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UCLA Pregame Guesses: Colorado Buffaloes Edition

Trying to make sense of a two game skid and what that means the rest of the season

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

R.E.M. - Pale Blue Eyes (June 9 1984) (via stewman72)

Lou Reed - Sweet Jane (With Intro) (Live) (HQ) (via MetalMachineManiac)

(This week’s videos are "Pale Blue Eyes" performed by R.E.M. and the version of "Sweet Jane" that appears on Lou Reed’s 1974 live album Rock and Roll Animal. Sorry, but there is no video of that exact performance, so you’ll have to listen to the song without much happening in the video. This is my favorite version of that song.

Lou Reed died on Sunday. I heard the news while I was out running errands in Marina Del Rey. I was listening to KCRW and the Velvet Underground’s version of "Pale Blue Eyes" was playing. After the song, Chris Douridas came on and said something about how he was thinking about Laurie Anderson, the musician/performance artist who was Reed’s wife. I immediately thought the worst, pulled over and looked for news on my phone. The worst was true: Lou Reed was dead at 71.

I headed home, distraught. The family was out, I was alone. I was glad. I sparked up, poured a couple of fingers of good Kentucky bourbon and queued up Rock and Roll Animal. I spent the rest of the day just listening, bouncing from album to album, from Transformer to White Light, White Heat from Magic and Loss to Loaded to the Velvet’s first release The Velvet Underground and Nico.

But Lou’s death really didn’t hit me hard until Wednesday morning. I was driving one of my kid’s to school and I flipped on Mukta’s show on KXLU. The Velvet’s version of "Pale Blue Eyes" was playing and I got very emotional as Lou sang:

Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.
Thought of you as everything,
I've had but couldn't keep.
I've had but couldn't keep.
Linger on, your pale blue eyes.
Linger on, your pale blue eyes.

When the song ended, I realized I was crying. And my son was looking at me, saying nothing. I dropped him off, silently, and continued to sob, gently, all the way to work. Mukta spent most of the morning in tribute to Lou Reed, playing his songs and playing voice mails she received from fans, letting her know what he had meant to them.

When I was growing up, I mostly knew Lou Reed as the guy who did "Walk on the Wild Side." It was basically the only song KMET and KLOS played of his, that and "Sweet Jane", sometimes. I vaguely understood that he was an underground legend, but had been too young to appreciate the Velvet Underground when they were around and his early solo albums were too adult. The only kids my age who were "into Lou Reed" were probably also "into Henry Miller" before the rest of us.

As it so often happens, my introduction to Reed and the Velvets were through another band, like when kids in the ‘60s picked up on Muddy Waters through the Rolling Stones. When I attended UCLA, I worked at a local record store. Not some bullshit Sam Goody or The Wherehouse. I worked at an indie store, with a great jazz section, a good classical section and tons of imported and independent rock records. When Chronic Town, R.E.M.'s first EP, was released in the summer of ’82, me and my friends were immediately into it, though I must admit, at first we weren’t sure if the band or the album was called Chronic Town. Instant fans, we caught every show they played around L.A. When Murmur came out shortly after Chronic Town, I saw R.E.M. do a lunch time set on the patio outside Ackerman. They did about 30 minutes in the rain for me and about five other students who thought they were worth getting wet for. [That patio doesn’t exist anymore, it was reconfigured during the rebuild of Ackerman.] I once got Peter Buck’s autograph in Rhino Records on Westwood, when there was a Rhino Records on Westwood.

It was through R.E.M. that I first really discovered Lou Reed’s music. Back in those days, when bands put out 45s, they would put unreleased songs on the b-side. The first single from Murmur was "Radio Free Europe" and the b-side was "There She Goes Again", from the first VU album. A few years later, "Pale Blue Eyes" was the b-side of "South Central Rain (I’m Sorry)." I saw them perform "Femme Fatale" many times.

That was my doorway into Reed’s incredible music.

Throughout my UCLA days, I spent hours listening. I can recall in vivid detail sitting in the messy Northridge apartment of my best UCLA friend, listening to White Light, White Heat over and over. I remember listening to Reed’s Berlin with that same friend. I remember how truly depressing that record is and I remember listening to it after that same friend killed himself a few years later in New York City.

Lou Reed was part of the soundtrack of my life. And not just his music, either. For without Reed and his VU bandmates – John Cale, Mo Tucker, Stirling Morrison – would there be punk rock? Would their be The Replacements or Nirvana or so many bands that meant so much to me throughout my life?

Lou Reed redefined rock and roll, addressing themes in his music that no one had dared address to directly before. As Chuck Klosterman wrote this week in his obit on Grantland, there had been songs about heroin before, but none were called "Heroin."

