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UCLA Football: Arizona State Post-Game Roundtable

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss UCLA’s 23-20 loss to Arizona State.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1. Let’s just be upfront about this: Is Jim Mora the right man for the UCLA job?

AnteatersandBruins: I really wish he was. The more militant readers are going to call me a Mora apologist because I don’t necessarily want his head on a platter yet, but I also don’t believe he is earning his salary at this point. There are so many good things that he has done for the program, and he has really brought it out of the depths of 50-0. But it’s time to move to another level again. I don’t believe Mora is surrounded by people who are getting the job done either, that’s for sure. Kennedy Polomalu is in over his head and Adrian Klemm needs to go. But that all rests on the shoulders of the head coach to make those decisions, and he’s never been aggressive in that manner.

Robert Bastron: Who knows! Mora isn’t really an X’s and O’s guy, and seems to rely on his coordinators for scheme more than other head coaches who are at least masters of one side of the ball. That can be a good and a bad thing, I think. It’s bad if you aren’t deft in your coordinator hires. He may be loyal to a fault to his assistants. He’s never fired a coordinator, even when it clearly wasn’t working out, and has only fired one assistant (Steve Broussard) that I can recall. For him to be a good coach, he has to get more adept at coordinator hires (Tom Bradley, great; Kennedy Polamalu, maybe bad? Jeff Ulbrich, definitely bad), and be willing to part ways when things aren’t working out with coordinators or assistants.

Joe Piechowski: No. There is absolutely no doubt that the program is better off than it was 5 years ago when he took over. But, the fact of the matter is the team has peaked under Mora. This is despite the fact that the team is more talented today than it was just a few years ago. Mora is just not a championship-winning coach. Period. That said, in his defense, I think he is an excellent role model for the young men on our team. But, they need a championship-winning coach now in addition to someone who is a role model.

Nirya: Yeah, I'd say we're at the tipping point. It's easy to point to a play here or there as being the difference between 6-0 and 3-3, but the only team that has realistically matched up to UCLA from a talent standpoint was Texas A&M. The sad truth is that we've consistently seen this coaching staff misuse their talent and not put the team in a position to succeed. This is not to say that Coach Mora is a bad guy, and I desperately wanted him to succeed here, but by year 5 a program reflects the head coach, and this program is decidedly average.

2. Just to continue talking about the head coach, this game again featured unexplained absences (this week: Nathan Meadors and Bolu Olorunfunmi) and puzzling personnel decisions (Jordan Lasley not seeing the field until the third quarter, for example). Coach Mora is Belichickian in his refusal to discuss these issues, but do you see a larger culture problem at play here?

AnteatersandBruins: Mora says the coaches aren’t getting the job done, so yes, it’s a huge issue in the program that we’ll probably never get the answer to. I think we’d have to get behind closed doors with those guys. The play calling is suspect, and the personnel on the field is as well. Maybe those players had a terrible week at practice. Maybe they’re injured. We’ll never know. It’s easy to be the armchair quarterback when you don’t have all of the information. When you don’t have a transparent coach, it’s easy to pass judgement. Look at all the people who thought Mique Juarez had bailed on the program, and it turns out he has much bigger personal issues.

Robert Bastron: I respect the privacy of college students, but the mysterious suspensions are certainly bizarre. It’s hard on the outside to know what’s really going on, but generally I think when bizarre, unexplainable discipline issues are popping up, it can’t be good. You also have to wonder if being mysteriously held out of games is actually more embarrassing to players than an announced suspension for team rules. If Mora doesn’t want teams to game plan knowing that, say, Nate Meadors won’t be playing, he could announce the suspension on the day of the game or something, or say afterword that players had been suspended. I’d think the mystery adds a degree of embarrassment to a player that an announced suspension wouldn’t. Does this help team morale?

Joe Piechowski: I get it. He doesn’t want to give his opponents an advantage. But not offering why Bolu didn’t make the trip is just bizarre. He needs to be more forthcoming after the fact. The game was over when he was asked about it.

Nirya: This has always been a pet-peeve of mine. There's a reason someone like Bill Belichick can get away with being terse towards the media, and that's the simple fact that they win. If Jim Mora had even won the Pac 12 in any of the previous years, his actions would be easier to swallow. But, it becomes much harder to give Jim Mora any benefit of the doubt when the only thing you hear from him is vague coachspeak and little actual information.

3. If we learned anything about this offense from this game, it’s that Josh Rosen really is doing his best to cover for deficiencies all over the offense. How do you feel about the offense halfway through the season?

AnteatersandBruins: The offensive line is terrible. The last time they looked good was when Klemm was suspended last year. When the pocket collapses and your quarterback is running for his life (and getting injured), you have to start with the O-line. Plays are breaking down too quick and it also accounts for the missing run game.

Robert Bastron: The offense is terrible. I’ve been wondering if it’s *just* an offensive line issue, or if it’s really more of a whole offense issue. I lean towards the latter. The line play is the weakest element, for sure, but except for Josh, there is room ample room for all units to execute better, or really, get the reliable/better playmakers the ball more. Polamalu tried to pass a whole bunch to make up for the inability to run the ball, but that isn’t the answer. Answers need to be found in the run game for this thing to work, and I’m highly skeptical that they’re going to be found this season.

Joe Piechowski: Why does Adrian Klemm still have a job? Since Spring, I’ve said the O Line was going to be an issue. On one hand, it’s nice to see I was right in my assessment. On the other, as a fan, I’m disappointed because there was time to fix it before it got to this point.

