A special thank you to clim for serving as this week’s guest panelist on the Arizona State postgame Roundtable. I know I can speak on behalf of the entire Bruins Nation team when I say we were all excited and honored to have clim participate with us.
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 ASU team. Was this a game that UCLA lost, or one that ASU won, or a little of both? [Ed note: I copied Bellerophon’s question from the 2014 Utah loss--of course, replacing Utah with ASU]
clim: This game showed us all what happens when UCLA comes out flat against a team of comparable but lesser talent. I would say the outcome was a 50/50 mix of our team (which includes both the players and coaches) not bringing enough focus and intensity and a desperate ASU team who made enough plays to win. Our offensive line got outplayed and our offensive scheme got exposed but at the same time we saw things like Devin Lucien making catches we've never seen him make as a Bruin and an ASU punt that pinned us at our own 1-yard line at a critical moment late in the 4th quarter. Basically, the game was ASU's B+ performance beating our C performance.
beer&math: ASU won the game by having a superior gameplan on the defensive side of the ball, winning on special teams, and tackling properly. Top to bottom, UCLA was outplayed even though the score was close until they gave up on that last touchdown drive (which was illegal by the way). I hate admitting this as I really don’t like ASU and, especially, Coach Graham. I can’t explain it but it’s visceral.
Mexibruin: Both. ASU absolutely earned their win by dominating the line of scrimmage. They also were obvious students of our game film and schemed accordingly. That being said, if you take the first half alone, it is obvious the offense was not going to try anything new, and the third quarter was no better. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Then again, we can blame our "Offensive" Coordinator.
uclaluv: Both? ASU studied film and came out prepared. UCLA’s offense scheme didn’t seem to be based on what everyone knows ASU’s defense does - blitz. We also didn’t adjust to their stacking the box. Maybe Mazzone watched the wrong film? Anyway, I think our defense came out prepared to win. Our offensive scheme was a generic scheme that didn’t match what ASU was going to throw at us. I guess I’ve changed my mind. We lost the game because we didn’t do the basic thing every college team should do... prepare for the current opponent.
Bruinette88: I’m going to take a contrarian position on this one: this was a game that UCLA lost. ASU didn’t do anything unusual or unexpected, and it wasn’t the case that the Sun Devils played a perfect game. I thought the Bruins lacked intensity at the start of the game, and when you combine that with what appeared to be an inflexible, poorly-devised offensive game plan, relatively weak play by the offensive line, and a terrible performance by our kickoff coverage team, it put UCLA in the position of fighting an uphill battle. Needless to say, that’s not a good position to be in when you have a bruised and battered defense trying to cope with the loss of key veteran starters.
2. A big story from the game was that the Bruin’s most experienced offensive line in college got manhandled by ASU. Who shoulders the blame: the players, offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, or someone else?
clim: The offensive line performance was a collective team letdown. Our offensive lineman got beat individually too many times which put a lot of pressure on Josh Rosen. It was a bad day for the offensive line, which was compounded by an offensive game plan that failed to take advantage of ASU's ultra-aggressive blitz-happy defensive scheme.
beer&math: I’m going to punt on this one.
Mexibruin: Unfortunately, this is a question that cannot be answered without being inside the team. I do find it curious, that after having played so well in the first 4 games of the season, the O line should disappoint so thoroughly as soon as their position coach returns.
uclaluv: I wasn’t sure until I read IE’s Eye Test. It looks like they were stacking the box with 7 or 8 guys on a regular basis. We were trying to protect the quarterback with 5 or 6 guys. So, while some of the time there may have been player error, it sounds like our offense wasn’t in the right position to protect the qb with the plays we were running. I mean, our guys are good, but 5 on 7 or 6 on 8, there not that good! IE and others have also talked about the lack of outs for Rosen, like running guys under the coverage. Given that this is the 4th season of this kind of a problem, I put it on the coaching.
Bruinette88: I agree with the spirit of Coach Mora’s postgame assessment. It starts at the top with the coaches, but every member of the unit is responsible for getting the job done. The coaches are responsible for putting our players in position to succeed, and the players are responsible for execution. Both have to improve if the Bruins are going to beat Stanford.
