Seven games into the season with five left to play, excluding any championship or bowl games, this feels like a good time to evaluate the team midseason and think about the direction of the program. To that end, gbruin brought up some good questions in his always excellent "Morning After" post, which were too good not to discuss, so they show up in questions 4 and 5 of this roundtable.
A special thank you to BamaBruin for serving as this week’s guest panelist on the U.C. Berkeley postgame Roundtable. I know I can speak on behalf of the entire Bruins Nation team when I say we were all excited and honored to have BamaBruin participate with us.
Enjoy this week’s Bruins Nation UC Berkeley Postgame Roundtable.
1. Josh Rosen was prolific against UC Berkeley throwing one yard shy of 400 and 3 TDs and has already broken Cade McNown’s freshman record by almost 300 yards by passing 1,967 in his first seven games. Is Josh meeting, or exceeding, your expectations thus far?
BamaBruin: When I saw the Virginia game, I was impressed. Josh's first play from scrimmage was a long pass, which should have been an easy seven. Then he proceeded to pick the Cavaliers apart. Then came BYU. In that game he played good enough to win. Against Arizona he had a good game, but the Wildcats made way too many first half mistakes. Josh had the advantage of having short fields in each of the offensive possessions in the first half. Against ASU and even more against Stanford, he had issues with pass rush pressure and being pinned back. All that being said, he's a great quarterback! He has shown more growth than I expected through the season so far. He doesn't force passes like he did against BYU, and when he has the time in the pocket his arm is lethal. He's still pushing things, after nearly getting intercepted four times (that I could see), by throwing double coverage. The best thing that's happening to him, though, was the overall improved execution of the offense. He's a fighter, and I'm looking forward to seeing him against $C.
Beer&Math: Exceeding--and it’s not even close. No matter how highly regarded Rosen was, he is still an 18 year old kid adjusting to college life and a new level of competition. So, what he’s shown us in these past 7 games is really special, 15 TDs to 7 INTs. No matter the W-Ls at the end of the season, I have a feeling we will all look back and appreciate what he’s done. I can’t imagine why elite WRs aren’t lining up to come play with Josh Rosen and Jim L. Mora’s Bruins.
Mexibruin: Exceeding, by far. In game 1 against Virginia, I said to myself, ‘He’s already better than Brett Hundley.’ And, that’s not a knock against Hundley. He’s just that good. He struggled a little against UNLV, he struggled a lot against BYU; but, I think some of those struggles were just as attributable to coaching. Or, lack thereof.
uclaluv: Absolutely exceeding. His learning curve is really impressive. I think the next step will be for him to learn when to run. But that kind of seems like graduate work for a freshman.
Bruinette88: He’s exceeding my preseason expectations, but I need to add that I don’t believe that Rosen’s stats accurately reflect the level of his performances. For instance, Rosen put up impressive numbers against Cal, but those numbers don’t reflect the fact that Rosen made some poor decisions that could have been very costly if Cal defenders had, as Sonny Dykes said at halftime, caught balls thrown at them. There was the pass Cal’s Darius Allensworth dropped before Rosen hit Duarte for the Bruins’ first TD. Rosen threw another near interception to Allensworth in the second quarter, and again, the Bruins scored following the let-off. So let’s not get carried away with Rosen’s numbers. He’s talented and he’s bright, but he’s definitely very much a work in progress.
Joe Piechowski: I think he's meeting expectations so far. He's played very well in some games and made some mistakes in others. It's what should be expected from a freshman QB.
2. After the blowout win, who were your top performers on offense and defense?
BamaBruin: Rosen, of course, on offense, though the front five did a fantastic job. In the first half they dominated at the line line in the first half, giving big holes for the running backs. Paul Perkins while he was in torched the Bears, and Soso Jamabo did great in the second half. All the receivers did great, but Thomas Duarte stood out for me, not just making great catches, but fighting for the additional yards.
On the defensive side, I was happy to see improvement on the fundamentals. The secondary, especially Randall Goforth, Marcus Rios, and Jaleel Wadood did much better wrapping up the Bears' receivers than they did against Stanford or ASU. Stopping the receivers as they made their catches, not allowing extra yardage, stopped several Bears drives.
