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UCLA Football: Bruins Nation’s Arizona Post-Game Roundtable Discussion

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss UCLA’s 45-24 victory over the Arizona Wildcats.

NCAA Football: Arizona at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

1. This game was a bit of an odd one. How would you describe this game?

AnteatersandBruins: At halftime, I felt like we should have been going home. The first half dragged and was completely lackluster. The second half was a complete turnaround and a different team came out of the locker room. They were more focused and the game picked up quite a bit. Overall, I’d say it was like an unevenly baked cake. Some parts were good, other parts were mushy.

Robert Bastron: I think it’s kind of a box now checked. UCLA should beat this Arizona team by 21 at home. The second half offense looked like a really good football team. Let’s hope it can be built off of, but as a fan, I’ve already moved on to thinking about future games.

orlandobruin: This team’s identity is the defense. They are tough, tackle well, and play hard. The defense was solid throughout the entire game. The offense is the unit that blows hot and cold. It was a tale of two halves for that group. Special teams were excellent. Overall, I think that the team exceeded expectations in this game, but a win over Arizona at home should be expected.

Nirya: This game was weird. The defense showed up as expected in the first half, and basically prevented Arizona from doing anything until the Bruins had built a comfortable lead. The offense finally showed up in the second half, which was good to see heading into two straight road games. Still, the poor offensive showing in the first half has to be concerning for everyone involved.

Joe Piechowski: I think it's almost natural to have a little bit of a let-down after the Stanford game. Thankfully, the offense found a rhythm in the second half.

2. The offense really struggled in the first half, but then began to figure things out in the second half. In your estimation, what was the biggest change?

AnteatersandBruins: On the post game radio report, I heard Mora say that Arizona was doing some very creative things on defense in the first half to stop us. Apparently, by the time they came out for the third quarter, they had a better game plan going and figured out Arizona’s defense. Let’s not forget that Arizona has completely blown up their defensive scheme this year. I’d say this was the first game with noticeable halftime adjustments.

Robert Bastron: In the first half Rosen was lined up in shot-gun and the offense passed it seemed like on at least two-thirds of the plays, maybe more. In the second half, they went back to pro-style sets and ran the ball more. They also focused on getting the ball to the playmakers, Andrews, Walker, Starks, and stopped worrying about spreading the ball to too many people.

orlandobruin: Well, a couple of nice special teams plays getting the ball past midfield into Wildcat territory certainly help. I agree with Robert that the return to the pro set in the second half was an important factor. Arizona was undersized. It made sense to pound them a bit. The jet sweeps helped to keep Arizona honest on defense. Good halftime adjustments by the UCLA coaching staff.

Nirya: The biggest, obvious change was UCLA finally shortened their rotation, and put their most-talented playmakers on the field. It’s still baffling that it took 4 12 games for Theo Howard to see consistent time on the field, but his one catch for a touchdown was an electric sign of the talent he brings to the field. Darren Andrews and Kenny Walker have proven they should be on the field, and you have to assume after this week that Jordan Lasley will take over significant portion of Eldridge Massington’s reps. When the pass game has consistency in the receivers, the offense works really well.

3. The run game has had issues this year, and this week was probably the worst performance against an undersized Arizona run defense that was allowing 198.25 YPG on the ground going into this game. What has been the biggest issue here?

AnteatersandBruins: Our running backs can’t get a break from the offensive line, so they’re constantly having to bounce to the outside, and by then, they’re caught. We need the line to not only hold for Rosen, but make holes for the running backs.

Robert Bastron: I think it’s been a combination of everything, from the plays called, the blocking, to the backs not seeing holes. I liked that Polamalu called a few jet sweeps and other non traditional running plays. UCLA will still have to at least attempt some power runs, as it opens up the play action that has been really good for Rosen, but come up with other ways to get yards on the ground.

orlandobruin: Jamabo needs to sit. He was totally ineffective. Too much dancing in the backfield. I thought we’d see more Olorunfunmi. I mentioned to my buddy with whom I was watching the game (who is an SEC guy and knows little about UCLA football) that maybe Olorunfunmi had an "unannounced suspension," similar to what several have speculated occurred with respect to Starks (missed games one and two) and then Jamabo (missed game three). Then in the second half, all of a sudden, there’s Olorunfunmi. That was a head scratcher for me. Until Jamabo shows that he can run in a more north/south fashion, Starks should start and Olorunfunmi should be the #2 guy.