3. What did you think about Coach Mora’s decision to concede the second safety?
clim: I understood why Mora opted for the safety. Punting out of our own endzone with our punters would have most likely put ASU in plus territory. There was a good chance they would've gotten a field goal there, which would have made it a two possession game. Mora trusted Fairbairn's leg more than Mengel or Searl's to give the defense the best chance to keep it a one possession game.
beer&math: I thought it was smart. The field position was going to be excellent for ASU if we punted (most likely inside our 40 yard line), especially with UCLA’s punters having a brutal day. Mora was banking on Graham continuing to play conservative and probably getting one last chance on offense. However, why didn’t UCLA go for the onside kick? That could have given UCLA just enough spark to try to tie the game.
Mexibruin: Dumbest thing I have ever seen. Let’s say for the sake of argument that everything goes exactly as planned. We march down field and score. You still have to convert the 2 pt conversion! Not exactly easy. I’m a big believer in 2 pt conversions, when they are trick plays, or unexpected in general. We would have been neither in that position.
uclaluv: I actually think it was the best decision, given the situation. Our punting game was failing us. Our defense was spent. A field goal would have taken away all hope. What I didn’t understand was kicking it down the field. I was certain we would go for an onsides kick and give our team a chance of getting the ball. Doing one without the other, didn’t make much sense to me.
Bruinette88: Well, I think the calculation depends on the team’s punter, and frankly, it was clear that Coach Mora’s confidence in his punters was pretty low at that juncture of the game. If Jeff Locke were still around, I suspect that Coach Mora wouldn’t take the safety. Under the circumstances, I don’t disagree with his decision.
4. I know it’s tough to imagine, but try to think of a few positives from the ASU game.
clim: Kenny Clark was a beast in the 4th quarter. His performance shows that having good interior linemen is the most critical piece of a defense. It just sets the tone for that side of the ball and frees the other defenders up to stick to their assignments without needing to overextend themselves.
beer&math: Kenny Clark was unstoppable. Payton and Duarte are dependable. I think Rosen played well when he got pass protection (that TD in 4th quarter to Duarte was ridiculous). His future’s still bright. Kai’imi Fairbairn making a 53 yard field goal to end the first half was awesome. Perfect kick right down the middle--enough leg for possibly 60+.
Mexibruin: My turn to punt.
uclaluv: I agree about Clark, Payton, Duarte, Rosen, and Fairbairn. I want to add the defense. Unlike in other games where the defense has been on the field for too many minutes because they couldn’t get the opponent’s offense off the field, this time, at least for most of the game, they were on the field a lot because our offense was going 3 and out over and over again. Marcus Rios, Eddie Vanderdoes, Myles Jack, and Fabian Moreau off the field is a huge challenge. That’s our two starting corners, our two big corners, along with Eddie and Myles. Given that, I think our defense did an great job, for most of the game. Last week was really the first game for this defense. They did much better this game. They still need to improve, and it looks like they are. But they came out and did their job. Isaako Savaiinaea is doing a great job. On the offense, I’d like to mention Stephen Johnson and Darren Andrews who are getting a chance to show what they can do. I hope they get more touches going forward.
Bruinette88: Ka’imi Fairbairn. I was incredibly happy for him when he nailed the 50+ yard field goal at the end of the first half. There were other players who played well, including Payton, Duarte, and Kenny Clark in particular, but those are the same guys who turn in strong performances every week.
5. The luster of a perfect season is gone. It’s too early to tell, but try to predict the standings in the Pac-12 South.
clim: Let's be honest: it would be very shocking to see UCLA go up to Palo Alto on a Thursday night and come out with a win. Historically, Mora and his staff have shown us nothing to believe that they'll come out with a win in this spot, so as fans we can only hope for the best here. The four games after Stanford that should be wins. This leaves Utah and Southern Cal, which at this point, it would be reasonable to expect a win and a loss here. This would put UCLA at 6-3 in conference, 9-3 overall, headed to another Holiday/Sun/Alamo Bowl (rinse and repeat 2013 and 2014). I would say Utah is clearly in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 South, having ASU and UCLA at home, already coming out of Oregon with an emphatic win, and not having to play Stanford. They have to play at Southern Cal, which may be the only game left on their schedule where they would be an underdog. It's usually never that simple in the Pac-12 South, but that's how it projects as of this week.
