I woke up in a good mood this morning. You see, unlike the rest of you, I didn't watch the game last night, so when I climbed out of bed this morning, I didn't have a case of Mora-era post-Stanford blues.
Now, lest you assume that I'm writing about a game that I didn't see, let me explain my situation. I live in London. I'm eight hours ahead of Pacific Coast time. Over here, kickoff was at 3:30 AM.
I've been told that only a "bizarrely obsessive" individual would wake up in the middle of the night several times a week to watch college football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball. That analysis is courtesy of an ex-boyfriend who for reasons that I couldn't understand, refused to tolerate the quirkiness of someone with a deep, life-long attachment to UCLA Athletics.
Of course, none of that explains why I didn't watch the game last night. My reason—or, if you prefer, my excuse—for not waking last night to watch the Bruins once again get bulldozed by the Cardinal is that I'm suffering from post-concussion syndrome. Per instructions from my physician, I'm required to be in bed from midnight until 7 AM with the lights out and my eyes closed. No exceptions, even for UCLA football games.
Consequently, I did the next best thing: I recorded the game stream on my laptop and started watching the "replay" within minutes of arising this morning. With limited time before needing to leave for work, I started to prepare breakfast while I watched the opening minutes.
Loss of appetite and depression are two symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. Loss of appetite and depression are also two symptoms caused by UCLA-Stanford games during the Mora-era. By the time my breakfast was ready—about eight minutes into the first quarter—the Bruins were down by 11, and my good mood and appetite had vanished.
Nevertheless, I managed to get through the entire 60 minutes. Another three-touchdown loss to the Cardinal. It wasn't the same game as last year's three-touchdown defeat, nor was it the same as the two-touchdown defeat in 2013, but in a certain sense, it was the same game. We were out-played, out-muscled, out-classed. Another year, another hugely disappointing, decisive loss.
In his postgame comments, Coach Mora emphasized that each year's team is a "new team," and that it's the media and fans, not the players, that find a troubling pattern in the string of defeats against Stanford. I agree. This year's team isn't responsible for the losses that came before. However, the same isn't true of the coaches. For the most part, the coaches have been the same year after year. Coach Mora has been at the helm for each of the last five losses to Stanford. Noel Mazzone and Adrian Klemm have been at his side for each of those losses. So have Angus McClure, Demetrice Martin, Eric Yarber and Taylor Mazzone. Any explanation for the annual hiccup against Stanford has to start and end with the coaching staff.
What I have to say next will probably get me in trouble, but I'm going to say it anyway. I agree with Coach Mora's assessment that this is a team that is "still developing." For starters (no pun intended), this isn't anywhere near the same team that opened against Virginia. Eddie Vanderdoes is gone. So are Myles Jack and Fabian Moreau. At the start of the season, it appeared that our defense could win games for us. Now, with key starters missing and other starters being asked to play different positions to accommodate backups forced into starting roles, the defense is in flux. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that it's naive to see Coach Bradley's defense as anything but "still developing."
Let's face it: UCLA's defense isn't going to win games for us. That should have been apparent after the Arizona game, and doubly so after the loss to Arizona State. Stanford's 316 rushing yards against UCLA's defense last night confirms that Coach Bradley's unit is "still developing."
Moreover, the fact that UCLA's defense is struggling to adapt quickly to personnel losses has placed a much heavier burden on the offense and its freshman quarterback. While it's certainly true that there are plenty of veteran players among the UCLA starters, it's also undeniably true that Josh Rosen is "still developing." After all, he's a true freshman who just started the sixth game of his collegiate career. Rosen is only 18; if he's not "still developing," then there's a serious problem.
It goes without saying that a freshman quarterback will make mistakes. Some of them will be costly. We saw an example of that last night.
That's not to say that the Bruins loss can be attributed to inexperience. UCLA lost to a better team. It's that simple. But if we search for explanations for UCLA's dip in performance over the past couple of weeks, one of the main reasons is that the Bruins haven't yet adapted to the loss of several stars. So in that sense, the Bruins are definitely "still developing."
While I see this as a significant contributing factor to UCLA's loss, others may see it as an excuse. After all, in the aftermath of the loss to the Sun Devils, when asked about the loss of key defensive starters Jim Mora insisted that "you have to find a way to get it done." Against Stanford, the Bruins didn't get it done. In my opinion, a lot of development will be necessary if the Bruins are going to get it done against Cal next Thursday.
