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The Morning After: Part 9: Arizona

The Bruin defense bungled the opening drive and then shut down powerful Arizona for the rest of the game. The Bruin offense struggled and played conservative early, then clicked perfectly in the third quarter long enough to build a winning margin. Imagine if this team played like it could for 4 whole quarters.

These two ran all over the Wildcat defense yesterday,
These two ran all over the Wildcat defense yesterday,
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

We have met the enemy and he is us.  - Walt Kelly

If you want to have the 2014 U.C.L.A. football season to date encapsulated in about 3 minutes, just go back and consider the opening moments of last night's game.

It was Homecoming night in Pasadena and the aerial shots of the Arroyo Seco looked awesome. Over 80,000 fans filled the stadium and the majority of them honored and celebrated the U.C.L.A. legacy by wearing blue. Judging from comments on Bruins Nation and elsewhere, the majority of fans seem to wish the team did also.

As Mora led his team onto the Rose Bowl turf, the Bruins play-by-play radio voice Chris Roberts incredibly said "the Bruins take the field in their Midnight Blue Gold uniforms!" Umm, actually, Chris, no. Your view, or your blindness, sounds lovely, but the uniforms were neither midnight blue nor gold, nor any sort of color found on the visible spectrum. What you saw was gray. Detroit in January gray. Just one rather unattractive shade of gray.

The Bruins debuted their latest alternate jerseys, dubbed LA Steel by some focus group at adidas.  When we first heard the name last summer, it sounded intriguing. I imagined LA Steel as something that reflected U.C.L.A.'s place in the City of Angels. Something glamorous yet powerful. Something strong but elegant. Something like the blindingly shiny chrome on a classic '57 Chevy cruising PCH. Something like the T-1000.

The replica jerseys on sale at the student store didn't look that great, but surely the uniforms that adidas was creating for the team would flash.

But, no. adidas take on LA Steel was something decidedly less flashy. The shade of gray initially evoked thoughts about the USS Missouri. But on closer look, when it was clear that the jerseys lacked the majesty and the historic relevance of the Mighty Mo, another image came to mind.

Remember back in high school, there was always that group of stoner kids who would hang out near a certain bathroom on campus where they'd go at lunchtime to share one cigarette among 5 or 6 of them, and their leader was the guy who would have some old beater car that had one quarter panel that was just primered and didn't match the rest of the car? Well, that's the color the Bruins took on the field last night: high school stoner dude's beater primered quarter panel gray. It's one of the 50. Thanks again for your continued outstanding work, adidas. This is a company that hasn't been able to make a 6 inch stripe into a 12 inch stripe. Should we be surprised by their colors?

The Bruins then opened the game with all the vibrancy of their uniforms. And while I was sorry that the special jerseys weren't better looking, we were then treated to the first drive of the game and images of that beat up were all over.

We heard all week how the team was going to be more focused from now on, and how the coaches and players would work with more urgency, and that they would have a better mindset with all aspects of this program.

But the Bruins played that opening drive with a tone that reflected the vibrancy of their latest uniforms. Those first drive lowlights included a missed tackle on 3rd down of the opening series to give Arizona a first down, a 5 yard offside penalty on the very next play, the need to burn a timeout to get the defensive substitution right, followed by a 3rd down stop which was negated by a 15 yd unsportsmanlike penalty, followed by another 3rd down stop which was also negated, this time by a 15 yd grabbing the helmet penalty.

Not being a team to look a gift bear in the mouth, Arizona finally took advantage of the Bruin gifts and threw a pass to the end zone. Touchdown, Wildcats, 2:31 into the game.

I commented at the time that that drive and all its chaos and colorlessness and lack of execution was a microcosm of this team.

It turns out it wasn't entirely accurate, because the defense then held the nation's #5 offense scoreless for the next 57:29 of the game.

That tells me that the flailings of that drive juxtaposed against the performance for the entire game is really the microcosm of U.C.L.A. Football.  Flashes of brilliance mixed with bad fundamentals highlighted by displays of incredible athleticism then hampered by moments of mind numbingly poor discipline, all with not much sense of consistency at all. This defensive unit that was capable of butchering the opening drive was also capable of shutting down the subsequent 13 Arizona drives. Credit to DC Jeff Ulbrich and his staff for coming up with a great game plan and the players for executing it well all night. We've been rightly harsh on Ulbrich recently, but last night was impressive and is hopefully a sign that he's figuring some things out.

Of course, there's still the offense, and after that, there's the kicking game...

Extra hour or not, I don't want or need to go on and catalogue the same old problems that we've talked about all year. I think we're mostly seeing the same things by now and we understand where changes need to be made.

It's becoming increasingly clear that this football team can be just about as good as it wants to be. And each week, when our team is playing just well enough to get another win, it's really showing that the only ones capable of beating us are ourselves. When we aren't making stupid penalties or getting too many men on the field or losing our cool with opposing players or turning the ball over to the opponents or running unimaginative plays or punting with 4th and less than one from their 44, we do fine. Really really fine, in fact. But when we don't, we're playing CU in 2OTs or we're watching Utah perform its coup de grace or we're losing to Oregon again.

It is of course a huge part of the problem that we are playing to opponents levels as opposed to playing to our own capability. But that's our problem. We have all the control over that situation. It's not like we live in Boulder or Pullman and our team is already outclassed every time it appears on the field. This is something that is entirely within our own sphere to address and fix.

That's the major ongoing challenge we have. We know that we can go out and make the plays necessary to be successful and we can avoid the recurrent pitfalls that we still see week in and week out.  The key now is to do that consistently, every game, every quarter, every play.

Can we find and face our biggest enemy and take him down?

You know, it's those guys in the primer gray uniforms. Just look in the mirror and you'll see who we're gunning for.

Go Bruins !