Nirya: The obvious metaphor is good tools, bad carpenter. Simply put, the offensive system is, taken by itself, fine, and the players are obviously talented, but they're constantly being put in untenable positions by the coaching staff. Take this past week against ASU: anyone who has ever watched an Arizona State game in the past five years knows that Todd Graham likes to bring lots of pressure. To add to this, UCLA's offensive line is, to put it nicely, not very good. So a smart gameplan would be a lot of quick passes, rollouts, and misdirection plays to get around that pressure. What does Kennedy Polamalu do instead? Long-developing pass plays, static pockets, and straightforward runs. It's mind-boggling.

4. Do changes need to be made to the offensive coaching staff, and what?

AnteatersandBruins: Yes. Klemm has to go. Polomalu either needs help or needs to be replaced.

Robert Bastron: I found it difficult to defend Klemm after the NCAA allegations, and with the play of his unit this year, it’s even more difficult. Perhaps Polamalu’s offense would look much better with an offensive line with a couple more studs and hat knows what they’re doing. I’m pretty skeptical of his ability to run an offense at this point though.

Joe Piechowski: Let me say it again more clearly: Why does Adrian Klemm still have a job? I’ve been calling for him to be gone since the day after the Southern Cal game last year. The offseason came and went. So did the Mazzones. Yet Klemm is still here. And now, he has a "show-cause" order attached to him. Yet, Jim Mora seems content to continue employing him. That right there is grounds to terminate Mora in my book.

Nirya: The answer is obviously yes, but maybe not right now. Adrian Klemm has to go; that one is non-negotiable. Same with Eric Yarber. And at this point, it feels like Kennedy Polamalu is in over his head. That all said, I probably would wait until the end of the season, mostly because I don't trust anyone on this staff to take over at this point. This should be a complete tear-down, which isn't something you can do mid-season.

5. The defense was outstanding in the first half, and pedestrian in the second. What was the problem?

AnteatersandBruins: Tired? Sick of the situation? I would be. You can’t be the entire reason for winning games. It’s disheartening to go out down after down and defend your side of the field only to have your offense blow it.

Robert Bastron: I think the defense did as much as it could have done. They didn’t get any help from the offense. The defense shut the ASU offense down after three turnovers, but because the Sun Devils got the ball in field goal territory were able to convert three field goals unearned against the defense. Eventually the defense wears down, too, if they’re not getting help from the other side of the ball. Not to mention, Takk went out of the game.

Joe Piechowski: When you are failing to sustain a drive and you keep sending your defense on the field by punting every fourth down, they are bound to get tired. You just can’t keep running the defense onto the field so quickly.

Nirya: ASU had 59 total yards of offense in the first half, and the only reason they scored 3 points in the half was because they were gifted starting field position at the UCLA 23. In the second half, ASU only put together 3 drives longer than 10 yards, with 2 of them leading to touchdowns. Simply put, the defense did it's job in this game; they just had no support.

6. Washington State is next on the schedule, but the bigger issue is there might not be an easy game on the schedule left. An undefeated run can give the Bruins a chance at the South, but do you realistically see that happening?

AnteatersandBruins: Not right now. I see us getting a bowl game that won’t even matter. But I continue to hope for better things because I spent a lot of money on season tickets.

Robert Bastron: I don’t see undefeated happening, though each of the remaining games are highly winnable. Hell, all three of the losses were highly winnable. I think the Bruins are better than their 3-3 record, and are a few bounces of the ball away from being not quite as good as their 6-0 record. The defense is probably the second best defense in the Pac 12, and the best in the South. That will be good enough to keep them in and win some games.

Joe Piechowski: I’m going to paraphrase from Jim’s dad. Division Championship? Don’t talk about Division Championship! We’ll be lucky to win another game!

Nirya: Nope. Honestly bowl eligibility is suddenly in question with how bad the offense is.

7. The Extra Point - Sound Off!

AnteatersandBruins: Playing like this is going to affect recruiting. The situation isn’t just about this season. It can have future implications because of our lack of ability to put together a solid game on both sides of the ball and develop players. If I were an elite athlete I’d go elsewhere. We’re going to have to figure out how to do more with less instead of less with more like we have been.

Robert Bastron: How about a little something positive? The defense is really good. How good? Allowing only 4.69 yards per play, good enough for second in the conference at that metric. In only conference games (so, with a healthy defense), the Bruin defense is allowing 4.64 yards per play, that’s better than the rest of the Pac-12 against conference foes. The unit is lead by the pass defense, allowing only 5.2 yards per attempt. That’s good enough for best in the Pac-12, and 5th best in the country. Bring on the Air Raid.

Joe Piechowski: I’ll try to stay positive too. Devon Modster starts Saturday if Josh can’t play. You heard it here first and it’s an unscouted look the Cougar defense isn’t prepared for. It will keep the game closer than most expect.

Nirya: I'd like to caution anyone from blaming any specific plays as being the difference between a win and a loss. Yes, some kicks were missed (by the true freshman kicker, please remember), and some passes were dropped. But in year 5, blaming the players for mistakes is just excusing the coaching effort that allowed for those mistakes. There are so many different moments against ASU that could have swung the game, but the overarching theme was a team that just didn't seem to be prepared for things ASU was doing. And that's not a good sign going forward.

Go Bruins.