The entirety of the 2016 season for the UCLA football fan base was one of frustration, disappointment, and even disgust. We had a top recruiting class going into the season, a highly touted quarterback poised for greatness, and a stacked defense that was supposed to run all over our opponents.
But here we sit, having watched Alabama and Clemson compete for the national title (again), with UCLA literally nowhere near the national conversation. There have been multiple analyses of the season with multiple conclusions as to what went wrong.
The fact is: it all went wrong.
I’m going to start by saying I am a diehard Bruin football fan. My five year old can name half the starting lineup and knew U-C-L-A before she knew A-B-C (gotta raise ‘em right, you know!?). We are the crew that shows up to get in line for Lot H an hour before it opens. The freaking UCLA fight song was played at my wedding. So, yes, we are Bruins. So when I see a team that I love so dearly literally dismantled from the inside out, I feel sick. I hate having to continually answer the question, “Mommy, why does UCLA keep losing?”. Try getting out of that one every Saturday night.
For me, the dismantling from the inside started in the 2015 season when Adrian Klemm was suspended and never fired. We panicked a little because our offensive line was without a coach, but Jake Brendel, our senior center and leader of the O line, took over and didn’t miss a beat.
I went back into the Bruins Nation archives and went through a bunch of IEAngel’s Eye Test articles from 2015. There are a lot of things you need to take with a grain of salt from that season as compared to 2016—abysmal injuries on defense and the graduation of several key players, to name just two. However, at the games where Klemm was suspended, UCLA walked away with two non-conference victories. Of course, these weren’t the only victories that season, so what I want to highlight are the quality of play from our offensive line. Against Virginia, IEAngel noted Jake Brendel as a standout and highlighted Rosen’s pocket presence. Against UNLV, we lose Brendel and IE notes:
The adjustments by the offensive line after losing Brendel and not skipping a beat was impressive.
We, of course, beat UNLV as we should have. But let’s go further down the season. We lose to ASU and IE writes about miscommunication on the line, we aren’t prepared for ASU’s near constant blitz, even Brendel is missing blocks and there are “lots of mental mistakes and breakdowns”. This game was played at home, by the way. Our Pac-12 home opener was a total flop against a team we should have beaten. From there, we lose to Stanford, and IE points out,
The offensive line looked the worst the have looked all year.
He went on to say that there were multiple penalties on the line and “the offensive line still has problems against teams that equal their talent level”.
Fast-forward to this year.
We still have Adrian Klemm, now complete with show cause order, and we now have an offensive line that is much younger, and in my opinion, much worse. Robert Bastron’s first Hair of the Bear article was titled: “Hair of the Bear: UCLA Offensive Line Wasn’t Very Good Against Texas A&M”. He details their lackluster play:
Myles Garrett and Co. sacked Rosen five times, already tallying over a third of the amount of sacks that the UCLA line gave up all of last season. They put Josh on the ground 10 times, and hurried him 21 times over the course of the game.
The between-the-tackles run game that Kennedy Polamalu wanted to establish in his new offense this season was non-existent, and UCLA averaged only 3.13 yards per rush in the game. The big rushing gains came mostly from running outside the tackles. The interior of the line could gain no push in the run game. They did a bad job of protecting Rosen. For this unit, it’s difficult to find positives after game 1.
Following the same game, Nirya writes his first Eye Test of the year (something I could never do, so props to the individuals who can write these things) and he states:
But in year 5 under Adrian Klemm, the line looked completely outmatched. Poor pass protection was the name of the game here, and I put that fully on the offensive staff for not fully preparing the team for this.
After the Stanford game, Robert points out many of the ugly aspects of the 2016 football season, including:
UCLA’s offense is pedestrian right now because the offensive line can’t open up holes and UCLA’s elite stable of running backs have nowhere to go.
I don’t think I need to rehash any more of the 2015 or 2016 season to prove a point: Adrian Klemm should no longer be employed by the UCLA Athletic Department.