I can't let this go by without mentioning Kai'mi Fairbairn. From his freshman year when he had trouble with a 20 yard kick, he's done great! He's always had a long leg, but now he's got the control to make two field goals beyond 50 yards. After seeing Tennessee miss three field goal attempts against Alabama, I'm feeling great about having Kai'mi as an additional weapon.
Beer&Math: Offensively: Rosen (3 TDs, 299 yards), Duarte (10 for 141 yards, 1TD), Fuller (7 for 100 yards, 2TDs), and Perkins (11 carries for 73 yards) stood out to me. I’m happy the offensive line handled their business against the inferior talent of the U.C. Berkeley defensive line. Rosen had a long time to throw for most of the game. Gotta throw more love towards Kai’imi Fairbairn for his performance: 7/8 on touchbacks, 4/4 on field goals (including a school record 60 yarder!), 4/4 on extra points. Makes me smile. Defensively: I didn’t see any standout performances but thought the entire defense collectively did a good job neutralizing the UC Berkeley offense.
Mexibruin: Rosen, obviously. I thought Duarte was not only great against the bears, but he was clutch as well, delivering big plays when they were needed most. Devin Fuller also had himself a game. Perkins set the tone early with all those 10+ yard carries. And, of course Soso played great in relief.
uclaluv: Do we have to choose? I really think game showed the team playing really well on both sides of the ball, and that implies that all that were out there were playing really well and doing their jobs. For three years, I’ve been yelling "Duarte’s always open", just ask the poor people who have to sit near me! In Duarte’s first year, Brett didn’t know he was open. Last year he figured it out. This year Duarte really is the go to guy. So I want to give credit to the whole offense, but want to really highlight Duarte … and Darren Andrews who seems to be providing both spark and reliability. On the defense, again all of them. But I’ll give special mention to the entire secondary that did a really great job shutting down the passing game, and to Aaron Wallace who was key. Also, whatever changes were made, Berkeley couldn’t get their running game going. Obviously it is less key for them than for ASU or Stanford. But still the d did much better against the run.
Bruinette88: Kenny Clark is a top performer every week, but I want to focus on a couple of players who took on bigger roles against Cal and performed admirably: Kolton Miller and Johnny Johnson. Both players stepped into starting roles and got the job done. In that respect, their contributions were enormous. On special teams, Ka’imi Fairbairn stands out, as usual. I know that I’ve lavished Fairbairn with praise this season for his consistency, but he deserves special recognition this week for delivering a big kick at a big moment. As I’ve mentioned previously, Fairbairn will leave UCLA with the all-time scoring record, and now he also holds the record for longest field goal. He deserves a ton of respect for what he’s accomplished at UCLA.
Joe Piechowski: Offensively, I'm going to start with the running backs and offensive line. Moving the ball on the ground is important to opening up the passing game. Rosen played very well Thursday night. 399 yards passing qualifies that. Defensively, I thought Aaron Wallace stood out along with Kenny Clark and Kenny Young.
3. No excuses. But, as the injuries begin to pile up, does this lower your expectations of a Pac-12 Championship game appearance and/or win?
BamaBruin: My opinion, as a weekend watcher, is the injuries have made a difference. I don't know if we could have beaten the Stanford team that showed up with Myles Jack and company, but I think it would have made a difference against ASU. The defense has had to reform almost on a weekly basis, which has to take a toll on their efficiency. That being said, they are improving. Colorado should be an easy win, and one where the team can continue improve their cohesion.
As far as getting to the Championship game, $C gave us a gift by beating Utah. We still need an ASU loss, but winning the south is still an achievable goal. The schedule should work in our favor for the next three games, and give us a chance to heal some more.
Beer&Math: Nope. I’m sympathetic to the players and hope for their speedy recovery, but this is why recruiting and coaching up depth is important. In college, there are 80ish players on a team. They are young and hungry so my expectations don’t drop one bit. Still expecting a Pac-12 South title and at least a good showing in the Pac-12 Championship game. Time for the coaches to earn their big salaries!
