Good morning, Bruin fans!
After writing about last week’s loss to Stanford, I had an idea for a Sunday morning series of articles which will focus on the previous day’s action and include analysis and opinion. I’m calling it the Sunday Morning Quarterback and, while this is the official start of that series, it really began with last week’s article on Jim Mora and the NFL Mindset.
To begin this adventure, let’s look at last night’s game against Arizona.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Jim Mora era has been how many penalties and penalty yardage UCLA has racked up.
Last night, UCLA racked up 5 penalties for 60 yards. The most notorious flag was actually thrown on Jim Mora himself for unsportsmanlike conduct. If you’re Jim Mora, it’s kind of hard to say that you’re trying to minimize penalties when you are responsible for 25% of the team’s penalty yardage for the entire game.
But, on the other hand, the question here should be, "Should the flag have been thrown at all?"
The reality is that the Pac-12 officials blew the call on the previous play.
With it 2nd and 6 on their own 22-yard line, Arizona ran a pass play. Wildcat QB Brandon Dawkins faked a handoff to Nick Wilson and rolled out to his right. While the play was developing, right guard Gerhard de Beer was moving downfield.
Before the time the ball was thrown, de Beer was already about 10 yards down the field. The umpire threw the flag but the flag was waived off by the referee who said, "There is no foul for an ineligible man downfield. The ball was legally grounded."
The logic just doesn’t hold. Let’s look at the NCAA rule book:
Ineligible Receiver Downfield
ARTICLE 10. No originally ineligible receiver shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the neutral zone until a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone has been thrown (A.R. 7-3-10-I).
The A.R. note here is a reference to an approved ruling. An approved ruling is used to present officials with scenarios on how to apply the rule. In this case, A.R. 7-3-10-I reads:
Approved Ruling 7-3-10
I. Ineligible lineman A70 runs more than three yards beyond the neutral zone and does not make contact with an opponent. He circles toward the flank and returns across the neutral zone before A10 throws a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone. RULING: Ineligible downfield. Penalty -- Five yards from the previous spot. [Cited by 7-3-10]
II. Ineligible lineman A70 makes contact with an opponent within one yard of the neutral zone. A70 drives B4 more than three yards beyond the neutral zone and then circles back across the neutral zone before A1 throws a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone. RULING: Team A foul, ineligible downfield or offensive pass interference. Penalty -- Five yards from previous spot or 15 yards from previous spot (Rule 7-3-8-b). [Cited by 7-3-10]
The key phrase here that the lineman is downfield before the pass is legally thrown.
In last night’s game, in order to avoid being sacked by Josh Woods, Dawkins legally threw the ball out of bounds across the line of scrimmage.
In fact, the very explanation by the referee suggests that the flag should not have been waived. Why? De Beer was well downfield before the ball was thrown.
So, when Jim Mora was reasonably upset and also accurate when he screamed something like this:
You guys don’t know the rules. Then why did he throw the flag? Their guy was blocking downfield on a [expletive] pass!"
Mora added a few more choice words which I couldn’t decipher after about 10 tries and that’s when he was flagged.
If the ball was legally grounded, then, by definition, it was a legal pass. But, the foul occurs when the lineman is downfield before the pass is thrown.
So, logically, grounding the ball by throwing it out of bounds doesn’t preclude a penalty for having an ineligible man downfield. Mora was right. The refs blew the call.
Let’s look at one more instance from last night’s game before taking a peek at some of this weekend’s other action.
Last week, we had a spirited discussion about how Coach Mora failed to go for it on fourth down and two not once but twice when he probably should have gone for it.
A lot of folks said that I was referring to data that excluded late game situations. Others complained that the data was only applicable to NFL games. Well, until someone builds a data model for college football, we’re stuck using NFL data. Frankly, I’d argue that the college football data would probably show that college coaches need to go for it more than the data suggests NFL coaches should do. But, without the college data, I can’t back that opinion up with statistical proof.
What I can suggest is that perhaps Coach Mora read last week’s article because he loosened up a bit on fourth down last night.
With about eight minutes to go in the first half and the score 14-7, UCLA found itself with a fourth and three from the Arizona 31-yard line.
Normally, Mora would send out the field goal unit to attempt a field goal. Now, maybe it was because JJ Molson missed an earlier attempt from 36 yards when he hit the upright while kicking from the left hashmark, but, at the same time, ESPN play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins mentioned that Molson is better from the right hashmark.
A second down run by Nate Starks two plays earlier put the ball on the right hashmark. So, you would think that Mora would have felt more confident about sending Molson out there to go up by two scores even though Molson missed a 48-yarder against Texas A&M.
Whatever the reason, Mora opted to go for it on fourth and three. So he gets props for shedding the NFL mindset at least once last night on fourth down.
It’s definitely worth noting though that the UCLA offense looked more creative last night as well. Three times they ran end arounds and two of those times they did so for big gains. The rest of the running game is still a work in progress, but more creativity definitely needs to be applauded.
At the same time, this was a win against an Arizona team that, by the end of the game, was playing its fourth-string quarterback Serra Gardena product Khalil Tate who ended up as the Wildcats’ leading rusher despite not playing until almost midway through the third quarter.
This wasn’t a big game. So, my enthusiasm for the win is somewhat tempered. A win next week against ASU in Tempe will be bigger. In fact, the next four games will make or break this season as the team faces ASU, Wazzou, Utah and Colorado. Each of the Pac-12 South teams in that list are currently above UCLA in the division standings and Colorado has started 4-1 with their only loss being to a top 5 Michigan team.
So, what else happened this weekend? Well, Houston’s Tom Herman, my personal choice for our next football coach because of his Ventura County ties, stayed undefeated by beating UConn on Thursday.
Friday, Chris Peterson showed the nation why Bruins fans wanted him during both of our last coaching searches. He’s another guy who consistently does more with less.
Overall, ten Top 25 teams lost yesterday including six teams ranked between 17 and 25. That should allow the Bruins to finally move back into the Top 25 polls. But, we’ll see.
As I wrap this first edition of the Sunday Morning Quarterback up, let’s finish up with the Mora Hot Seat Meter. We’ll do this on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is Sitting Next to Alford (Where are the flying banners?) and 1 is Frozen (Let it go!).
After last week’s Stanford game, it was at a 6.5 is midway between Warm and Hot. While last night’s game was a step in the right direction, Arizona is no Stanford. So, this week, we are moving the Mora Hot Seat Meter to a 6 Warm.
To many, that may seem like it isn’t hot enough. After four years of seeing the same problems again and again, it should probably be hotter than that. I tend to agree.
But, some Bruin fans just don’t get it. They think that because he’s done better than the Dorrell/Neuheisel era, he’s a football god. (He isn’t.)
So, a 6 seems about right here.