But the fact remains that he is.
Kennedy Polomalu is the only one that has actually been let go. It was clear to many that he was in over his head for much of the season. The play calling wasn’t there, the offense didn’t match the personnel on the field, and it seemed like we were outcoached week after week on the offensive side of the ball. It became apparent by the end of the season that even our stellar defense saw the writing on the wall and started giving up, either out of frustration or exhaustion. With the addition of dropped passes and an almost nonexistent run game, it’s no wonder we ended the season ineligible for a bowl game. So yes, it all went wrong.
But now we have a new Offensive Coordinator. I’m sure many reading this article have done a Google search or two on Jedd Fisch, since we all pretty much reacted with the same “Who is this guy?”. I was surprised to find that he didn’t play football in high school or college. Instead, started his football career as the defensive coordinator for P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School in Gainesville. He then spent one year (1998) with the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena Football League as a wide receivers/quality control coach. From there he moved further into the college ranks, then in and out of the NFL and college twice each before being hired by UCLA.
We already know his resume includes bosses with names like Jim Harbaugh, Steve Spurrier, and Al Golden (I have to leave Cheatey Peatey out. I don’t care if Seattle is in the playoffs.). Call me a sunshine pumper if you want, but I’m going to reserve judgement on Jeff Fisch because he very well could be the answer to all of our prayers. He’s only been fired from Jacksonville and, frankly, I don’t think he was dealt a fair hand with the Jaguars. Anyone would have had a tough time in Jacksonville. I’m going to give this guy a chance to overhaul the offense and give this team some much needed direction.
Fisch has passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach on his resume, which is great because we definitely need help in both of those areas. The list of quarterbacks he has helped mold is impressive, including Wilton Speight at Michigan. The fact that Harbaugh hired Fisch without actually meeting him is impressive, considering the caliber of Harbaugh’s teams and his success at the college level. Additionally, according to his bio on the UCLA Athletics website:
Also in 2015, Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh became the first trio of receivers in school history to eclipse the 50-reception and 500-yard receiving mark in a season, and the offense surpassed 3,000 passing yards for the sixth time in school history (3,090 yards, 5th all-time at Michigan). This past season, Michigan's offense reached the end zone 59 times, the most of any Wolverine team in the modern era, and ranked in the top 30 nationally of nine offensive categories: turnovers lost (6th), fourth down conversions (10th), scoring offense (12th), interceptions (13th), red zone offense (15th), fumbles lost (16th), completion percent- age (26th), sacks allowed (28th) and rushing offense (30th).
Assuming Rosen is healthy, can we hit those same marks? Can our receivers actually catch passes and rack up yards like that if Fisch is working with them? I’d like to hope so. Joe already detailed Fisch’s qualifications so I definitely don’t need to restate all the facts. The point of this article is this: I’m going to hang with this team. Why? Because they’re Bruins. Because next year I want my daughter to ask me, “How come no one can beat UCLA?”. Because I want to roll into Lot H with a chip on my shoulder and have something to cheer about when the team walks through the Fan Zone.
But, will all of this include cleaning house? As the Offensive Coordinator, Fisch has every right to dump everyone on staff and bring in his own people.
One way to make a statement with Bruin fans (and get people on board with him) would be to make some much needed and long overdue changes on the offensive staff. Klemm has overstayed his welcome. The performance of the offensive line over the last two seasons is evidence enough. I’m sure we could make an argument why every one of them should go (I’ve heard others complain of Eric Yarber and the poor performance of the receivers this year), but my #1 is Klemm.
At this point, I’m pinning my hopes and dreams of the turnaround of the UCLA offense on someone I know very little about. I’m hoping to see more production from the entire offense and a more confident quarterback with an offensive line that can actually protect him. I’m trying to ignore the voice inside me that says I might be disappointed because, now that the football season is finally over this year, the only thing to look forward to is next season. I love the Bruins too much to give up on them completely. So Mr. Fisch, start a new chapter and make it a good one.