A special thank you to Bruinballer for serving as this week’s guest panelist on the Utah postgame Roundtable. I know I can speak on behalf of the entire Bruins Nation when I say we were all excited and honored to have Bruinballer participate with us. Also, we have a special treat for everyone this week--Fox71!
Enjoy this week’s Bruins Nation Utah Utes Postgame Roundtable.
1. Good win on the road against a team ranked higher than us, and it was an elimination game for the Pac-12 South. Is this Mora’s first "big win" of his U.C.L.A. tenure?
BruinBaller: Sorry, but this win, although definitely nice and needed, still doesn't qualify as Mora's first "big win." Utah started off deadly but cooled off later in the season (losses to southern cal and AZ), so I can't quantify it as the needed definitive win for Mora. For me, beating Stanford in Pac12 Championship will qualify as a big win, so he needs to get his team there first by beating the Trogans this Saturday, and then defeating a team he's never beat. That will shut up any and all Mora critics (including me!).
Mexibruin: I’m not sure. I know that on paper the pundits will say it was. BUT! Utah was not a top 10 team in any of the rankings, and as low as 18 in some of the ranking services. Utah’s two losses were to unranked teams, and it’s signature win was against a currently surging Michigan. But this Michigan is not the same team they faced on 9/4/15. Beyond that, we did struggle for a bit against a team that was missing Devontae Booker. When I think of ‘big’ wins, I’m thinking Top 10 traditional power houses and wins that are decisive. Sure, it’s ok to pull of a win in the waning seconds against a Top 3 team, but I don’t know about struggling to pull out the win against a team missing its best player.
gbruin: Well, big is a relative term (supply your own jokes). The come from behind win over ASU in Tempe in Mora’s first year seemed big at the time. Beating Nebraska twice in two years seemed big because of their reputation. Every win over Southern Cal is big because of the rivalry. If you’re wanting to compete for the CFB playoff, then every game every week is big. This Utah win probably outdoes the previous "big" wins in terms of importance for the moment, but none of those wins, including Utah, was a significant upset that saw our team playing above its norm to beat a nationally ranked/respected opponent with everything riding on the game. This week’s game approaches that, and the Pac-12 title game, should the Bruins get there, would be even more so. Thing is for every win, there’s almost always a bigger game down the road, and it seems we never get as far down the road as we could.
beer&math: I’ve been pretty tough (and vague) about what I feel is a big win, yet I feel this should count. I like the College Football Playoff rankings the best among the alternatives, and they valued Utah at #13. So this was a win against a top 15 team, on the road, in elevation. Sure, we got some breaks: Booker did not play and it was an early game instead of an exponentially more brutal night game in SLC. It wasn’t a game where the entire country was paying attention to (a la Mexi above) but it was a must win game and the Bruins won after failing at these "show me" games for nearly 4 years. I hope we can all look back at this as an "inflection point" (hehehe had to throw that in there since this was all the rage pre- and post-Stanford).
IE Angel: Depending on your definition of a "big win", yes. You could easily argue that beating Southern Cal is always a big win, but they’ve been somewhat neutered in the last 3 years and generally bordering on being a top 25 team. Utah was a fringe playoff contender playing without their most important player on offense, but this is the best team that Jim Mora has beaten at UCLA. I count it. Top 15 team on the road in a must win game for postseason aspirations qualifies. Hopefully this gets bumped down after beating Southern Cal and Stanford in consecutive weeks, because knocking off Stanford would be a no doubt resume addition type of victory.
Fox 71: I think it was a big win because so many were predicting that we would lose. They had averaged 33.9 points a game coming into our game, and we held them to 3 field goals. That’s a big team effort, I think.
2. Which players were your top performers against Utah?
Bruinballer: Without a doubt, Perkins and Payton were beasts on offense. Perkins pretty much put the team on his back with every carry, and Utah never had the answer to containing, let alone defending, Payton. Defensively, I loved hearing Brown and Clark and Young called out for their great play by the announcers.