Of course there are plenty of other factors that contributed to the Bruins' failure. Some will point to the dreadful performance of the officiating crew. I have to admit that I thought the officials were horrible, and that in the first half at least, the Bruins were hit harder by bad calls and no calls. For instance, I'm baffled that the first quarter hold on Deon Hollins wasn't flagged as it was in plain view of an official. I didn't think much of the first quarter offensive pass interference call either. Then there was the ruling that a clear backwards pass by Kevin Hogan was an incomplete pass rather than a live ball. At least that call was overturned upon review, but it's shocking that a review was required at all. And the ejection of Kenneth Walker for a targeting penalty on a block was questionable based on my understanding of the rule, although I'll defer judgment on that to IE Angel. In my opinion, although the officiating was dismal, citing it as a factor in the Bruins' loss is an excuse, not a reason.
Speaking of penalties, as happens all too often, the Bruins made things harder for themselves by committing too many penalties. Last night the total was 10 for 93 yards. I've been harping on this problem since week 1—in spite of relatively recent acknowledgement by Coach Mora that the Bruins have to play with more discipline and need to cut down on the number of penalties they commit, there's no evidence so far of improvement: UCLA is committing penalties and being assessed penalty yards at the same rate as last year. However, despite penalties being an ongoing problem, they were at most a small contributing factor to the loss.
Although I haven't read the game threads yet, I imagine that the usual suspects—most notably, Noel Mazzone—took some heat for some of the team's failures against Stanford. I'll be the first to admit that there were some odd, ill-judged plays called by Mazzone, but far too many other things went wrong last night to hold him primarily responsible for the embarrassment. It wasn't Mazzone's unit that allowed a 96 yard kickoff return or 316 rushing yards. While there's no doubt that Mazzone's fingerprints are on yesterday's defeat, he wasn't the architect of it.
One person's reasons are another person's excuses. We can argue endlessly about how to explain another disheartening loss to Stanford. Excuses or reasons? It doesn't matter. Examining yesterday's failure through a microscope means that we lose sight of the bigger picture: four years of losses to Stanford. What went wrong yesterday shares common elements with all of the other losses. If we don't acknowledge the pattern, we can't understand the problem. What needs to be fixed didn't just happen yesterday.
In trying to identify what went wrong against Stanford, Coach Mora said "there's never a singular thing." I'm absolutely confident that he's right, but identifying precisely what went wrong and finding solutions starts with making a series of singular changes. Unlike our Athletic Director who boasts of his unwillingness to change, Coach Mora has to embrace change if UCLA is going to become an elite football power. More of the same isn't working.
I have great respect for Coach Mora's work ethic, but in my opinion, the program shortcomings that are holding the Bruins back aren't going to be solved by working harder. To get the program to where we want it to be, Coach Mora has to make some hard choices. Meaningful change requires hard choices; good intentions are not enough. As Coach Mora acknowledged after the loss to ASU, "It starts with me and our staff..."
There is no doubt that Coach Mora has lifted the program. In the process, he also raised expectations. We are waiting for the program to take the next step, to become elite, to beat Stanford, Oregon, Utah, and any other program that stands between UCLA and the Pac-12 title. Clearly we still aren't there yet. Something fundamental has to change, and Coach Mora has to make it happen. It's his responsibility. There are hard choices to be made.
As far as offering a remedy for the "steadily depressing, low down mind messing" annual post-Stanford blues, all I can say is that the only cure is a win. At this juncture, it seems highly unlikely that the Bruins will get an opportunity to face Stanford again in 2015, so we very probably have to wait another year for our chance to get that win. Whatever it takes, Coach Mora has to find a way to get it done. No excuses.
Finally, for the vast majority of you who are mourning the absence of a post-game sermon from Greg for the second straight week in addition to mourning another bad loss to Stanford, let me assure you that Greg will be back next week. Probably. Actually, "probably" may be wishful thinking, because according to my theory, he's planning a triumphant return following a UCLA victory. So let's change "probably" to "possibly," and hope that Coach Bradley can find a way to solve some of UCLA's defensive problems before Thursday night at the Rose Bowl.