beer&math: This is tough. 1) Utah 2) UCLA 3) USC 4) ASU 5) Arizona 6) Colorado. I have UCLA, Utah, and Southern Cal with two losses each: Utah with head-to-head victories over the LA schools and UCLA beating Southern Cal for the fourth year in a row. ASU and Arizona with 3 losses but ASU winning the head-to-head. I still think it’s too early to crown Utah since I want to see them be consistent and handle the pressure but, golley, does that Oregon win look impressive.
Mexibruin: This is a tough one. They say you shouldn’t go shopping on an empty stomach. I suppose I shouldn’t ponder this kind of stuff after such a demoralizing loss. But, here goes: 1) Utah, because duh. 2) USC, has one ‘good’ loss and beat Asu. 3) Asu, Questionable schedule before last week, but they beat us. I can’t put them lower than us. 4) UCLA, We have/had just as impressive a record and schedule as anybody in this list, but you take one humiliating loss and this is where you end up. 5) UofA, this is where I break from the typical power standings. They are lower than Colorado due to those two losses in Pac 12 play. But, I do think they’ll finish higher than . . . 6) Colorado. Because duh.
uclaluv: I love Mexi’s comment about going shopping on an empty stomach! Given that, I actually think we will finally get over the Stanford hump this year. I am more concerned with Berkeley, Southern Cal, and Utah. Do we really win all of these games? I doubt it. I think it’s optimistic to think we go 2-2 in those four games. I think Utah takes the South. Beyond that, I have no idea. We could end up anywhere between 2 and 5. And so could everyone else except Colorado.
Bruinette88: I’m not sold on Utah yet. Utah has only one conference win so far—the same as UCLA, USC, ASU—so the Utes have the smallest possible lead (half a game) in the division at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a three-way tie at the end of Pac-12 play, with the division winner being decided by a tie-breaker.
6. What will it take for Coach Mora to lead UCLA to the elite ranks?
clim: This is THE question, isn't it? There are two things that I've noticed about elite programs: 1) They hardly ever fall prey to the proverbial "trap game," and 2) They never look all that bad in their few losses. We lose at least one game a year that we should have won, keeping alive one of the biggest clichés in sports, the "trap game." Whether it's the players coming out flat or the coaches calling a bad gameplan, there's a lack of consistency with our program that is keeping us from being one of the elites. Regarding my second point, we have laid far too many duds over the past three plus years to be considered an elite program. Take Alabama's loss this year to Ole Miss for example: sure they were down 20 at one point, but Alabama rallied back to almost steal a victory. People can look back and argue that the flukiest play of the college football season was the difference in that game. UCLA, on the other hand, have had far too many bad losses (e.g. Oregon, Stanford) to be considered an elite program.
beer&math: Book keeping time: elite recruiting? check (though could use more "game breakers" on WR/Slot). elite DC? check (let’s assume this about Bradley for now). elite OC? ERRRR (loud buzzer noise). Ah, Mazzone, Mazzone. What is it with this guy? He’s been around forever and has pretty good results when viewed as aggregates (top 20 offense is not horrible...sorry didn’t look up actual stat), yet he can call real clunkers and fails to adjust when things are going wrong. I’m no expert but he just doesn’t call good games when we need a big win (any Stanford game, Ducks, etc). Now, I’ll credit his Southern Cal games, but they never were "meaningful" in the sense that they were with the Pac-12 championship on the line. Mora needs to go out and pluck an innovative OC from somewhere else (someone from Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, must want to play with UCLA’s talented Rosen right?). I think we’ve all seen enough.
