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UCLA Football: Bruin Nation's Utah Post-Game Roundtable Discussion

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss the 2014 season's fifth game, a complete collapse in a classic trap game, falling 30-28 to unranked Utah in a game that knocked the Bruins down the polls and out of serious consideration for the inaugural College Football Playoff, despite a wide open door to a spot in the top-five this week.

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1. Our Bruins followed a huge road win over a major Pac-12 South division rival by falling flat on their face at home to a well-coached Utah team.  Was this a game that UCLA lost, or one that Utah won, or a little of both?

Bellerophon:  Both.  Utah went out and executed a smart game plan that was well designed by a clearly superior coaching staff.  That said, given the level of talent UCLA has, this team was still in a position to win despite some extremely poor coaching and preparation, so the failure to put away a team that they should have easily handled also comes down on the Bruins.

islandbruin2: I would have said one that Utah won, but looking back at the season, where we have consistently underperformed, I would have to say that this is one we lost. In isolation, three straight sacks could be chalked up to the defense ("Utah won"), but in context, it is more likely chalked up to the lack of an offensive scheme ("UCLA lost").

tasser10:  Utah played well enough to win and UCLA played poorly enough to lose.  The game eventually hinged on a single play here or there.  But if you look at the entirety of the game, Utah played about as well as they could, and UCLA looked probably the worst it has all year (except for the offense against Virginia).  The other shoe finally dropped for the Bruins and their tight-wire act.  In a way I am happy for Wittingham because I have always said he's one of the best coaches in the conference.  Our coaches on the other hand...

Achilles: Both. Utah played a very smart and aggressive game. They tried an onside kick (and succeeded). They switched over to a running quarterback when they realized they couldn't pass. They blitzed all night. And we played poorly particularly the oline.

AHMB:  If I were a Utah fan, I would be pretty proud about the way my team played on Saturday.  They looked well coached, aggressive, and they were able to seal the game with a pounding running game.  Our team, on the other hand, looked like they weren't up to the challenge.  We had chances to win that game late, and we got beat by a better coached team.

gbruin: The answer is almost always both, and it applies here. Utah won with a good game plan on defense (blitz our QB, duh), and when their offense sputtered early, their coaches were smart enough and bold enough to make a QB change. They found a model that worked. UCLA lost by not correcting problems from previous games and by not making some obvious adjustments to counter what Utah was doing.

Tydides: 75% our loss, 25% their win. When you make the same mistakes every week (year?) and dismiss the problems as either irrelevant or not important enough to dedicate time and attention to just because you happen to post a W, you've set yourself up to fail, and that's what we did. Utah had 4 games worth of tape to look at those glaring weaknesses and exploit them and they did that. I'd say that's hardly worthy of credit, but since it's so difficult for our own coaches to do, you've gotta give it up to them for doing what we are unable to.

2.  UCLA has lost every game the week before they play the Ducks since the 2008 season, when they beat an absolutely terrible Washington State (they finished the year 2-11) the week prior to travelling to Autzen Stadium - despite an entirely new coaching staff, why is UCLA always coming up short in these trap games before a big match-up?

Bellerophon:  I wish I knew the answer because if I did, I'd know a lot more about this football team than anyone currently on the payroll at UCLA - it's obvious that this coaching staff, just like the prior one, still has not found a way to keep a football team focused every week.

tasser10:  the simple answer is to say something about LA and the distractions and the media, blablabla.  The truth is, we just have not had good coaches who pay attention to this type of thing.  It's not just about the recruits, and the schemes, there's a mental aspect to football that needs to be handled and our coaches haven't always done that consistently.  This current crew has screwed up in quite a few games (Oregon State, Cal, Baylor, Utah, the first half of many games), bringing an unprepared team on the field.  For that salary, they also need to be therapists and psychologists and motivational speakers.  Sorry but that's part of the job.

Achilles: Coincidence, IMO.

AHMB:  Every year is different.  Last year, we lost to Stanford on the road the week before we played Oregon.  That was no "trap" game.  This year, Utah was sandwiched between ASU and Oregon.  Was it a "trap" game?  I don't know.  Generically, maybe.  But Utah showed up to play, and we didn't look ready for the fight.  I doubt we overlooked them, but we were definitely overmatched physically.

gbruin: It's kinda uncanny, right? On one hand, I think ArmyBruin astutely pointed out in one thread that we shouldn't consider Utah a trap game, given how this coaching staff has struggled with them in our three meetings. But I think there is something to be said for the fact that Oregon has been the top dog in the conference for so long and that we might naturally be looking ahead to them. If so, that's just poor focus by our team.

islandbruin2: I am with Achilles. I also don't consider the games the week before Oregon to be trap games, in general. A trap game to me is one where you look past an obviously inferior opponent, and get tripped up in a game you should have won. In 2009, we lost to Stanford on the road the week before the Oregon game. The EagleBank Bruins were inferior to Harbaugh's Stanford team. In 2010, we lost to Cal on the road the week before getting demolished by Oregon. The Bruins were 4-8 that season, 2-7 in conference, so losing to anybody including Cal, is not all that surprising. In 2011, we were demolished by $C the week before getting demolished by Oregon in the Pac-12 "championship" game. Hardly a trap game. In 2012, we skipped Oregon. Last year, we lost to Rose Bowl team Stanford on the road the week before losing to Oregon. Again, not a trap game. The only trap game in this sequence to me was Saturday's Utah game.