Mexibruin: Those expectations went out the window when we lost Eddie, Myles, and Fabian. Right. Out. The window. But that in no way excuses what happened against ASU or Stanford. As the old cliche goes, ‘you can have results, or you can have excuses. But, you can’t have both.’ Certainly, I did not expect to be undefeated at this point in the season. But, the manner in which we lost those games is inexcusable.
uclaluv: With all the personnel losses, expectations have to change. But it is really important that the coaches put the team in the best position to win. I don’t think they always do that. However, in this last game, it really looked like the defense was figuring it out, and was settling in as Bradley put it. And Mazzone was finally letting Josh throw the ball again. Just when everyone around me expected Noel to call a run, we threw the ball. It was kind of shocking to all of us. But back to the injuries. They are ridiculous. Myles always talked about how the combination of Eddie and Kenny were able to control the line, and the run, and allow him to really freelance. With Eddie gone, that too is gone. Then with Myles gone, well not everyone has the same instincts for the ball he did. During practice I also noticed how Bradley had the secondary and the linebackers working formations together. They were in sinc. Then Myles (who was part of the secondary at times) and Fabian go out - it’s like learning all over again. With Myles, even the same defensive formations would present an unknowable for the opponent’s offense. What will Myles be doing - falling back, rushing the pass, filling a gap? Without him, that versatility and deception are gone. And again, this new defense is learning to play together all over again. We have the depth, but especially on defense, learning to play together takes time. They really progressed in the last game.
Bruinette88: I think this question ought to be rephrased. First, my expectations for the program have not changed. Second, my preseason expectations aren’t subject to change. What has changed as a result of the significant losses to injury is the probability that UCLA will meet my preseason expectations. In other words, I’m no longer projecting a Pac-12 title game appearance for the Bruins. I hope the Bruins prove me wrong.
Now, I think we have to get past this idea that any attempt to account for injuries is an "excuse." Frankly, I suspect that everyone on this panel and in the community would have lowered their expectations for 2015-16 if they’d known that the Bruins would be without Vanderdoes, Jack, Moreau, Clark, etc… Frankly, the Bruins aren’t the same team without those players, so any realistic projections for the team have to account for those losses. Although it’s certainly possible that some fans might have made preseason projections of a Pac-12 championship for a UCLA team missing three of its defensive stars, I’m not one of them.
Joe Piechowski: Injuries shouldn't change expectations. While there's sure to be a talent drop-off because if the "next man up" was as good as the injured starter, the "next man up" would have been starting. But, in the fourth year of a coach's tenure, injuries are a poor excuse for not winning games. Under Mora, the recruiting has gone well. So, the talent is there to compete for the Conference Championship.
Not only that, but, if UCLA wins out and ASU loses one more game, we can still win the Pac-12 South.
4. Is recruiting good enough or are we still losing too many key recruits to a mess of a program across town?
BamaBruin: I honestly can't address recruiting. But, we are getting wins with national exposure, which can only help recruiting. Plus, consistently winning against $c, and the stability of our coaching situation are plusses as well.
Beer&Math: By pretty much any metric you choose, UCLA is recruiting at an elite level yet I’d still like Mora and Co. to bring in one or two break out star athletes. Though, to be fair, we might already have those athletes already on the team (Rosen, Jamabo, Keisean Lucier-South, Josh Woods) but are either playing as true freshman or are redshirting to bulk up. I’ve written plenty of fanposts along the years that say we basically have more talent on the field against everyone in the Pac-12 except $c. So, we can definitely still do better but we are already at a high-enough level to win big now. Think about Georgia for a second, who on many levels is similar to UCLA. They continually "don’t win the ‘big’ games when they need to," "win 9-10-11" games a season, etc. etc. Yet, no matter what their recruiting never drops off. They are always in the top 10 at the end of the day. This is because they’ve been winning for longer. Anyways, I hope we don’t simply become the Georgia of the West.
