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UCLA Football: Utah Post-Game Roundtable

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss UCLA’s 52-45 loss to Utah.

NCAA Football: Utah at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

1. Well, that was something. The offense set records, and the defense reverted to 2015. What one word would you use to describe this game?

AnteatersandBruins: Frustrating. Every loss this season has been single digits. It was frustrating to watch our defense give up big plays that result in touchdowns when our offensive line finally starts to show small improvements. For Pete’s sake, our back up put up 45 points on one of the best defenses in the Pac 12! This was obviously not the game anyone expected, since the over/under was only 42.5 and they ended up scoring a combined 97 points.

Robert Bastron: Bizarro World. I guess that’s two words, but one idea? Everything I expected to happen, the inverse happened. Everything the team had been supposed to be at the beginning of the season, the opposite occurred. I don’t think anyone needs me to elaborate.

Nirya: Unexpected. I invited some friends to the game, and we all expected a defensive struggle due to the presence of two top 30 defenses and two anemic at best offenses. So of course both teams went for over 500 yards. All according to plan.

Joe Piechowski: Loss. As in another one. It doesn't matter if it's by one or by seven. It's another game that gets added to the column on the right-side. And, I'm tired of it.

2. Mike Fafaul set UCLA records for pass attempts and completions, but also threw 4 interceptions and added a fumble. How did you feel he did?

AnteatersandBruins: I think he made the same mistakes many green quarterbacks do. This is his second start (yes, I know he’s a senior, but with little to no game experience), so you’re bound to see some of those interceptions and fumbles. Let’s remember he set the passing record because we have NO run game. These numbers reflect an almost desperate effort to cover up the fact that the run game is absolutely abysmal. With that said, Fafaul played his heart out. I would never fault the guy for doing what he did. He was able to hit receivers and even though there were still a few dropped passes, we also saw the number of receivers narrowed (finally).

Robert Bastron: Fafaul is doing the best he can within his ability, I think, and you can’t expect much more out of him. He gets into trouble mostly when he’s attempting throws that he just doesn’t have the tools to make. So despite the five turnovers, I still think he did a good job. The real question is how did we get into a situation where we have to play a former walk-on in the backup role.

Nirya: Considering what he was working with (i.e. non-existent run game, poor blocking, receiver drops), what Mike Fafaul did in this game was extraordinary. Yes the turnovers were bad, but they were more the result of trying too hard and pushing beyond his talent level than anything, and it’s hard to blame a former walk-on for giving 110% and doing everything he can to try and win the game.

Joe Piechowski: I was happy for him. He went from being a footnote to being in the UCLA record book. I just wish he had been developed more over the past four years so that maybe he could have avoided those interceptions. Then again, I also wish that he was never pressed into service in the first place. I wish that the offensive line had done a better job blocking for Josh before he got hurt and that they would have done a better job blocking on the play Josh hurt his shoulder on. I'm not complaining about the players. I'm disappointed that the coaching staff didn't do a better job of developing both Fafaul and the offensive line.

3. UCLA had an answer to their running game woes by turning into an air-raid offense, foregoing the run almost entirely. Did you like the strategy?

AnteatersandBruins: My gut reaction is, "hell no!", but mainly because we had the chance to convert on 4 and 1 and chose to pass because we just can’t run. You have to have SOME sort of run game available for situations like that. Where was the fullback in that case? Is there literally no one that can get one freaking yard?!?! Utah also had double the amount of time of possession, and with the complete abandonment of the run game you also score quicker and don’t rest your defense as long. I don’t think it’s wise to play your defense for 40 minutes.

Robert Bastron: It doesn’t feel like a long term solution, and it doesn’t say good things about the state of the program if you are having to completely revamp your offense halfway through the season, and the revamp is the complete inverse of how you said you were going to play offense at the beginning of the season. But hey, they weren’t going to be successful running the ball, and it actually worked, for the most part. So, I’d say I like the strategy for game 8 of a broken season--they’re trying something; but it doesn’t bode well for the long term.

Nirya: So, here’s the overall problem: the UCLA offensive coaching staff began the year with a square peg and tried to repeatedly fit it into a round hole. I still don’t know why the coaching staff believed they could run a pro-style, power-run offense after 4 years of recruiting for a spread system. So in that context, it’s not that shocking that the offense finally looked good when playing in a system they were brought in for. There still remained problems with the offense (another sub 50 yard rushing game!), so I’d say to pump the breaks on any belief in a complete turnaround.

Joe Piechowski: No, because, now, Colorado is going to be ready for a pass-only offense. They are going to just tee off and rush the passer next Thursday. And, it could get ugly.

No, because I want the run game fixed. This didn't fix it. It did the same thing that Jim Mora has done with his coaching staff. It kicked the can down the road and failed to fix the problem.

4. Utah gained 539 yards of total offense, including 360 of those on the ground. What happened?

AnteatersandBruins: Joe Williams. How that guy was able to have a record breaking game is beyond me. Our defense either had no answer for him or was simply not prepared.