Tydides: I didn't even know about that, but I'm with gbruin here in that this particular game was about Utah rather than being the nameless team before Oregon.

3.  Brett Hundley got sacked ten times against the Utes - yes, that's right - ten times.  What can UCLA do to keep him upright?  Is Adrian Klemm the right guy for Mora to keep as the OL coach?

Bellerophon:  There's some simple issues - run more short-to-medium routes where Hundley has an option to throw to the space vacated by the blitzing players - we used slants over the middle effectively against Arizona State and despite that, it was gone against Utah.  Roll the pocket out on occasion, which would give Brett a good chance to turn a broken play or good coverage into a short gain on the ground.  These aren't long term fixes, but it'd be nice to see this coaching staff to something to try to address the problem.  Clearly, Adrian Klemm is not cut out to be an offensive line coach.  He's a great recruiter, there's no doubt about that, but he simply cannot coach - his unit has been the worst in the entire nation over the past three years - no QB has been sacked more than Hundley.  Yet, Klemm is one of the highest paid assistant coaches in college football.  Only at the Morgan Center can you turn in one of the worst performances in your field and get paid a king's ransom for it - any other industry and Klemm would have been shown the door.  Keep the guy around for recruiting, but we obviously need to find someone who can actually coach an offensive line.

tasser10:  I don't know enough about the X's and O's of football to answer this well, but at first glance, quick throws and rollouts would help a lot, along with misdirection (which not surprisingly gets used very effectively against our own defense).  The problem isn't just with Klemm but with Mazzone as well.  Those guys aren't in sync.  Either Klemm doesn't do what Mazzone needs or Mazzone doesn't realize that Klemm can't do what he needs and doesn't design the appropriate plays to accommodate that.  I mean for crying out loud, even Neuheisel's OL for the Pistol was better than this, because at least Palcic could coach.

Achilles: tasser10 is right. But my original thought is that Hundley needs to be a more obvious running threat to keep defenses honest. We have a great running quarterback and our OC thinks he's Brock Osweiler.

AHMB:  There is not one clear answer.  The coaches have to prepare the line better, the line has to block better, the receivers have to get better separation, and Hundley has to make quicker decisions.  If it was one thing, it could be fixed easily, but I don't think it is.  Utah got pressure by rushing four at times, rushing three at times, and by blitzing at times.

gbruin: On the surface, Mora was right this weekend when he said that a lot of things go into sacks, not just the OL. Hundley does need to get the ball out sooner, that's on him and his QB coach. Plays need to be called that compensate for poor protection, and that's on the OC. The OL has been a major disappointment this year, and their insufficient development is on the OL coach. Consider that amazing 3 play 3 sack series. Brett was pretty pissed on the sidelines after that. The team and a couple coaches huddled together, and the next drive saw Brett taking short drops and throwing quickly to short routes, runs once, and then Massington breaks one for a touchdown. Five plays, 63 yards, 1:31, six points. My question, is where the hell was that in the first or second quarter? Football is hard, but it's not that hard.

Tydides: Klemm saves our asses in recruiting. In a sense it feels like he's already in the position he's in to make up for deficiencies elsewhere, and in the process creates a deficiency of his own. If there was enough room on staff to have a recruiting coach position then he'd be awesome, but I was reading that ESPN piece on Jim Harbaugh who is no stranger to taking the anti-Mora approach to assistants and I think to where he said "you can't afford to have one bad coach".

4.  Despite falling flat on their face, the Bruins still had a chance to win it at the dying seconds of the game - is that a reflection of elite talent overcoming poor coaching?  Or inconsistent talent being led to a chance to win by good coaching?

Bellerophon:  There's no doubt - it's elite talent overcoming very mediocre coaching.  This entire season carries the same vibe as Karl Dorrell's 10-2 season, which he "earned" thanks to the play of a certain Maurice Jones-Drew and Drew Olson.  Hundley, Jack, and Kendricks are carrying this team just like MJD and DO did back in 2005.

tasser10:  without a doubt, the talent is making up for the poor coaching, just like in 2005.  It's a recipe for disaster and it struck earlier this time, that's all.

Achilles: Talent making up for coaching. Shit, every time we needed a touchdown we just ID'd the receiver in single coverage and threw the ball up in the air.

AHMB:  We had a chance to win because Utah dropped a wide open pass that would have sealed the game.  Do we have superior talent to Utah?  Undoubtedly, but they outplayed us.

gbruin: Our talent is what is keeping us in and winning games this year. Just compare rosters and ask, are we just one score better than Virginia (when we get 3 defensive TDs)? Than Memphis (even if we score 40+)? Than Texas (with a backup QB)?  ASU was a bigger margin due to their turnovers, special teams, some tight pass coverage that went our way, and our offensive momentum in the 4th. But look what happened the next week when those turnovers or special teams plays or momentum went the other direction. It's the same talent on the field each week. The inconsistency has to be the coaching.

islandbruin2: neither. It is a reflection of Utah not being a very good team.

