clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UCLA Football: Bruin Nation's Arizona Post-Game Roundtable Discussion

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss the 2014 season's ninth game, a close win over a misfiring Arizona Wildcats outfit, with the Bruins managing to keep themselves alive in the hunt for the Pac-12 South division crown and a seat in the conference title game against Oregon.

Stephen Dunn

1.  The Bruins looked completely out of control to open the game, gifting Arizona their only points thanks to boneheaded penalties.  What will it take for this team and coaching staff to figure how to play controlled and without ridiculous self-inflicted stupid penalties?

Tydides: It's been 2 ½ seasons of this nonsense and it's only been getting worse. The worst part is that I think while we continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of overall penalties, it feels like more of them are of the personal foul variety, which feeds into the notion that not only are we reckless and out of control, but we play dirty as well. Accountability is generally the cure for misbehavior, but that doesn't seem to be Mora's strong suit.

Achilles: I honestly don't know. Maybe they're being told to hold on every play and assuming they can't call all of them? It's the most disturbing thing about this team, by far, because it seems so solvable. I could argue that the talent isn't great at this or that position or that the play calling seems odd to me -- but those things aren't as bad as just playing by the rules. I actually wonder if having NFL coaches in the Pac 12 is causing some sort of disconnect because Pac 12 refs are completely different than the NFL. I also think that our rep is starting to precede itself. For example, I can remember thinking that there were a few calls that should have gone against ASU but weren't called. One was a deep pass where their DB clearly had our receiver by the jersey all the way down the field and it wasn't called. On the other hand, they call holding on Caleb Benenoch every time he adjusts his own jock.

AHMB:  Yeah, they started the game out of control and gifted a score through penalties, but after that they settled down and played great (at least defensively).  It would be an issue for me if they didn't quickly readjust, but they turned things around and shut a damn good offense out after one poor drive.  There were still far too many penalties after that first drive, but I'm ok with a team being overamped to start the game and then settling in.

Bellerophon:  There are two things holding this team back from greatness: a complete lack of discipline and poor coaching decisions.  The two go hand-in-hand, and if not for the top-tier talent on this roster, we'd be in a real hurt.  Mora needs to make some overhauls, not just to the coaching staff, but also to the program's mentality - despite what he's been saying, penalties do matter and it's going to really bite us when it counts.

2.  This past Saturday's game marks the best performance we've ever seen for Jeff Ulbrich's defense - while Mazzone's offense continues to flounder.  Is Ulbrich figuring it out as a coordinator or is Mora taking more control in the defensive playcalling?  Will the offense and defense ever manage to put together a complete game at the same time?

Tydides: Hard to tell which parts are Ulbrich and which parts are Mora if any at all, but I don't think it matters. If Mora wants Ulbrich to be his guy, that's fine as long as the unit performs, and head coaches are often at least a defacto co-coordinator on one side of the ball. I've got confidence in the D being able to put together a good performance every now and then. The fact that the offense relies almost exclusively on Hundley's prodigious skills to create explosiveness means you can never really rely on that side of the ball to sustain over the course of an entire game.

Achilles: I think the defense is a collaboration, but Ulbrich is calling the plays. We were dialed in on Saturday night. As for the offense -- from the stands it didn't look as bad as it apparently did on TV, based on what I'm hearing from my friends who watched it on television. One thing that didn't get mentioned that much is that we didn't have good field position most of the night. AZ's punter was tough, pinned us back all night. So, we had a lot of decent drives that stalled out without points. Here's a stat I heard on the radio: UCLA this year is the most consistent scoring team in the redzone in the country. Mora mentioned it on during the post game show, said he got the stat from Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk. Apparently, we were 100% on red zone scoring going into the game. I'm not sure if Fairbairn's missed field goal was in the red zone or not, but if it wasn't, we're still 100%. The issue is we get field goals instead of touchdowns. If you just look at that, then we need to start converting TDs in the redzone instead of field goals. That's a much more specific problem than just "the offense is no good."

AHMB:  Really, I saw a defensive line that got after the quarterback a lot more than we'd seen for the most part of the season, which makes any defense look better.  It was the performance that I expected to see from the defensive line all season long, but up until last week had only shown up in flashes.  There were some blitzes mixed in, but not so many more that I would think there was some sort of big philosophical change scheme wise.

Bellerophon:  I agree with AHMB.  On one hand, it's nice to see our guys get more pressure on the QB, but it's concerning that we're still relying on the front four and not bringing pressure from other places (off the corner with a DB, up the middle with a LB, etc.) in a blitz package.  I need to see this defensive unit put up a repeat performance against Washington to be convinced that this Arizona effort wasn't a one-time aberration.

3.  It was another frustrating win, but it was a win - what positives do you see from this game?

Tydides: Hundley may have been the leading rusher (again, prodigious skills), but I liked what I saw out of Starks. Seems like all of our running backs are vastly improved at locating the holes when they're there and decisively busting through them and credit for that has to go to Polamalu.

Achilles: Penalties aside, I didn't find it all that frustrating. We held a team that scores 40 a game to seven points. Honestly, this was the team I thought we'd see at the beginning of the season: a really good defense and an offense that scores just enough to win. Going back to the redzone issue, if we had touchdowns on the drives that we attempted field goals (one miss, one made) -- it's a blowout. I want to also mention that our offense is much better when Thomas Duarte is healthy. Without him, we have trouble going over the middle. Not having him in the lineup is a factor.