Mexibruin: I’m giving this one to the team as a whole. Meadors, Rosen, Perkins, Payton, Duarte, Walker, and Andrews had the best days statistically, but that goal line stand to start the 2nd half was probably the moment of the game. As a matter of fact the Defense forced Utah into 5 punts and 2 fumbles. It really was a team effort. Right down to the 2nd half touchdown we scored right after they kicked a FG. Way to go team.
gbruin: Nate Meadors. He played farther above himself than anyone else in that game. Kenny Clark was Kenny Clark. Jordan Payton was Jordan Payton. Paul perkins was Paul Perkins. Randall Goforth was all over the place. All of them delivered a great game, but we’re sort of used to seeing that form those players. Meadors was huge.
beer&math: The "big 5:" Rosen, Perkins, Payton, Duarte, and Clark. Their combined consistency continues to impress me. Cuz I like Perkins:
Andrews has done a great job filling in for the very consistent Fuller. The entire defense as a unit deserves recognition for holding Utah to 9 points (even with the assist by Utah). What Meadors is doing is impressive, even more so that he’s been thrown into battle midseason in his first year at U.C.L.A. Check this out:
IE Angel: The most unexpected great performer was definitely Nathan Meadors, as noted by others. A freshman starting in his first game and giving up a lot of side on the outside and getting tested on deep balls down the sideline. That would be tough for anyone, but Meadors made plays. He also impressed me in run support. Randall Goforth played arguably his best game as a Bruin in the backfield as well. Jaleel Wadood was his consistently scrappy self, tough to remember a smaller player who is more physical in run support than Wadood.
On the offensive side, I thought Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte had stellar games that can be seen statistically. Jake Brendel had one of his best games of the season, especially with all three players that played guard struggling around him.
Fox 71: I confess I taped it and speed watched it very late in the evening. I saw the first TD, so I vote for Rosen and Duarte, and I also saw the fumble recovery that iced the game, so I vote for Jayon Brown.
3. The U.C.L.A. defense held a Utah offense to only 9 points when they had not scored below 24 points all season. Is this due to Bradley’s good scheming or Utah’s (offensive coordinators) bad game calling?
Bruinballer: I'd say it was a little of both. To give credit where it was due, Bradley appeared to make defensive adjustments mid-game that helped shut them down, as Joe aptly quoted Mora saying in one his typically awesome articles here on BN. I don't think that Utah's OC necessarily called a bad game; I just feel that our talent was superior to theirs, and for once skill won out.
Mexibruin: Both. Let’s get back to that goal line stand to open the second half. I remember thinking as it happened, "Oh great. Here comes the play action pass. We will have to honor the run since it’s such a short yardage situation, and they’ll score easily." It never happened. Not even once. I was pretty shocked it happened that way. But, the Bruin defense has to be given its proper respect. They didn’t just stop them on that goal line stand, they stopped them all day long. They earned us that win.
gbruin: Football is a 2 way game and the other side (usually) works hard and wants to win, too, so it’s tough to say one thing was simply all us or all them. It’s always a combo of the two. Our defense wasn’t great in the first half and Utah executed some things well, but we also have Utah to thank for not taking advantage of all of their opportunities. Bradley made some adjustments in the second half that put a legit clamp on the Utes’ offense from the mid-third quarter on and they should get a lot of credit for how the defense got stronger and finished that game.
beer&math: Holding an opponent to 9 points means the defense played a great game, no matter what strange things Utah was doing offensively. So, I have to credit Bradley and his ever changing cast of Bruins. During the game threads, I admit I hate the "bend but don’t break" defense, but it really does seem to put us in a position to win more often than not (Of course, this is because the Bruin offense is designed to score quickly). I’m interested in seeing what Bradley wants to do in year 2. I imagine with a roster full of healthy student-athletes with a year under his scheme that he will be more aggressive. At least, that’s what I hope for.