Mexibruin: I think that question right there exposes an underlying problem with UCLA Football and it’s enablers. Whether they’re in the Morgan Center, or in the stands. (I’m not directing any anger or accusations at you B&M. Just answering the question.) If you want to be competitive, It’s never good enough. You are always looking to improve. Recruiting has absolutely improved under Mora. AND, the way he uses recruits has improved. You just have to look at Anthony Barr, and the way we have used EV and Myles Jack on offense. But, our inability to reach the next level, beating Stanford, or Oregon, playing for Pac 12 Championships, has definitely hurt our recruiting. Those are the facts, whether or not recruiting has improved as a whole. So, in summary, recruiting is not good enough. We must do better if we want to ascend to the next level.
PS: let me add that Kylie Fitts, Devin Lucien, and Chris Clark among others are now playing elsewhere. Considering how much we depend on former back ups with our rash of injuries, how important are those losses? We need to do better job recruiting the guys we already landed.
uclaluv: This time I agree with Beer and Math! I think recruiting is good enough. Not only are we bringing in enough talent, adding depth that is talented, but we are recruiting really good people. I think now that we have Rosen our receiver recruiting will improve. But it is difficult to argue with how good Duarte and Payton have been. I think Andrews is going to be great. I’m waiting for Stephen Johnson to get even more involved. And I’m wondering when Austin Roberts will be added to the mix. These are incredible talents and the receiving corps of the future looks bright. I’m still so very glad we got our second choice at running back a few years back. Nate Starks is really good and a good person. Thank goodness Joe Mixon didn’t sign with us. My concern lies more with development at some positions than it does with recruiting.
Bruinette88: Mora-era recruiting has been pretty good, but it could be better. Ideally, a team should recruit with a plan in place, bringing in athletes that fit the system, complement the returning players, and are a good fit for the program in the way they represent the four letters on and off the field. Chris Clark is a good example of a player that didn’t meet the criteria; he made the recruiting class look better, but he added no value to the program. In that sense, I’m more concerned about smart recruiting, i.e. bringing in the right group of highly-rated players rather than bringing in highly-rated players without regard to how well they fit the system or what their role will be within the system.
Joe Piechowski: Recruiting can ALWAYS be better. We've recruited well, but I'm concerned about what we are doing to develop the talented recruits we are bringing in to the program. Are our assistant coaches really doing a good enough job taking that talent and building it to get the team to the next level? I'm not sure that's happening.
5. Are the results on the field good enough to satisfy you and your desires for this program?
BamaBruin: Wins are the ultimate measure of success, and so far they're getting them. That being said, there's always room for improvement. Dropped passes, missed tackles, and drive killing penalties are going to happen, but they happen too much for us. If we can reduce the mistakes on fundamentals, I'll feel a lot better.
Beer&Math: Speaking of Georgia of the West, I really hope we don’t get stuck in settling for just "9-10-11 win seasons" (assuming we ever get to 11). U.C.L.A. is a champion at almost every sport and football has been the exception. We have so many natural advantages that there’s no reason why we can’t push through to the elite (get to playoffs, win some of the games). With all the TV money, we don’t "need to be patient" beyond reason--like Iowa is with Ferentz (btw, that comparison is dumb since Iowa has zero history or recruits in state). Don’t get me wrong, you can’t get to step B without passing through step A (as my dad likes to say) so I consider the plane we are at as step A. I’m grateful, I’m enjoying it more than I’m dreading it. But I want more.
Mexibruin: No. I’m quickly reaching the point of not caring. It’s hard to maintain passion over 15+ years when the one certainty about your team, in which you have no doubt, is that they will collapse when it matters most. Beating SC is not enough. These are not Cheat Carroll’s Trogans. Jim Mora has yet to win a meaningful game in year 4.
uclaluv: Unlike Mexi, I still care. This team brings incredible energy, work ethic, and fight. While I am discouraged by the way we lose when we lose, it is a joy to root for this team (unlike another UCLA team that causes extreme inner conflict). I like what Beer and Math said about step A. We have made that step. I don’t know if we will make the next step or not. I truly believe it depends on some personnel changes in the coaching staff. Without that, I think the floor gbruin discussed in the morning after this week, will not rise much.
Bruinette88: No, not yet, though I think my answer says more about my expectations for the program than the performances so far. However, with the exception of our men’s water polo team, I’d say the same about all of our teams in 2015.