Mexibruin: Maybe we should ask ourselves IF he can. He has shown some pretty glaring blind spots already; his blind faith loyalty to his coaches. It certainly sounds like a virtue on the surface. We have seen how it blew up in his face with respect to Ulbrich. Now it is Noel Mazzone whose ability is questioned. And, there is Adrian Klemm to add to that list. Looking it at this way, I would say, he is going to have to remove the blinders, and make some tough personnel decisions.
uclaluv: I totally agree with Mexi and B&M. This is about coaching personnel. Whether it’s because Mora is loyal to a fault or because he doesn’t understand what is happening on offense, I don’t know. But when the same problem keeps happening year after year, even as your talent and experience improve, there is something incredibly wrong. Mazzone and son must be replaced. I don’t care if dad Mazzone knows how to call a good game or not. The fact that he doesn’t on a consistent basis, year after year, may show he is unwilling to put the effort in to do the job. Whatever the reasons for papa Mazzone’s going flat on a consistent basis, doesn’t really matter actually. What matters is the pattern that continues. The result does matter and the Mazzone’s need to be gone. This isn’t only important for the Bruins joining the elite. It is important for the guys on the field, playing their hearts out and putting their whole being into the team. It pisses me off that the players (and other coaches) give so much, yet that it looks as if their offensive coordinator either isn’t capable of leading them or isn’t as committed as them to bringing his best. Our athletes deserve the best on an on-going basis. Coach Mora has done a great job getting our athletes to give it their all, to bring their best, and to take all things UCLA seriously. I think he has failed to give the offense the coordinator they deserve who is capable of and willing to do the same.
Bruinette88: Before the Bruins lost Vanderdoes, Moreau, and Jack, I thought Coach Mora had UCLA in good position to take a step forward this season. Now it seems unlikely to happen this year, which means that Coach Mora will need to re-evaluate his coaching staff in the offseason. Coach Mazzone seems an obvious target because of his apparent lack of flexibility in constructing game plans and adapting them during games, but he’s not the only coach that might need to go.
7. The extra-point:
clim: I think it's imperative to get Josh Rosen easy completions from the start. Noel Mazzone isn't doing him any favors by asking him to convert 3rd and longs from the outset. Also, I think it's time to get rid of the read option. Rosen is not the threat to run like Brett Hundley was, and I don't think anyone wants him to be a running threat anyway. I'm not an X's and O's guy but it seems like establishing a mesh point and handing the ball off to Paul Perkins is slowing down the running game since no one is respecting Rosen as a runner.
beer&math: I’m a sore loser and have a hard time bouncing back. I feel like the last TD run UCLA gave up (illegal by the way! grr) sums up how I feel the season will play out for the Bruins:
Lots of talk about Stanford being the inflection point, so I can’t help but think we will lose that game and many more. UC Berkeley looks confident and dangerous and even Colorado. This season could implode and we could be looking at 7 wins or less. I’ve been sick all week and am grumpy as heck.
Mexibruin: I guess, i’ll try to find some positives now. The fourth quarter. The Rose Bowl crowd. Josh Rosen. Thomas Duarte. And, basically the collective heart of this team to fight and claw to pull as close as they did in the fourth quarter.
uclaluv: I don’t want to see what happened to Brett Hundley, happen to Josh Rosen! Coach Mora has done a great job bringing in talent and building a culture of commitment, hard work, team work, and heart. He has also made two outstanding personnel changes, bringing in some real adults (Kennedy Polamalu and Tom Bradley) to give out student-athletes the best chance to succeed. I know it is time to do the same with the offensive coordinator. I’m not saying that Mazzone is not an adult. I am talking here about having another experienced, hard working, talented coordinator that Mora can really entrust the offense to; one who can really help put our players in a position to succeed. I am sorry I sound like a broken record, but this has been apparent to many for a very long time. Coach Mazzone is UCLA Football’s Achilles heel. If this team is to succeed, according to Coach’s definition, Coach Mora to to make a change.
Bruinette88: The game against Stanford is even more critical now. Before our loss to ASU, beating Stanford was regarded as an indication that the program was taking a step forward. Now, if we lose to Stanford, there will be a lot of concern that the program is regressing. UCLA badly needs a win against the Cardinal.
That’s it for the Arizona State Postgame Roundtable. Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and I welcome anyone else to share their own answers in the comments.
If you have any of your own questions, fire away in the comments as well.