IE Angel: I would say the biggest reasons that Utah only scored 9 points were self inflicted by them. Teams should never kick under 30-yard FGs. Makes no sense and will never make sense to me. They also had two fluky fumbles that both went UCLA’s way (the QB/RB exchange and the Rosen slip). Those both would have been drives deep in the redzone.
That fact doesn’t take anything away because both Tom Bradley and the defense had an applause worthy performance on Saturday. Travis Wilson is a hell of a competitor and clearly a leader, but he is a deeply flawed passer. The comparison I made during the game is that Wilson makes it look like the ball weighs five pounds when he throws it. So, UCLA plan in the secondary was to trust that WIlson couldn’t beat them over the top, which they did once for a touchdown that was taken off the board due to a non-existent hold by their RB. But, almost TDs do not count. Lots of pressure all game by the front 4, who were dominant. Kene Orjioke stepped up and made a huge play on that forced fumble in the redzone. Defense balled out, Utah shot themselves in the foot and also got shot in the other foot by the football gods.
Fox 71: I think Whittingham called a perfect game if he’s an NFL coach (or if he was auditioning for the job in Columbus). It would have been a much more difficult game if they did not decide going in that all they needed was six field goals to win. So I think I have to a lot of our stout defense has to do with a horribly unimaginative offense on the other side. And since I’m the resident old-timer here, this game took me back to the ‘76 Rose Bowl. Ohio State had a 3-0 half time lead, but they had run up and down the field on us. We were only in the game because of a couple of key stops. We got our offense going in the second half and took the lead 9-3 (missed extra point, not three field goals), and for some reason, Coach Hayes decided they should become a passing team, and that was that. We won easily 23-10. That game, as this one, might have been a lot different if our adversary had continued to run the ball.
4. In G’s Morning After piece, he mentioned that the Bruins win when our coaching is equal to or better than our opponents. I, together with many on Bruins Nation, feel Whittingham is one of the best coaches in the Pac-12. Yet, he seemed to out-Mora Mora in conservatism. What happened against Utah?
Bruinballer: I honestly don't know how to address this question! We've lost to Leach, who is admittedly a wily play caller and coach; Todd Graham, whose 2013 team won the Pac12 South and then lost in the Holiday Bowl; and Shaw, who has owned Mora every game he's played him. So yeah, he's definitely lost to good coaches there. Who has Mora beat? Mike London (meh), Bronco Mendenhall (meh), Rich Rodriguez (great at W Virginia but little after), Sonny Dykes (meh), Mike MacIntyre (1 WAC title), and now Kyle Wittingham. I guess that Greg has a fair point, then, with Wittingham as the outlier.
Mexibruin: The difference has to be the loss of Devontae Booker. Coaches tend to restrict the playbook when someone is brought up to handle a larger load of the offense. Also, in the case of a healthy Booker, it’s easier to play loose when you have a RB that is chewing up yardage every time he gets the rock.
gbruin: I’d love to ask the Utes fans that question. The frustration in the comments in their game thread suggested more of a long term discontent with play calling and conservatism and that this wasn’t just a one-game-loss-of-Booker issue, but the degree of the Utes demeanor on the field and the lack of aggression from their team/coaches really surprised me.
beer&math: This one is a head scratcher. I felt during the game like the Bruins were playing in a mirror. That is, the play of the Utes and the coaching decisions felt very familiar to us Bruins fans. I don’t have an answer to this one but it was definitely spooky.
IE Angel: Kyle Whittingham is perfect for Utah, in my opinion. A high level coach and a coach that has put together a good staff and developed decently talented players into NFL prospects, which should not be understated. Utah’s talent in the front 7 is NFL level, that is a damn good team that UCLA just beat. But...I think he’d get crushed at a bigger school because of that deeply rooted conservatism. Any time a coach chooses to kick extra-point length field goals when his running game is getting 5 yards a pop, that team is going to be playing behind the 8-ball.
