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UCLA Football: Bruins Nation's TAMU Post-Game Roundtable Discussion

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss the first game of the 2016 season in which UCLA lost to Texas A&M 31-24 in OT.

1. Let's start with the offense. What was the most disappointing part of their performance for you?

orlandobruin: I didn't like the way that Coach Polamalu seemed to abandon the running game in the 3rd quarter. It seems like UCLA panicked on offense and "tried to get it all back at once." In the same vein, I didn't seem like UCLA was able to adjust its game plan in the second half, until the team was truly in desperation mode. This has to improve and, I believe that it will improve. This is Coach Polamalu's first game as offensive coordinator.

anteatersandbruins: For me, it was a toss up between dropped passes and an ineffective offensive line. I felt like Rosen was running for his life at times. The line wasn't giving him a whole lot of time to set and make plays, which was causing him to throw on the run or off his back foot. He looked like my Waffle House hashbrowns--smothered and covered. Unfortunately, there were also a lot of great passes missed by the receivers that could have been game changers.

Robert Bastron: Mostly the mistakes--dropped passes, Rosen’s bouquet toss in the first quarter.. But Polamalu also didn’t seem to scheme around the A&M pass rush until late in the game. I’m willing to believe that Polamalu will get better at calling plays as the season goes on. For all we heard about Ishmael Adams in practice reports, he was only used as a receiver once I believe. I just thought we’d see a lot more of him. And can he catch the ball? If so, he’s gotta get in. Can Theo Howard catch the ball? Get him in. The OL, as many predicted, is the weak spot. I think that just means Polamalu has to give them some help mitigating an aggressive pass rush with his play calling.

Nirya: Biggest issue for me was playcalling. I assumed there would be something of a learning curve with a first-time coordinator, but UCLA twice had to call timeout because they could not get a play called in time. That's a basic level coordinator skill that was failed twice. This had been hinted at as an issue earlier in camp, but for it to show up during a game is inexcusable and directly cost the team points.

Joe Piechowski: On one hand, the offensive line which allowed five sacks. But, then again, I’ve said it was the biggest weak spot nobody was talking about. So, it shouldn’t really be the biggest disappointment. Yet, it still was.

2. Did the offense show anything that stood out to you?

orlandobruin: I thought the passes to tight ends were very effective. Up until the drop on 3rd and goal in overtime. Otherwise I would have given the unit an "A." The costly drop reduces this ranking to a "B." Maybe harsh, but that was obviously a game changer.

Anteatersandbruins: I saw glimpses of hope with the run game. Jamabo needs more seasoning but will hopefully improve as the season moves along.

Robert Bastron: As harsh as some commenters were on Polamalu, and as dominating as the pass rush was, the opportunities were there to make plays, but Rosen missed some easy passes, and the receivers dropped a lot of balls. Maybe one less Rosen INT, one more accurate pass, two less drops, and we beat A&M on the road by 10. I think Polamalu could have done a better job, but he still put players in position to win the game.

Nirya: Since the change in offensive styles, we’ve heard Mora doggedly claim that the offense was less a pro-style and more of a multiple look, and after the A&M game I finally understand what he was getting at. The offense abandoned the power run formation for large stretches of the second half, and when the offense really got rolling they were operating from a quasi-spread that let Josh Rosen make the proper reads. If we can shift the offense faster to account for a defense, this should be a ton of fun to watch.

Joe Piechowski: The offense is still a work in progress. That starts from the offensive line allowing way too much pressure on Josh Rosen, many times resulting in bad decisions by him to the running game which, at times, still seemed to be running as a one-back offense.

3. Talking about Rosen specifically, how did you think he handled playing in that 100K stadium? How much of the blame does he get for this loss?

orlandobruin: I thought that he handled it fine. I do not recall a false start on offense. That shows me that the team was prepared for the crowd and the noise. Josh needs to stop trying to make every play. The first pick was a boneheaded move from a very, very smart guy. No excuse for that. It cannot happen again. Period. The second pick was not on Josh, as Van Dyke (I believe it was Van Dyke) essentially executed a perfect volleyball set to the A&M DB. The last pick was a ball that Josh threw off his back foot. He needs to get better at stepping into throws all the time, although it can be tough when the D is in your grill on almost every play. I am not pinning this loss solely on Josh. The WR drops, poor pass blocking, clock mismanagement by the coaching staff, as well as Josh's mistakes all contributed to a perfect storm that caused the loss. Eliminate just one or two of those errors, and UCLA wins this game.