Robert Bastron: It feels like they saw something in our defensive front that they were able to exploit that our coaches weren’t prepared for, and didn’t know how to adjust to, with much of Williams’ big runs coming on a specific counter play. Combine that with being on the field a bit more, and what seemed like poor effort--perhaps demoralization it setting in-- and you have a 360 yard rush game. Not sure how much of an excuse tempo was, since they started getting big plays pretty early.

Nirya: At times, I believe the whole "UCLA can’t defend against a running QB" story is a bit overblown. That said, the threat of Troy Williams to run seemed to cause problems, as UCLA would overcommit to stopping only him or running back Joe Williams on running plays. The bigger problem was not recognizing what Utah wanted to do (run the ball) and not planning for that (i.e. putting 7-8 in the box). This wasn’t a typical outing from the defense, and while there were points where they were called upon to do damage control, they had a few issues of their own that need to be addressed going forward.

Joe Piechowski: One of the problems with the Spread or Tempo or whatever you want to call it is that it puts the defense back on the field way too fast.

In his one of his recent press conference, Jim Mora mentioned the fact that he was on Don Coryell's staff in the 80s when the Chargers' offense was called Air Coryell. Well, the problem with that offense was the same problem that UCLA has running the Tempo Spread offense. It gets the offense off the field far too quickly and sends the defense back out there again.

Three of UCLA's six touchdown drives were each shorter than 42 seconds. Two of the other three touchdown drives lasted a minute and a half and the other one lasted a minute and 50 seconds.

Only the drive that ended in the final interception lasted more than two and a half minutes. That's going to tire out your defense.

5. Despite the close final score, it’s hard not to look at this loss as anything other than another disappointing loss, especially considering UCLA was favored in this matchup. What is your confidence level at with this staff?

AnteatersandBruins: A reporter asked Mora if he is worried about losing the locker room. I know I am. I’m sure the question pissed him off, but it’s legitimate. At what point does a season like this go completely sideways and start to affect recruiting? I’m not confident we can win three out of four and actually qualify for a bowl, and if we did, I don’t think we’d win. My confidence is bargain basement level at this point (except Tom Bradley. I feel like he’s the only one earning his keep at this point).

Robert Bastron: Pretty low. Injury to Rosen or not, the offensive side of the ball has been a total disaster this season, and the switch to passing the ball 70 times, though maybe a good move in the short term, feels desperate. Mora will have to make some competent staff changes on offense in the offseason, and try to change the dire direction his program has turned in. Can he do it? He’s never had to make decisions like that before at UCLA, and his previous coordinator hires haven’t all exactly been shrewd.

Nirya: Not making a bowl game would be an inexcusable disaster, full stop. You can make excuses like the new offensive system taking time to learn (which is even funnier considering we went full Air-Raid in this game) or blame Rosen’s injury, but at the end of the day, this is year 5 under Mora, and he chickens of poor roster management and coaching decisions are finally coming home to roost. As is, the fact that Mora is starting to appear on national hot-seat watch lists is a pretty big deal, as people around the country recognize how poorly things are going in Westwood.

Joe Piechowski: I'm done with this coaching staff. I have no confidence that Jim Mora will make the changes necessary to get this team back on track now or for next season. I hope whoever flew those banners above campus got a bulk rate price because now both football and basketball are unmitigated disasters.

Mora should be either resign or be fired after this season, but I fully expect another PR stunt from the Athletic Department where Mora gives back the contract extension he signed this past June. That's not acceptable.

6. The Extra Point - Sound off!

AnteatersandBruins: Not sure how this fact got past me, but I was made aware this weekend that Adrian Klemm is also the run game coordinator. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? If I did my job as bad as he does his, I’d be fired, and I’m in a union!!! There’s no reason to keep that guy. There are plenty of good coaches out there that are also good recruiters (and that know the rules of recruiting and won’t end up with show cause orders). Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, can we please pause for a moment and appreciate the work of Mike Fafaul the past two weeks? That kid reminds me of Kevin Prince. He’s thrown into tough situations, plays his heart out, and can’t slide. Someone get John Savage out there, please.

Robert Bastron: Let’s say Kennedy Polamalu gets the ax in the offseason, and I don’t see how he doesn’t. Josh Rosen will be working with this third offense in three years. Talk about squandering a generational talent, with the star player many thought we be able to bump the program into elite status.

Nirya: UCLA has to go at least 3-1 the rest of the way just to make a bowl game (ok, technically they could qualify at 5-7, but that really wouldn’t be a good look). So, UCLA has to win what are essentially toss-ups at this point against Oregon State and Cal, and then pull off an upset over either Colorado or USC. The good news is that UCLA has a bye week this week to maybe figure some things out. The bad news is that UCLA, in year 5 of the Jim Mora era, needs to potentially pull off an upset over Colorado to possibly make a bowl game. A team with the talent level of UCLA should never be put in this position.

Joe Piechowski: This site was started when Karl Dorrell was coaching UCLA Football because he was so awful.

Yet, after 42 conference games, Jim Mora has the same conference record that Dorrell had when he was fired -- 24-18 -- including the P12CG in 2012. If that was good enough to fire Dorrell who was also a terrible recruiter, why should we accept it when the talent has been recruited?

Go Bruins.