Fox 71: I have nothing else to add here. I agree with it all.
5. I’m eating crow after my "doomsday" prediction of losing three straight (starting with the WSU loss). And I’m happy about it. Happy for the players. Happy to still be in a position to win the Pac-12. It’s Beat SC week, biggest week of football season and Mora has shown that he can get his players amped for this game. Prediction time: who wins next Saturday?
Bruinballer: Without a doubt, Bruins beat the Trogans for a fourth consecutive time. Rosen steps up and shows the nation why he's called The Chosen, throwing bullets that only our team can catch. Not to be outdone, Perkins runs for 150+ yards and 2 TDs, while Payton and Duarte both catch a TD for a statement win over our hated rivals. Defensively, Brown and Young try to demonstrate to Kessler that LBs not named Barr can still plant a QB into the turf.
Mexibruin: I feel good about this one. I’m less sure than I was the last three years; and, a lot less sure than if Sarkisian was leading the team. I give us a 65% chance of winning it.
gbruin: In the preseason predictions, I had us tied with Southern Cal in the final game and us winning, but that was with a different roster with healthy players and our all-conference stars being on the field. But that’s okl. I’ll stick with my prediction.
beer&math: Admittedly, I have not seen the Trogans play very much this season. I saw a couple minutes of the Oregon game last week and a couple minutes here and there from their other games. They can score points and run the ball. They match-up poorly with U.C.L.A. yet my optimism has taken a turn for the better after the Utah game. I can’t tell you how stoked I am about ending the regular season against Southern Cal. The Bruins are always uber pumped for this game (which I think partially explains the Stanford collapse last year) and Mazzone usually makes inspired calls. It’s a toss up on paper, but my homer ass is picking the Bruins. U.C.L.A. owns this town!
#BOOM Rosen continues what Hundley started and will never lose to the Trograns! #8Clap
IE Angel: I think UCLA gets to 9 regular season wins once again. I will come clean though. I hang my head in shame to admit that I predicted a loss in this game at the start of the season. I thought UCLA would get two losses in Pac-12 play, the first game against Arizona and this game to close out the year because they would have already clinched a Pac-12 South crown. That was before the Sark debacle...well, before the final Sark debacle. It was also before the rash of injuries that hit Southern Cal and before it was clear that their offensive line was as dysfunctional as any UCLA group in Klemm’s tenure. My only worry in this game is the ability of their skill position players against UCLA’s undersized defensive backs (Adams, Johnson, Meadors, Wadood and even a generously listed Randall Goforth are all on the shorter side) and also the linebacking core having to deal with man coverage against any of Southern Cal’s threats out of the backfield. Cody Kessler’s struggles against good teams make me confident that UCLA will be able to rush 4-5 and get consistent pressure and render all that talent relatively meaningless. The offense has no excuse not to put up 30+ points on Southern Cal’s defense though and, if it is a shootout, UCLA has a big advantage.
Fox 71: What! You want me to tell the pitcher he’s got a no-hitter going? That’s not going to happen. In fact, I’m about to become a combination recluse and hermit. I do not want anything I do, say or think, no matter how inadvertently, be deemed by those who track these things to be anything that can impose even a little bad luck to the team. Or to put it another way, I respectfully decline to answer.
6. If you could pick any team in the country to play U.C.L.A in a bowl game in any stadium, who would you pick and where would they play?
Bruinballer: Um... Southern Cal in the Crapiseum just to keep kicking their ass at their house? LOL Seriously, I would love to play Florida in the Swamp, because I haven't been to Florida in a long time and my roommate won't STFU about Florida, so this would go a long way to peace and sanity in my life.
Mexibruin: Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
gbruin: Alabama in the Rose Bowl.
beer&math: Dangit! That’s what I was going to pick Mexi! So, instead I’ll pick U.C.L.A. playing Michigan in "The Big House" in late November.