Joe Piechowski: No. It's been 61 years since UCLA won its only National Championship in football. I will not be satisfied until we add our second. And, frankly, I'm sick and tired of so-called UCLA fans who take an attitude that everything is good as long as we beat Southern Cal. That's an attitude for losers and I will call you out on it EVERY SINGLE TIME.
6. Is this program still going the right way?
BamaBruin: I'm giving this a resounding "yes, but." Yes, the program is improving, especially when compared to before Mora took over. It's improved compared to last year, especially when you look at penalties. The Bruins have hit a plateau, though, in that they haven't won that big, elite level game. The closest we got was the Pac-12 championship against Stanford. When we win the south again, we'll have made big strides to get off that plateau.
Beer&Math: This is a tough one. Many things are still going the right way. However, the big issue is that there needs to be some shake-up in the staff this offseason to make a jump to the next level. Without it, I’m not sure it continues to move forward.
Mexibruin: No. It’s regressing. Let me make an analogy. If you’re in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean, floating is not enough. And, that’s where we’re at. You have to be moving at all times, AND, you have to be moving in a positive direction. So, bringing it back to football, getting roughly the same results for the last 4 years, is no better than floating, adrift at sea. We’re fine for now. But, all it takes is one passing storm and you are floundering.
uclaluv: Ditto what Beer and Math said.
Bruinette88: It’s too early to tell, unfortunately. "Is the program still going the right way?" is a big picture question, and I’m afraid that too many fans are tempted to judge the long term direction of the program on the outcome of the last game or some small number of recent results. But at the midpoint of this season, my assessment is that the program isn’t going the right way or the wrong way; it’s sitting on a saddle point, much like it was at the midpoint of last season.
After three years of the Mora-era, many of us entered the season with doubts about Coach Mora’s ability to take UCLA to the next level. For me, reaching the next level means reaching the Pac-12 Championship game and winning a Pac-12 title. Clearly we aren’t there yet, and with the significant losses to injury that we’ve had, the likelihood that we’ll get there in 2015 has diminished.
I think there’s been an unfortunate conflation of reaching the next level with beating Stanford. In terms of what I see as "reaching the next level," our loss to ASU was more significant than our loss to Stanford. Moreover, with Utah’s loss to USC yesterday, our upcoming game against the Utes is FAR more important than our game against Stanford in judging our progress this season. In terms of the bigger picture, if I were forced to choose, I’d rather lose to Stanford and win the Pac-12 South title than beat Stanford and miss the Pac-12 Championship game.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no evidence yet that the program is regressing. Rather, I think there’s good reason to worry that we are treading water. The pattern of our losses is disconcerting. Yes, our annual loss to Stanford is part of that pattern, but it doesn’t define the pattern. All of us want UCLA to take the next step—to win the Pac-12 title. To do that, we have to beat any team that stands in our way, whether the uniforms of our opponents say Stanford, Oregon, Utah, or Colorado.
Joe Piechowski: I don't agree with Mexi when he says the program is regressing. But, I also don't necessarily think the program is moving in the right direction. I'm concerned that the program has plateaued. It isn't regressing and it isn't progressing. That's as much of a problem as it would be if the program was regressing because I don't think it's getting better. When you hit a plateau, you have to do something differently to change that. To overcome that I expect Coach Mora to really look at what his assistants are doing and to make changes accordingly. He needs to throw loyalty out the window and make some tough decisions.
7. The Extra Point. Have at it.
BamaBruin: Thanks for having me. BN has given me a sense of fan community, and when game threads are going I feel like I'm back in the Rose Bowl or in Pauley. I have great pride to wear the Blue and Gold in the land of the Tide and Tigers.
Beer&Math: Earlier in October, UCLA rose to the number 7 team in the country. Then got beat by ASU, 38-23. We all felt like deflated balloons, but it was much worse than that. Stewart Mandel in his mailbag wanted to not only retire the term "Clemsoning" from the national conversation as antiquated, but replace it with "UCLAing." Ouch. Here’s the excerpt. So, dear BN community, what do you think?
