1. 9 in a row. The Bruins have now lost 9 in a row to Stanford, with this game being the closest UCLA has come to victory since they were a field goal away in the 2012 Pac 12 Championship Game. Where did it all go so wrong?
AnteatersandBruins: Two things: key dropped passes and coaching. We were one first down away from controlling the situation and keeping our offense on the field. There has been an abundance of conservative play calling as well. The only thing we need to consider is that we aren’t at practice. Rosen is clearly hitting that Sophomore slump, and the conservatism is likely related to his current state. But then you have to look at the people around him and ask, "why is he performing this way?". Why settle for three points when you have a unit that can more than likely get that 4th and 1? Subpar coaches that have talent around them but can’t properly develop it or utilize it properly.
Robert Bastron: The 2012 conference championship game, last week’s game, and all the games in between, had their own story. The old M.O. for Jim Mora’s teams (and certainly in the 2012 Pac-12 Championship game) were that you had lots of talent that made too many mistakes--especially penalties. That 2012 team was the most penalized team in the country, and was penalized 8 times for 73 yards in that game. This year’s team, despite the poor timing of a few, is drastically better at avoiding penalties. This year’s game was easily the best a Jim Mora team has looked against Stanford. The problem this year is the inability to move the ball on the ground. There are a lot of reasons for that, as Mora has said. Play calling, philosophy, the offensive line, the running backs. We can talk about specific decisions in the game and a couple of poorly timed dropped passes, but UCLA lost last week because they couldn’t run the ball.
Nirya: The problem, as always, was UCLA making poor coaching decisions. In this case, UCLA committed to a running game that it doesn't have the personnel to run properly, instead of utilizing one of the best passers in college to attack a defense that was missing their top 2 cornerbacks for the entirety of the second half. You can't blame the players when you continually put them in poor situations and expect them to succeed in spite of that.
Joe Piechowski: It's bad coaching decisions. It's conservative decision-making. It's playing to not lose instead of playing to win. That's all on Jim Mora. When was the last time Mora called for a fake punt? Let's bring in Tom Herman instead and we'll be on the right track.
2. The defense played exceptionally well against the Cardinal. How are we all feeling about Tom Bradley, especially after last year’s subpar defensive performance?
AnteatersandBruins: I was proud of our defense. They left it all on the field and I think they have been improving every week. They let up the last two minutes for sure, but obviously Stanford switched their gameplan on a dime, which is something we can’t seem to do.
Robert Bastron: Like any coordinator, Tom Bradley is better when he has great weapons in his arsenal. Right now the defense is the third best defense in ypp in the Pac-12 (the defense as a whole actually was pretty good by this metric last year, despite how bad the run D was). I think this year with his stars healthy, and the switch to a 4-3, a scheme that Bradley historically ran at Penn State and proves to be more comfortable in, we are seeing what the defense is supposed to look like, and it looks pretty good. Even with the sudden passive defense in the last drive, his unit held a Stanford team with the best skill player in the country to only 16 points--that should’ve been good enough to win the game.
Nirya: The defense did its job, and then some. We had ideas that Tom Bradley was a good defensive coordinator, and the switch to a 4-3, which he ran at Penn State, seems to be doing wonders. He’s also gotten more aggressive as the season has gone on, trusting the secondary to make plays and sending linebackers to provide extra pressure. This is what we expected to see last year.
Joe Piechowski: This is what I expected to see last year. I've always said that Bradley's football credentials are second to none. Now, that they are using his system and he has gotten to know the strengths of the players and the players themselves have gotten healthy, the defense is playing well.
3. There was a lot to like from the defense, but who stood out to you the most?
AnteatersandBruins: The guys on the inside containing McCaffrey. He didn’t breakout for a touchdown run the entire game.
Robert Bastron: I’ve been impressed by Adarius Pickett. He wasn’t expected to be a starter, and yet he’s continually graded as one of the top defensive players on the team, and can be more physical than Goforth.
Nirya: Linebacker play was especially good for the second game in a row. In particular, it seems like the light has come on for Kenny Young, who is having his best stretch of play as a Bruin.
Joe Piechowski: It's been a true team effort with different players stepping up when needed.
4. The offense had issues. A lot of them. What was the biggest issue for you?
AnteatersandBruins: Dropped passes. See my answer to #1.
Robert Bastron: The inability to move the ball on the ground. Sure, there are other issues, but this is the biggest one. There is no scheme, no style of football where you can succeed offensively without being able to run the ball effectively. Even offenses that don’t give a lick about running the ball are running the ball better than UCLA so far this season. There are multiple issues here, the offensive line, the play calling.. Polamalu insisting on running between the tackles time and again when it’s not getting you anywhere. We have to improve the ground game, and fast.
Nirya: It's not so much the lack of success in the run game that bothers me, but the dogged insistence to keep trying the same thing over and over. UCLA doesn't have the personnel to run consistently between the tackles, yet Offensive Coordinator Kennedy Polamalu kept trying that play to poor results. Especially in this game, where an already-average Stanford lost their best corners, the decision not to air the ball out more was just a mind-bogglingLou bad decision.
Joe Piechowski: The offensive line is not getting the job done. If they were, we'd be a lot more effective at running the ball, but we're not running the ball well and that starts and ends with the offensive line.
5. Was there anything on offense that you liked, or wanted to see more of?
AnteatersandBruins: The money seemed to be in the quick strikes that got six or seven yards on first down. If that’s what works, go with it. Rosen can’t hit the long ball this year, so airing it out should be avoided until he works his way out of this rut he’s in. He overthrows his receivers every time.