Anteatersandbruins: I didn't see the crowd noise make much of a difference at all. In fact, at one point he seemed to be encouraging the crowd to cheer louder. Maybe he got cocky, maybe he wasn't as focused as he needed to be, but when there are 11 guys on the field at all times, you can't entirely blame the quarterback. I think he gets as much blame as anyone else.

Robert Bastron: Last season Rosen flashed moments of brilliance, was otherwise mostly solid, but had some bad true freshman moments. There were too many of those ‘"true freshman" moments for a sophomore with a year under his belt who is supposedly a future top pick in the NFL draft. I don’t think the crowd had anything to do with it. He made mistakes, but he also didn’t get any help from his receivers. It wasn’t a good game for him, but not all his fault either.

Nirya: First things first, crowd noise didn't play as big a factor as the Aggie faithful would care to admit. The silent count worked well, with the one big goof caused by a ref bumping the center. As for Rosen, he played like a true freshman, which isn't a great sign. He was missing throws and reads, and made some truly bad mistakes on two of the three interceptions. The problem seemed to be that he was trying to do too much rather than let the game come to him, and that's the big bit of growth that needs to happen for Josh to have a truly successful season.

Joe Piechowski: Josh made some poor decisions and his poor decisions resulted in turnovers. But, I feel that this was a loss attributable to the entire team.

4. Switching to the defense, grade their performance. (And explain)

orlandobruin: I thought the defense was average, but that should have been good enough to win. Did Mazzone win that side of the ball over Bradley? Offsides penalties extended drives, which was bad. Not enough negative plays against a subpar offensive line was also a problem. As has been the case the past few seasons, UCLA does not appear to get pressure unless it dials up a the blitz. I thought the secondary did very well, with the exception of Rios getting turned around on the only receiving TD scored by A&M. We missed Hollins and Takk.

Anteatersandbruins: The defense really held their own until they showed some fatigue late in the game. Overall, I give them a B+/A-.

Robert Bastron: I thought the defense was fine. I’d like to see them get more pressure on the QB, but Bradley seems committed to not blitzing. Maybe with Hollins and Takk in all game, we can get more pressure. I’d still like to see a bit more pressure dialed up, even if we’re mostly going to be in this bend but don’t break, just don’t give up big plays style of defense. Only in the 3rd quarter did they look bad, and it was mostly because they were gassed by the tempo.

Nirya: 24 points on the road against a high-octane offense while grabbing two turnovers? I'll take that any day of the week. The defense played exceptionally well, only really having a bad 3rd quarter before completely balling out in the 4th. I can't even blame them for OT, especially because they gave the offense a chance to win the game in regulation, then clutched up to send the game into OT in the first place. They get an A- from me.

Joe Piechowski: The defense was much better than we saw last season. I think they definitely missed having Hollins and McKinley on the field, though. So, I expect them to get better once those guys are healthy.

5. Is there anything you want to see change or stay the same on defense?

orlandobruin: More blitzes.

Anteatersandbruins: I'd love a few more blitzes.

Robert Bastron: More pressure, getting into the backfield more. There were no sacks for the D, if you can get those without blitzing, awesome, but if you can’t, gotta send some pressure.

Nirya: Here’s the thing about the pressure - on the pass plays that weren't quick passes, we were able to get pressure fairly consistently. Most of the plays just occurred because Trevor Knight was able use his running ability to make something out of a broken play. I guess finishing ability on that pressure would help, but getting back the speed of McKinley and Hollins should fix that issue.

The biggest issue for me was just linebacker play. They consistently looked out of place and had some really poor run blitzes. Better recognition and execution helps shore up the run game even more.

Joe Piechowski: They have to put more pressure on the offense. This will force the QB to make bad throws right into the hands of our excellent secondary.

6. We don't give special teams as big of a shoutout as we should, so talk about how the special teams unit performed on Saturday.

orlandobruin: My philosophy on special teams is that if you do not notice them, they are doing well. Molson hit 3 of 4 field goals. The coaching staff did him no favors on the setup for the long one he missed. I thought that the punting of Austin Kent was an upgrade over Matt Mengel. Kicks seemed longer and had more hang time than last year. I like the new guys.

