1. UCLA went into a tough road environment and came away with a sloppy, yet solid victory. How are you feeling about the team right now?
AnteatersandBruins: I feel bipolar. On one hand, I feel like the defense really showed up. Rosen had a slight improvement from last week and didn’t seem like he was in panic mode so much, but he was still really inconsistent. But BYU also didn’t look that great. We can’t have that kind of performance next week against the Trees.
Robert Bastron: Before the season I thought this team was at best 10-2, at worst 8-4, most likely 9-3, with a shot at winning the South depending on how the rest of the division shakes out. I still feel that way. The defense can be very good when healthy, the offense remains a question mark. I’m hoping Rosen continues to improve each game, he has been steadily getting better, and also that Kennedy Polamalu doesn’t get stubborn/predictable like he got in the second half on Saturday. We’ll have to see.
Nirya: I’ll say this, I’m a bit more down on the team than I was at the beginning of the year, but at the same time, I still think the goals for the season are achieveable. UCLA is worse than I thought they would be, but the rest of the Pac 12 is worse as well.The biggest issue for me right now is how uneven the team looks on a weekly basis. We’ve yet to put together a complete performance, and this week’s game against Stanford would be the perfect time to do it.
Joe Piechowski: I'm...concerned. I think the team needs to start playing better as a whole and I think that most of the improvement needs to come on offense. And, I think that needs to happen fast! Ask me again after Stanford.
2. The offense had some issues, a lot of them thanks to an uneven Josh Rosen. Through three games his final stat lines have been good, yet there’s a lot of poor play mixed in there. How would you rate his performance thus far?
AnteatersandBruins: Those were the 300 sloppiest yards I’ve ever seen. When ESPN threw up his stats in the fourth quarter, I was shocked. I’d give it a C+. Not terrible, but not at all UCLA caliber.
Robert Bastron: He certainly hasn’t been turning in the All-American, Heisman type performance we were hoping for, but that’s okay. He’s in a new offense, and has been steadily improving each game. I’m actually feeling better about Rosen than some of the other offensive issues. I’ll give him a B- so far.
Nirya: Rosen has been good enough to get to a 2-1 start, but boy has it been hard to watch. Yes, there is the caveat that he’s learning a new offense, but after spring and fall practice and three games, you’d hope he would have a better grasp by now. The offense is designed to take advantage of Rosen’s ability, and if Rosen isn’t playing well, then the offense struggles, as we’ve seen so far.
Joe Piechowski: I think he's trying to do it all himself. He's finding himself under a lot of pressure, which means either the blocking schemes aren't effective or the offensive line isn't getting the job done. Too often, he seems like he's trying to force a play. He needs to relax and understand that it's ok to throw the ball away if there's no one open. I'd say his play merits a C+ so far.
3. The offense only had to do just-enough to beat BYU, yet things still felt underwhelming. Three games isn’t a big sample size, but we’re one-fourth of the way through the season, so how do you feel about Kennedy Polamalu and the new offense.
AnteatersandBruins: I don’t feel like we have a true identity on offense. The plays don’t come together in a package that says "this is UCLA". They are all independent and I’m not seeing everything tie in.
Robert Bastron: The BYU game was probably the first game where I was truly troubled by the offensive play calling. Too much run-run-pass, but we hadn’t seen that kind of stubbornness/conservativeness in the first two games. The interior of the offensive line is a problem, that may just have to be dealt with. Two things that I think would solve some of the problems right away are prioritizing receivers with reliable hands, and choosing a main back and not rotating five guys in the backfield, so the ball-carriers can get into a rhythm. I wonder if we’ll see some more misdirection/tricky type stuff against Stanford…
Nirya: The offense is such a mixed bag at this point. A lot of it depends on Rosen playing well, which we haven’t seen at a sustained level yet, so that makes some things tough to judge. Still, there are things I like, such as the ability to present different looks (power I, shotgun, pistol) to attack the defenses. But Polamalu seems to be slow to adapt to the flow of the game. Take A&M when it took 3 quarters to figure out the need to attack the open middle on blitzes, or this last game when UCLA kept running inside despite how obvious it was that UCLA’s interior line is a problem. Polamalu has to get better in adapting, and fast.
Joe Piechowski: The play of the offensive line remains my biggest concern on offense.They aren't blocking effectively and, last week, it showed both in the running game and the passing game. I was really surprised that the officials didn't flag our left guard (couldn't get a number) for a false start numerous times as his whole body bobbed up and down. The Pac-12 refs will almost certainly call that against us every single time.
4. The defense had their best performance under Coach Mora, including limiting BYU to 23 rush yards on 25 rushing attempts, a big difference from the previous two weeks. What stood out to you the most from their performance?
AnteatersandBruins: Jayon Brown. I don’t think this was the intent of the question, but he had a hell of a game and needs to be recognized.
Robert Bastron: The defense needs their stars on the field. With Takk and Eddie back, the line was disruptive and everyone else played better, Bradley even called a much better game. I know BYU is not a great offensive team, but the defense can be very good, and we’ll need them to be with the offensive still getting its act together.