Tydides: Elite talent, poor coaching. Tasser10 said it right above. I've noted in the past how this feels really 10-win-Dorrellian, and nothing I've seen so far has relieved that anxiety.

5. The common saying is that a wounded animal is even more dangerous than normal - for which team is that more likely to apply?  An Oregon Ducks squad coming off a huge upset loss to unranked Arizona?  Or our UCLA Bruins coming off a huge upset loss to unranked Utah?

tasser10:  this one is tough to answer.  UCLA under Mora has answered well to upset losses.  In 2012, they followed up losses to Oregon State and Cal with wins against Colorado and Wazzu, but those teams are not Oregon.  In 2013, they followed up a stinging loss to ASU with a big win against Southern Cal, which is a bit more comparable.  The difference this year is the hype, so you could potentially see a meltdown like in 2001. For both Oregon and UCLA, it remains to be seen if these losses were an aberration.  So it will either be an ugly sloppy game, or a tight intense game.  I expect the latter.

Achilles: Oregon, because I don't think our coaches are the types to make changes based on the loss. I think we'll see more of the same.

AHMB:  Oregon's loss was the first blemish on an otherwise impressive season.  We've looked shaky all season long.  There's one wounded animal, and one that simply is not as strong as everyone expected.

gbruin: I think it's us. Our loss was more shameful. Oregon's issues have literally to do with being wounded. Injuries have destroyed their OL and I don't think they are getting those guys back. We at least get our starting lineup ready for them and they have walkons at both offensive tackles. It certainly gives us the opportunity to make a bigger comeback this week.

Tydides: Oregon just has more upside overall with the way they're coached and schemed up. I could see both teams coming out fired up and pissed off and trading blows, but I'm just afraid their blows are going to result in more points.

6. The extra point - fire away:

Bellerophon:  Last week, I said the following about what we needed to fix against Utah (emphasis added):

Utah isn't the high-powered offensive machine that Oregon is (or even that Arizona State is) but we can't afford to be asleep at the switch to open the game - we need to get out early and get our thumb on top of the Utes early - they are a good team and if we let them hang around, it could come back to bite us - I have nightmares of us losing to them on a last-second FG.  We need to get up on them early and put the knife to their throats - no letting up.

If this whole being a UCLA fan thing doesn't work out - maybe I'll go into palm reading, fortune telling, or being one of those police "psychics" who get called to find kidnap victims.  On a serious note - losing to Utah like that was exactly what I expected - the Utes are not the most talented team, not by a long shot - but they are one of the best coached teams in the conference, if not the country.  That's what having great coordinators will get you - tough road wins against teams with better talent.  I wonder when we'll get to experience that in Westwood.

tasser10:  the UCLA coaches have been playing with fire for 3 seasons now, and it has cost them 3 games to lesser foes.  They think they can just line up against the other team with a very simple game plan and play them straight up because they have better talent.  But it's simply not true, because the coaching isn't there.  They have a history of "saving the good stuff" for stronger opponents, but that shows laziness and lack of creativity.  Mazzone and Klemm are probably going at each other and blaming each other, while Ulbrich is probably completely lost.  And for all those who pipe in about how UCLA still has a chance to win the Pac-12, that's not the point.  The point is, this was supposed to be our best team in 3 years, and in fact it looks like the worst.  It's about a broken promise after some ridiculous salary increases.  Any rational, sober analysis shows that there really isn't much hope for that kind of success.

Achilles: We've had a kicker who is useless from distance for three seasons now. You'd think Mora would try and recruit someone with a bigger leg. Nothing personal against Fairbairn, he just can't make a kick outside 35, which means you have to get to the 18 yard line. He's trying hard, but a long kick is beyond his range. Kai Forbath makes the kick and we win.

AHMB:  All season long, I've been expecting this team to turn the corner.  I thought the second half in ASU was that point, but the Utah game proved that the early season struggles weren't a mirage.

gbruin: I wrote on Sunday that this was one of the most disheartening losses I can remember, and the reason it was is because the reality of what we are is becoming clear to me: We are a very talented team with some decent coaches who will struggle against teams with decent talent led by talented coaches. Between players and coaches, I think coaches are far less likely to improve within a season, so we are stuck where we are right now. This team has the roster for a special season, but the coaches can't come up with the schemes or player development or in-game adjustments to take it to that level. It's such a waste.

islandbruin2: With the East Coast bias, and all the losses in conference by every team, there will be only one Pac-12 team in the mix for a New Year's game, and it won't be at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins need to get to and win the conference championship game to be playing in January. Winning the Pac-12 South won't be enough.

Tydides: Don't even think about lowering expectations now. This is still 2014-15 and this is still Mora's Show Me Season. All he really did was just make things a lot harder on himself, and should he fall flat on his ass, just call it what it is: a failure.

That's it for this week folks.  Fire away in the comment thread with your thoughts on the Utah loss as we begin to look to taking on the Oregon Ducks this upcoming Saturday at the Rose Bowl.