Stewart, longtime Mailbag readers like me are mourning the loss of a dear old friend. The term "Clemsoning" has been a part of our lexicon for several years. It has brought joy to fans of hopeless programs through blatant and unapologetic Schadenfreude. But alas, "Clemsoning" seems to have met its end. If not I'm sure Dabo is hunting it down as we speak ... with a whip (watch him whip / now watch him Nae Nae). Is there hope for the bitter fans out there that want to feel taller by standing on the backs of other programs' misery?
My colleague Clay Travis has been tossing around the term "Georgia'd" this season, but I don't think it means the same thing. Georgia getting blown out by Alabama in its biggest home game in years ... again ... is not the type of result that made circa-2011 Clemson infamous. On the contrary, it's more for teams that win big games, generate a big bubble of inflated hype, then promptly stick a pincushion in it by losing to a two-touchdown underdog. As coach Dabo so emphatically noted, Clemson has not lost to an unranked opponent in four years.
That's why I contend the proper term today is UCLA'ing. No team in the country right now is better at thwarting its own momentum like the Bruins, who, two weeks ago, rose to No. 7 in the country only to lose 38-23 to 2-2 Arizona State. Or, last season, needing only to beat 6-5 Stanford to clinch the Pac-12 South, instead getting blown out 31-10. Unfortunately, though, this movement is not likely to explode to the same extent as Clemsoning, both because UCLA'ing is less catchy, and because it's yet another West Coast thing for the rest of the county to ignore.
Mexibruin: I have reached that point in a relationship, much like I did with Neuheisel, where everything they say angers me. I’m tired of Mora’s coach speak whether it be after a loss, or a win. Walk it like you talk it, Jim. Here’s a good example of someone who did both. ~ "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in awhile; you don't do things right once in awhile; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing." ~ Vince Lombardi.
uclaluv: I am sorry to see Mexi so downtrodden. I totally understand it. But I guess I feel a little differently. It’s not like I think we are going to magically be different from a 9 or 10 win team. It’s more like, I adore the passion, fight, and talent that we have on our team. We are incredibly deep. Our players are really committed. While I do want to see some coaching changes, I guess I really feel passionate about this team as a whole. The losses are devastating, not because they were losses, but because how badly we lost. But, just when you think no more starters will get hurt (I mean I think we’ve shouldered our share this year), more go down. In the Berkeley game we were without Myles, Eddie, Fabian, Mossi, Perkins for a half, Starks, McDermott, Hollins, not to mention Simon! The fact that UCLA slaughtered Berkeley with all those absences shows that there is something good going on here. Yes, we left points on the field, and I for one attribute that to the OC and the Coach who is still keeping him around. But to be able to play that well with all of those losses is pretty incredible, in my opinion. Again, it really isn’t an excuse. As Bruinette would say, it is something to think about. If this was any of the teams we had in the past, we would have been really short on talent to replace these key men. And in this way, I agree with Mora - Soso and Olorunfunmi are still developing, and they played for Perkins and Starks. In that way we are still developing. If we had half of those guys still playing, I think I would feel differently. But we don’t.
Oh yes, and I really enjoyed the half time! The fall of Troy is always worthwhile, and it was really cool that the two bands were able to get it together to do that, in an organized way (I’m talking to you Stanford).
Bruinette88: For the seventh time this season, I have to mention penalties again. Against Cal, we racked up 9 penalties for 74 yards. That brings our season average to 8 penalties per game and 74.6 penalty yards per game, which is almost exactly what we averaged in 2014 and 2013. In my opinion, this is symptomatic of the deeper problems with the program and indicative of a program that is treading water. To progress to the next level, things have to change. Acknowledging a problem is not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Coach Mora has to fix this problem. He needs to get the job done.
Joe Piechowski: The extra point belongs to the guy who makes them: Ka'imi Fairbairn. I've been critical of his performance to the point where I haven't expected him to make a field goal longer than 39 yards. Three times recently he has proven that he has improved substantially and two of those times were Thursday night against Berkeley. He deserves credit for working as hard as he has. Keep it up!
And, I finally figured out why the Fall of Troy was performed on Thursday, instead of later in the season: Cal faces Southern Cal next week.
That’s it for the UC Berkeley Postgame Roundtable. Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and I welcome anyone else to share their own answers in the comments.
If you have any of your own questions, fire away in the comments as well.