IE Angel: Damn. Tough question. Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. I would love to see UCLA play a team more talented than them, just to see what would happen and the game plan the coaching staff would put together. I want no part of Alabama though. That defense against Noel Mazzone would not be fun for Bruin fans.
Fox 71: That’s another one that can only lead to trouble. "Dad, which of us children do you love the best?" Or the dreaded "Honey, do these pants make my rear look too big?" I can only tell you the teams I don’t want to play (because I don’t want to see them go to any bowl) and that’s the entire SEC and Ohio State and anyone else BSPN is rooting for.
7. The Extra Point. What’s on your mind?
Bruinballer: I've been to the Rose Bowl 3 times this year, and I really really miss Geoff Strand! I mean, yes, he annoyed the hell out of me at times, but I really miss every man, woman and child getting up on their feet cheering on our boys on the field. We need more energy at home, and no one has stepped up to take his place. Many of us have mentioned here on BN how the crowd sits on their collective butt far too much, and we need someone forcing them to stand up for the whole game!
Mexibruin: This was a tough game leading into another tough game. The one thing I got out of watching this game is that the team came together and played as a team when they needed it the most. This win was all heart. From the goal line stand, to the final TD to answer Utah when they pulled within 1; this game was all about desire. And, this is perfect timing. This week is going to be all about who wants it more: The City Championship. The Victory Bell. History is going to be written this Saturday. The players and coaches will need to decide what kind of history they want to write.
gbruin: Last week was about the career of Ka’imi Fairbairn. This week was about the career of Jordan Payton. Did anyone see this kid becoming our all-time leading receiver when he got to campus as a freshman? I didn’t. I saw someone solid who would be a reliable contributor in our system. I didn't see a guy who would be our all-time receptions leader.
He’s developed and performed beyond expectations and he deserves tons of credit for reaching this level.
Oh, and Beat $c!!
beer&math: I’m subject to vacillations as much as the next person, but I must admit my mood has certainly changed after the Utah win. I was pretty down on the direction of the program (Mora to a degree, Mazzone and Klemm for sure) after the Stanford faceplant and the Washington State loss. Although I haven’t had the time to read all of IEAngel’s EyeTest this week, I did read enough of it to further calm my nerves. I feel like I’ll enjoy SC week. Some highlights to enjoy:
IE Angel: Don’t blame you for not reading beer&math, it is tough to find space for 7000 words of reading during the week. I’m sad that Grantland was ruined by ESPN, so the Eye Test has become something of a dedication to long-form journalism.
I touched on this in the Eye Test comment thread, but I am extremely excited about what the UCLA defense will be capable of in 2016. That is not intended to undercut how much that the Bruins still have to accomplish in 2015 (win two and get to the Rose Bowl for the first time in much, much, much too long). But, basically everyone in the front seven will be back (except for two first round picks in Kenny Clark and Myles Jack) and healthy (The Welcome Back Train open for Eddie Vanderdoes and his NFL stock). The defensive backs have more talent and depth than any team since maybe LSU when they were trotting out 5 NFL players at a time a few years ago. Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams, Randall Goforth (all with around 30 starts). Marcus Rios and Jaleel Wadood entering their third years as starters. John Johnson, Nate Meadors with full healthy offseasons after balling out while being thrown into action. The development of Dechaun Holiday, Denzel Fisher, Adarius Pickett and whatever talent UCLA gets signed in February. That should be a top 10 defense and I think Tom Bradley will finally get the production to match the talent on defense.
Fox 71: I cannot watch these games live. It’s just too hard on my mental and physical well-being. I’ll have to depend on my brothers and sisters to do my rooting for me.
That’s it for the Utah Utes Postgame Postgame Roundtable. Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and I welcome anyone else to share their own answers in the comments.
If you have any of your own questions, fire away in the comments as well.
I'll end with one more tweet since I'm a fan of tautologies:
GO BRUINS! BEAT SC!!!!