Robert Bastron: I love it when the tight ends get involved. It seemed like after the A&M game that group disappeared. Defenses, for some reason, in any level of football, can never keep an eye on the tight end. Iese lead the team in receptions and reception yards, Roberts and Wilson both caught passes. If we’re lining up with tight ends, they have to be a threat to get the ball.
Nirya: Rosen had his best day by far throwing the ball, more willing to take what he was given and gain positive yards, which is a must against a defense like Stanford. In particular, he was very confident attacking Stanford’s secondary with seam routes, which isn’t an easy throw to make consistently. He's still missing some deep passes, but crucially he wasn't missing on the short and medium passes that he had previously.
Joe Piechowski: I want our coaching staff to be more aggressive. Stop playing the field position game and play to win for a change.
6. Glass half full time: UCLA played their best game against the Cardinal, and finally showed they might be able to hang with the best in the conference (note: I did not say beat, but even having this game be competitive is a step up). With the strong overall performance, how do you see the rest of the season playing out?
AnteatersandBruins: Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be as dismal as everyone says it will. They are capable of so much. But our offense has no identity. They seem to have lost their confidence and their swagger. We need to see Josh get his groove back.
Robert Bastron: The defense, barring injuries, looks like it can be as stout as any defense in the conference. That’s a good thing always, but especially when the offense is continuing to struggle. UCLA won’t play a team as good as Texas A&M or Stanford for the rest of the season, unless or until the Pac-12 championship game.Yet, football is a funny sport because even after four games, as the picture begins to clear up a bit, there’s a lot we still don’t know. I still think we are the best team in the Pac-12 South. I’m 50/50 between 9-3, 8-4, and believe there’s a very good shot to win the South.
Nirya: Here’s the thing - on a pure talent level, only USC can really challenge the Bruins for the South, and there’s a decent chance their head coach doesn't last through October, let alone the season. The defense has been very good so far, and if the offense can ever get over its play calling and personnel issues (I'm referring to bad WR rotations here), there really isn't a team left on the schedule they shouldn't beat.
Joe Piechowski: I expect us to go 4 and 4 in the remaining games and head to another fourth-tier bowl game. And, that's being optimistic.
7. I guess we should also address the elephant in the room: can Jim Mora ever win anything substantial while at UCLA?
AnteatersandBruins: I really want him to. I’m starting to feel like I did during the CRN years. I wanted nothing more than to see Neuheisel succeed, but it wasn’t likely then and it doesn’t seem likely now. But stranger things have happened and although a lot of people may quit going to games, I’ve never considered myself a fairweather fan. I know some will say this drives the point home that we need to fire the staff and make changes, but not supporting the team won’t make the current situation any better. I’ll be there next week with my crew and tailgate in tow and I’ll hope for the best.
Robert Bastron: Well, sure. Mora came in and quickly elevated the program from bad/mediocre to good. Of course, we’re frustrated that he can’t take the next step from good to great, and compete with the elite teams in the conference. It sure feels like if he can’t take that next step in the next year or two, it may never happen. I’m not going to give up on Mora just yet, especially on the heels of coming as close as he’s ever been to knocking off Stanford.
Nirya: It depends on your definition of substantial, really. If by substantial, you’re referring to the PAC 12, maybe? UCLA under Mora is always going to be competitive in the South just due to a talent advantage compared to everyone else, and whenever they win the South, they’ll end up in a one-game playoff where anything can realistically happen. If you’re talking about making noise on the national level? Probably not. Mora is too conservative as a coach, and UCLA isn't pulling in talent at a level Jim Tressel did at Ohio State to get away with it.
Joe Piechowski: No. It's time to make a change after the season. Tom Herman has Ventura County roots. He and Kyle Whittingham are at the top of my list of potential replacements.
8. The Extra Point - Sound off!
AnteatersandBruins: The Rose Bowl was PACKED. I loved seeing so many people out there in Bruin Blue, and so many people standing on third down. The energy was there but the better team won. Maybe we’ll get a rematch.
Robert Bastron: Put me squarely in the camp that believes it’s premature to start calling for Mora’s job. He won 9-10 games in his first three seasons, and only 8 games in his worst season so far, last season. Prior to his hiring, UCLA had only won at least 8 games once since the 1998 season, when Karl Dorrell had a 7-5 team that got lucky 3 times and finished 10-2 in 2005. Let’s see how the rest of the year plays out, and if the offense can improve during an easier stretch of the schedule. If the win total continues to trend down this year and next, that’s a problem. If the win total never breaks the 10-win ceiling after several years, then maybe you talk. College football is full of programs that fell into stretches of really bad football after getting rid of a guy who consistently won 9-10 games a year.
Nirya: I’ve stated in the past that UCLA’s talent level basically guarantees a floor of 7 wins, but we’re starting to see that the talent level of the coaching staff in general is creating a ceiling. Against Stanford, a strong defensive effort was thrown away because the offensive staff called an extremely poor game. And for those who want to blame drops, the offensive line, or even the running backs for some reason, at the end of the day the biggest issue is coaching. Adrian Klemm has outlived his usefulness in Westwood, and it's hard to make a case for Eric Yarber’s continued employment. We’ve known that Jim Mora was only going to look as good as the people he surrounds himself with, but in year 5 his loyalty to subpar coaches is actively hurting any dreams of grandeur he may be having.\
Joe Piechowski: UCLA has lost its last four games to Power 5 schools. If RichRod and the Wildcats come into the Rose Bowl and walk out with a win, the rest of the season will be a long one.