support the Bruins and help get the team into first place in the South.

We need every man, woman and child.

Go Bruins!!!