Nirya: The defensive line is an absolute monster when healthy, and that’s the caveat. The 2nd string doesn’t have near the talent level or ability yet, so having anyone in that group play for long stretches of time is going to cause issues.
Joe Piechowski: Don't knock the non-starters. Rick Wade had one of the five sacks on Saturday. Those guys need to get some PT so that they're better when they do get in there. Overall, I'd say the defensive scheme was well-designed. I think that Tom Bradley and his players may be meshing together well now that everyone seems to be healthy.
5. The defense has been rather up-and-down this season as well, posting a solid effort in the opener before a lackluster effort against UNLV, only to completely dominate BYU on the road. Through three games, what would be your takeaways from the defensive side of the ball?
AnteatersandBruins: I’m seeing improvement and I want it to keep going in that direction. No backslides, weak efforts, or missed assignments. Pushing forward because it’s not going to get any easier.
Robert Bastron: Again, we just need the studs on the field. I believe it now more than ever. The difference in those games was who was on the field. Does UNLV score 21 if EV doesn’t go down? What if Takk was there too? The presence of these guys makes the defense much better and raises the level of play of everyone else around them. Good football teams need stars. One or two guys really can make that much of a difference.
Nirya: We knew secondary play would be the strength of the team, but we didn’t realize they’d be this good. Fabian Moreau is playing his way up the draft boards, becoming the shut-down corner UCLA has needed for awhile. The strong secondary play has finally convinced Tom Bradley that he can afford to blitz more, which has been a positive. Finally, I have to point out that it took 44 minutes, but UCLA finally allowed points in the 4th quarter this season.
Joe Piechowski: For the first time in over a year, all the starters played (and played well). If they can stay healthy on the defensive side of the ball, the defense may start to dominate games.
6. Time to talk about the elephant in the room: Stanford. The Cardinal come to the Rose Bowl this week for a matchup that UCLA hasn’t won since 2008. Will this time be different? How? And is this the only meeting these two teams will have this year?
AnteatersandBruins: I honestly don’t even know what to expect at this point. McCaffrey is going to run up and down the field on us if the defense lets up at all. But if they can continue to improve, he’ll score, but not to the point that we can’t beat them. The biggest issue will be the offense. Can we put enough points on the board to counterbalance McCaffrey? This is a winnable game if both sides of the ball show up. But we’ve said that before. If we all come through the tunnel with our hair on fire, then we win. But if we get the same junk on offense we saw in the last few weeks, then we won’t be able to score enough no matter what the defense does.
Robert Bastron: In two games so far, Stanford doesn’t look yet like the team they were last year. Heading into this week, the UCLA defense is allowing a conference 5th-best 4.74 yards/play; Stanford is 7th, allowing 5.13 yards/play. They are beatable. Many advanced stats/predictors have us about even, or even beating them. Sagarin is the highest on the Cardinal that I’ve seen. My point is if not for the history with Stanford, and all of us seeing too many beat downs at the hands of the Cardinal, UCLA fans would be much more optimistic about this game. Does that mean I think we’ll win? Eh. Not unless we see things clean up on the offensive side of the ball. But I think Mora will be fired up personally, and have his team and staff fired up for the biggest game of the year (and maybe of his tenure?). Stanford comes off a "big" game against USC, and next week they play in the de facto division championship game against Washington on a Friday night. What is their mindset? This game feels more like a pick ‘em than a beatdown.
Nirya: I guess the positive is that we catch Stanford in a bit of a trap, coming off the big home game against USC and before next week’s road game against Washington. Still, David Shaw has dominated this series, and even in 2014 when Stanford looked down, they still came in and ran UCLA out of the Rose Bowl. It’s going to take a complete team effort on both sides, and probably a bit of luck that UCLA has been missing in these games (My theory? Karl Dorrell wished on a monkey paw for that 2005 victory, which led to Stanford becoming world-beaters. Lesson: never wish on a monkey paw).
Joe Piechowski: Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good. But, it will likely take a complete team effort and some luck to come out with the win.
7. The Extra Point - Sound off!
AnteatersandBruins: Our kick returns need to yield more yards. Fair catching at the 15 or running for two yards isn’t going to cut it. I want this aspect to improve.
Robert Bastron: Have the Bruins, in their new offensive, been saving any tricks for Stanford? Putting tendencies on tape to cunningly fool the Cardinal and do something a little different? I’m not really a believer that coaching staffs play too conservative with the playbook in games they need to win before playing a more meaningful opponent, but I will be curious to see if Mora has any trickeration, fake punts/special teams stuff, misdirection for a game that could change the tenor of the entire season.
Nirya: UCLA’s run game was abysmal against BYU, and for the Bruins to have any shot against Stanford, it has to be corrected in a hurry. The one thing to note is that BYU seemed to know exactly when UCLA was going to run on most plays, and if UCLA can self-scout and see if they’re playing to any tendencies, it can give them an advantage going into this Saturday.
Joe Piechowski: I hope Coach KP really opens up the playbook on Saturday and that Josh Rosen just goes out there and has a ton of fun. Hell, make stuff up in the huddle if you have to. Do whatever is necessary to stay loose and score.