Anteatersandbruins: Fortunately, we didn't really see a drop off in our kicking game after losing Fairbairn. We definitely felt it when we lost Forbath, so overall, I'd give a shout out to Moulson. I don't blame him for missing the 48 yard attempt. Better clock management would have had him closer and set up for a better kick.

Robert Bastron: Moulson was great. Remember how shaky Fairbairn was in his first game as a true freshman? I think we have a great future kicker here, and he did his job on Saturday. Can’t blame a true freshman for missing that 48-yarder, especially after the clock snafu. So nice to see a real punter. Adams didn’t get to break anything loose, but each game is a small sample size for judging returns. Let’s see what happens.

Nirya: I really just wanted to give the true freshman a shoutout for not shrinking on the road in front of 100K for their college debut. Milano is going to be special, and Austin Kent looked like a weapon in the game, almost completely neutralizing electric return-man Christian Kirk.

Joe Piechowski: On one hand, I want to point to the fact that I’ve been saying that I thought Molson looks great. But, it was also good to see Austin Kent punt well too.

7. Going to a more general CFB outlook, how does this loss measure up to the rest of the weekend?

orlandobruin: Three top five teams might go down. Alabama ripped Southern Cal. Houston beat Oklahoma. Ole Miss is beating FSU as I write this, although the 'Noles are mounting an inspired comeback.. Those two losses (or three, if FSU falls) are bigger headliners than the Bruins' loss. The UCLA loss in OT on the road looks "better" than those losses. I would lump the UCLA game in with Texas' double OT victory over Notre Dame, although even that one is bigger since ND was favored on the road by 3.5. UCLA was a 3 to 3.5 dog on the road.

Anteatersandbruins: Luckily, there were a lot of ranked teams that went down and others that came close. I don't think this loss will look as bad as it does now down the road. Plus, $C was thoroughly embarrassed, which took attention off the Bruins. For now, I'll take it.

Robert Bastron: I think the first goal for this team is to win the division. And the division looked like crap this weekend. Clay Helton looked Neuheisel-esque in a 50ish point loss, U of A suddenly has no offense, ASU and Utah took a long time to finally put away FCS teams. Should we be afraid of Colorado?! The A&M game doesn’t count against our conference record. I know some fans will panic because we’re not going to be a 12-0, 11-1 playoff team, but I never had those expectations. Win the division. I still think we have to be the favorites.

Nirya: This weekend did nothing to dissuade me from thinking UCLA can win the South. If anything, playing in that tough environment and fighting back should help us down the road from a mental standpoint. That is, if the team can finally find some consistency.

Joe Piechowski: If there was a game we had to lose, this was the week to do it. History has shown that teams who lose an early out-of-conference game can recover from that later on, but, teams that lose late in the season get hammered by the polls/selection committee. So, now, that there’s loss on the board, it’s time to start a nice, long winning streak. Hopefully, it runs into next season.

8. The Extra Point

orlandobruin: Houston's win could cost a Power 5 conference a spot in the CFB Playoff. That conference could be the PAC 12, especially if the PAC 12 Champ has one loss. The Cougars should be favored in the rest of their games and already have a signature win. A late season match up at home against Louisville and the AAC Conference Championship game would be the best chances for a UH loss.

Anteatersandbruins: I want us to come out of the tunnel and dismantle UNLV on Saturday. I don't want to look like a team that plays not to lose. Call me Pollyanna, but I want them to run up the score and make a statement and look like the future Pac 12 South Champions.

Robert Bastron: Will Josh Rosen ever put it all together at UCLA? He has the tools, and certainly he’ll need some help around him, with competent play calls and receivers who catch passes. But Josh played like a true freshman on Saturday. I try not to panic about anything too much after the first week, one way or another, but you have to wonder if Josh will just be a good college player with pro potential because of his physical tools, or if he can put it all together to be a great QB and lead the Bruins to a special season, this year or next.

Nirya: I went back and looked at a few round tables from last year to prep writing these questions, and I came across something from last year’s Colorado game that made me think.

Mexi was talking about the Rose Bowl setup and how it's so visitor-friendly, and I thought about how Kyle Field is set up. In College Station, they had the band and the entire student section behind the visitors section, so they had to contend with the rowdiest fans all game. So why can't UCLA swap the sides at the Rose Bowl and put the team on the shady side? You have to take every advantage you can in sports, and treating the visitors as honored guests gets us nowhere.

Joe Piechowski: I’m looking forward to some home cooking, quite literally, when I’m tailgating at the Rose Bowl this weekend.