Nirya: UCLA has to recognize they don’t have the personnel to straight-up beat a team running at them with man blocking, like Stanford, Washington, and Alabama can do. When you’ve recruited for a spread system for 4 years, you’re going to end up with a bunch of linemen who are more agile than true roadgraders, so asking them to suddenly be able to man-block teams is just a bad decision. On top of that, the staff has to recognize when teams are loading the box, and run some play-action or deep balls to keep the opponent honest. Rosen hit on enough deep passes in this game that Arizona eventually had to drop back a bit, which allowed the run game to work better in the second half.

Joe Piechowski: I'm still not seeing consistent play from the offensive line, especially in the middle. That said, the bright spot on the o-line was the job Andre James did filling in when Kolton Miller got hurt.

4. The defense continues to look strong, putting on a strong performance until the offense was ready to show up. How does this defense compare to past UCLA defenses?

AnteatersandBruins: More fun to watch. They hit their assignments and actually behave like a defense that knows what they’re doing.

Robert Bastron: When the defense had its best year under Lou Spanos, it was very opportunistic. This defense is sound, disciplined, and athletic. They’re more physical, they hit harder. This is what we were expecting to see before the season, before the injuries in the first couple of games gave us all a big scare.

orlandobruin: This is the best tackling UCLA defense that I have seen in a long, long time. Perhaps the best since ‘87 and ‘88 with guys like Carnell Lake and Ken Norton, Jr.

Nirya: UCLA’s defense has always had athleticism in the Jim Mora era, but this is the first year they’ve really had the discipline to go with that athleticism. When you’re disciplined you make less mistakes in tackling, you commit fewer drive-extending penalties (unless you coach commits one for you), and you’re able to do more creative things, like spying on the QB or playing a press coverage when needed. This is easily the best defense of the Jim Mora era.

Joe Piechowski: I agree with Robert. This is what we expected to see last year when Tom Bradley arrived, but injuries really took their toll. Now, that guys are healthy, the defense is starting to play up to its potential. I'd still like to see more turnovers, though.

5. Let’s talk about the big issue: UCLA again had issues containing a backup quarterback. Is this a concern going forward, or a smaller issue than people make it out to be?

AnteatersandBruins: This goes back as far as I can remember. It must be a "play down" mentality that if the first string guy is out, we don’t need to try as hard. It’s historically been an issue that UCLA makes second stringers look like Heisman candidates. I don’t even know where to start with that one. It’s got to be institutional.

Robert Bastron: In this instance, I’m not too worried about it. Tate is a true freshman who was supposed to be redshirting this year. RichRod burned his redshirt on Saturday night (which some AZ columnists took issue with) so I don’t think Bradley had any plan for him or knew how he would play. Also, much of his production came late in the game against Bruin substitutes. It’s always going to be harder to stop a running QB, it changes the math. Let’s see if it continues to happen in different circumstances.

orlandobruin: I disagree with the premise of the question in the sense that I think that the Bruins "contained" Khalil Tate. 5 of 9 passing and 15 carries for 79 yards on the ground (with his best rush going for 18 yards), is satisfactory, at least to me. UCLA had a comfortable lead, 24-7 when Tate came in and, to some extent, was trying to stop the big play, the quick score, to get Arizona back in the game with enough time to make it interesting. Tate’s scoring drives took 14, 9, and 8 plays. I’m not sure I buy the argument that the Bruins were not prepared for a rushing QB, because their starting QB, Brian Dawkins, led the Wildcats in rushing coming into the game. I don’t think Tate had much different of a game than we would have seen had Dawkins stayed healthy.

Nirya: It’s not a big deal, specifically because Khalil Tate was the third-string quarterback. The defensive coaching staff realistically should not have been preparing for Rich Rod burning the freshman’s redshirt (a move that a lot of Arizona fans are not happy with), especially doing so in the middle of the third quarter when UCLA had built up a sizeable lead. Should UCLA have performed better against Tate? Maybe, but at that point the goal was to maintain the lead. The good news is that UCLA shouldn’t see a QB that adept at the read option the rest of the way.