IslandBruin2: The late start provided the opportunity for a full day of wine tasting beforehand. This may be required before getting even more invested in this team every week.

AHMB:  I agree with Achilles.  The penalties were frustrating, but overall, I enjoyed watching that game.  Our defense got after their quarterback all game long and absolutely stoned their running game.  Our offense may not have put up a ton of points, but we held on to the ball, ran for close to 300 yards, and had nearly a 2:1 time of possession advantage.

Bellerophon:  The running game really got going and Nate Starks is starting to develop a rhythm.  Perkins and Starks is going to be a hell of a one-two punch next season - and they'll need to be as the Bruins will be led by a QB with zero Division I-A game experience (whether it's Rosen or Woulard - both lack any experience in Westwood).

4. What about the flip side of that - what problems did this win reveal?  Are UCLA fans justified in feeling that this was a game that could have been won easily by multiple TDs?  How does this team stop playing underwhelming football?

Tydides: Not sure it revealed anything that we haven't seen before. In a game where we owned TOP, yards, 3rd down conversions and all that good stuff, we put up one of the lowest point totals against Arizona this season. Penalties kill your drives and extend your opponents'. You're damn right we should have won by a lot more, especially the way the D was playing.

Achilles: The only thing new that was revealed is that the Myles Jack as a running back thing isn't surprising anyone anymore. I still think it's worth doing, but it's not shocking anyone like it did last year.

AHMB:  One thing that really stood out to me was the pregame talk from the announcers when they discussed how fired up our team was because this was a must win game.  In college football, every game is a must win game.  The game against Utah cost just as much as last weekend's game, and we should have opened with the same intensity.  If we played Utah with the same sense of urgency that we played with on Saturday, we'd control our own destiny right now.

5.  The Bruins' season is still technically alive, with UCLA needing to win out and needing Arizona State to drop a game to get a spot in the Pac-12 conference title game against Oregon at Levi's Stadium.  Of Arizona State's remaining opponents, who has the best shot at giving the Bruins that help?  Will our Bruins even be in a position to take advantage should the Sun Devils lose?

Tydides: ASU got through Utah, so that's pretty rough. You'd have to think the team we just beat is the only one left with a decent shot at hanging a loss on them and that's not encouraging either. It won't matter though. The only thing this team has been consistent about is finding ways to kill their own momentum, and they'll pay for that tendency at least once in the next three games.

Achilles: You're making me look up Arizona State's schedule? (Hang on ... ) Okay ... @ Oregon State, home against Washington State, @ Arizona. I agree with Tydides, the toughest game is at Arizona. I also might be the last person who thinks Mike Riley is a good coach and that OSU is never easy to beat in Corvallis. We could win out, we could lose all three.

IslandBruin2: Ask Sonny Dykes how hard it is to win in Corvallis. I think that the game in Tucson is UCLA's best hope, by far. And the fact that we need to look at other teams' schedules at this point in the season says everything we need to know about how disappointing the season has been.

AHMB:  Arizona is the toughest game left, especially because it is a rivalry game.  Utah stil has to lose a game too (they still have Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, and Colorado), or we'd have a three way who-the-hell-knows-what-happens tie breaker.  I don't think ASU will lose the rest of the way though.

Bellerophon:  I think Oregon State is our best shot at an Arizona State loss.  First, Corvallis can be a difficult away trip - Utah only won by by 6 points and that was in double overtime, while Berkeley needed a big fourth quarter to come away with the win there.  Second, Arizona State will be coming off what I expect to be a loss to Notre Dame in Tempe, so hopefully they'll be mentally out-of-sorts going to Corvallis.  Otherwise, I don't really like Washington State or Arizona's chances against the Sun Devils.

6. The extra point - fire away:

Tydides: Man, how much does that bungled Utah game hurt now? More with every passing week. Gift that keeps on giving.

Achilles: The alumni cheerleaders looked really good. Ladies, as someone who attended UCLA in the 80s, my hat is off to you. You still look really great in your cheerleading outfits.

IslandBruin2: Homecoming is supposed to be about tradition, and about welcoming alums back to campus. Only a Morgan Center clusterf*** could come up with the idea to break out new unis for a night of tradition. The fact that the unis were hideous only compounds the problem. I think from now on, every potential color scheme needs to be turned into frosting, and put on some donuts for our AD. He would have thrown up after eating the gray, just like we did seeing it.

Bellerophon:  The only thing worse than those God awful gray uniforms is the fact that we'd be in first place and in control of the Pac-12 South if we had managed to not shit the bed against Utah.  Bear in mind Arizona State is currently 7-1.  That one less was the game where we absolutely blew them out.  On paper, when you look at the talent on this roster, there's no doubt that UCLA is the best team in the Pac-12 South.  Yet, because of our coaching blunders, we're hoping for help from Oregon State, Washington State, or Arizona.  Great "show me" season there Jim.

That's it for this week folks.  Fire away in the comment thread with your thoughts on the close win over Arizona as we continue to wait to see if this UCLA football team is for real or if they're on the fast-track to a fourth tier lame-ass bowl that no one cares about.  Washington is on tap next and it's yet another must-win for the Bruins.