Joe Piechowski: Actually, Tate was their fourth-string QB. The Bruins had not seen him on film at all. So, Tate had the element of surprise going for him. But now, no one can say that since he's played and Arizona's other opponents will have tape of the UCLA game.

6. UCLA has two road games coming up that should set the tone for the regular season. First up: a wounded Arizona State team that just got embarrassed by USC. UCLA and ASU have traded wins under Mora and Todd Graham, with ASU winning last year’s contest. How do you see the game going this year?

AnteatersandBruins: IF the momentum from the second half on Saturday carries through, it will be a W for the Bruins. But, sometimes, we never know which team is going to show up.

Robert Bastron: ASU seems to play us better when we perceive them as being down. Graham’s blitz-centric offense could give the O-Line fits. Last season they sold out on stopping the run, and Mazzone didn’t adjust his game plan until too late. I’m not sure what to make of this Sun Devil team--I haven’t watched an entire game of their this season--and the box scores have been crazy. ASU is a team I’m always worried about, even if they don’t appear to be any good. I still expect a win though.

orlandobruin: Well, under the Mora and Graham regimes (both coaches are in their 5th years at their respective programs), the road team has won every game. I am cautiously optimistic that this pattern will hold true this week. ASU has given up 55 and 41 points at home to Power 5 teams (Texas Tech and Cal). While both of those teams have explosive offenses, it tells me that Arizona State has issues on defense. Of course, the Sun Devils won both of those games, so their offense is quite good. How good will they be against UCLA’s tough defense with starting QB Manny Wilkins likely to miss Saturday’s game? That is the million dollar question.

Nirya: I’ll call it right now - there is no reason UCLA should not beat this undermanned Sun Devil team handily. ESPECIALLY since their previous QB, Manny Wilkins, left their game against USC with an apparent leg injury. This team isn’t very good, so if UCLA struggles with them, it’ll be a much-more damning sign of the Mora regime than anything else.

Joe Piechowski: Should we beat ASU? Absolutely. Will we? Well, that depends on which UCLA team shows up on Saturday. At some point, this team needs to start playing consistent football. Let's hope it's happens this Saturday.

7. The Extra Point - Sound off!

AnteatersandBruins: On the way home listening to the post game radio report, I heard Mora calling out the refs for their shoddy performance and made it very clear that we simply can’t stand for it anymore. He said the players deserve answers to these bad calls and almost made it sound like he was going to be making a bigger issue out of it beyond Saturday. I hope he follows through and it wasn’t just coach-speak because I’m sure we’d all love to hear what Larry Scott has to say about it.

Robert Bastron: In the second half against Arizona, the offense looked exactly like it is supposed to look. We got the defense to look how it was supposed to look when Takk and Eddie returned from injury. Will this be a turning point for the offense? Will they continue to keep giving the ball to more reliable guys rather than spreading it out? And will we continue to see some creative play calling? Or was this just a nice showing against a bad defense with loads of injuries?

orlandobruin: UCLA’s special teams, more specifically the return game, were outstanding. Kick returns of 50 yards (Goforth) and 52 yards (Adams), and a punt return of 33 yards (Pickett) each resulted in UCLA drives starting in Wildcat territory. Goforth’s and Adams’ kick returns started drives that resulted in UCLA touchdowns and Pickett’s punt return put UCLA in field goal position, which Molson converted after the Bruins were unable to pick up a first down. Without those returns, it could have been a much different game.

Nirya: I think we’re at the point where we can say UCLA has become a much more disciplined team. The Bruin players only committed 4 penalties for 45 yards in this game. Just compare this to last year’s game against the Wildcats, where the Bruins committed 9 penalties for 76 yards. In a season plagued by inconsistency, the one bright spot has been UCLA’s newfound commitment to disciplined play.

Joe Piechowski: The offense played a better second half than the first half. Now, they just need to piece together two good halves and play a complete football game.

Go Bruins!