I caught Reed in concert twice. The first time was at the Universal Amphitheater. The second time was at the Greek Theater. The show happened to be the night that the verdicts were handed down in Simi Valley by a jury who acquitted a quartet of LAPD officers who had been caught on video beating a suspect named Rodney King.

While we sat in our seats waiting for the show to start, no one really knew what to make of all of the helicopters overhead. We didn’t know our city was on fire, that riots had erupted across the Southland.

Lou came out on stage and before kicking off the show, told us how sorry he was, how sorry he felt that Los Angeles was burning. Then he and the band (I’m 99% sure Marc Ribot was playing with him at the time) simply kicked ass and rocked the house, before sending us off to navigate a safe way home.

Music, like sports, has the power to move us, to excite us, to transform us and change us. Lou Reed did all those things for me, to me. His music made my life better and I’m going to miss him.

Rest in peace, Lou, rest in peace.)

Well, we lost.

We lost to Oregon and life went on. We woke up the next day and went about our business. It was disappointing, but it was also okay. I walked to my local farmer's market Sunday morning, listening to White Fang. I stood on line to buy tempeh and tofu right behind a real live movie/TV star. A very L.A. morning.

We’re 5-2, having lost to the two best teams in the conference, and guess what?

If we win the rest of our football games, we will wake up on January 2nd and will be Rose Bowl champs.

Because even though we’ve dropped two games in a row, we still control our own seasonal destiny. A sweep of our remaining regular season games – and there is no reason we shouldn’t sweep the rest of our regular season games, we’ll play in our third straight Pac 12 championship game. On that day, we’ll either be back in Palo Alto or Eugene for a rematch with someone, a chance to avenge one of our two losses. Win that and we’ll be home in Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl.

No problem, right?

I wrote last week that it hurts worse to lose a close game than to get blown out. Getting blown out, I wrote, is just proof that it wasn’t your day or that your opponent is just that much better than you are. But a close game, shoot, that stings and leads to a week of "what ifs" until the next contest.

Somehow, we managed to experience the worst of both worlds last Saturday, playing the Ducks close enough through the first half to pick each play apart, then getting smoked in the second half (yeah, there’s a smoked duck joke there somewhere, I just don’t know what it is), as Oregon showed us what we hope to look someday look like.

The key play of the game was that fake punt by Oregon. Fourth and a mile, deep in their own territory and they ran a fake punt that picked up a mile and a half. The Ducks should call that play Passover, because that hole opened up like the parting of the Red Sea.

The play was significant on several levels.

First, had we stopped it, we would have taken over deep in Oregon territory with a very legitimate chance to go up on them by two touchdowns. You remember, we had the momentum at the time, and another quick score would have amped ol’ Mo up to 11.

But the second point is exactly that: Oregon didn’t care. They knew the risk and they were simply unmoved by the prospect of falling behind UCLA 14-0. They weren’t worried about it and just didn’t respect us enough to be concerned with a double-digit deficit.

And that’s the third issue. That fake punt was a metaphor for the approach of our two programs. Oregon plays aggressive, fearless, out-of-the-box football and while UCLA plays aggressively at times, we’re still a by-the-book, play-the-percentages program. Jim Mora might be an improvement over Coach Puntingiswinning, but if I recall correctly, we punted from Stanford’s 35 a few weeks ago.

You can, actually, play the game by the book and win. Alabama plays things pretty straight. Stanford plays things straight. But it helps to have players that are bigger and stronger than your opponent. But when you are starting three freshmen on the offensive line at Oregon, you aren’t bigger and stronger. You need to take some chances. We had the momentum for a minute and could maybe have gone for an early knockout. The defense played great until the offense opened the second half with three consecutive three-and-outs and Brett Hundley threw two picks and maybe an early, 14 point lead might have meant something. But that window closed quickly, the defense held on as long as they could and when they lost their grip we came tumbling down in a 0-28 second half.

About those two picks:

I can’t figure out what’s up with Hundley. To me, he hasn’t played his best since somewhere in the Utah game. Yeah, we handled Cal pretty easily the following week, but Cal is not good. Against Stanford and Oregon, Hundley was not good. Maybe it was just the quality of opponent we  faced. The Cardinal and the Ducks are good teams, there’s less margin for error when you play them. Throw in the lingering injuries to Jordan James and Simon Goines and the season-ender to Torian White and maybe he’s just got less to work with.

There is actually a pretty interesting comparison to be made to Cade McNown. Everyone remembers McNown during the 20-game winning streak. He was otherworldly. He and Danny Farmer and those guys were the best offense I’ve ever seen in blue and gold. The only thing that stopped them really, was UCLA’s defense, who couldn’t stop Miami in the Hurricane Bowl. Had the defense just held the ‘Canes once in that second half, we would have destroyed Tennessee in the national championship game.

But that was junior/senior Cade McNown. Freshman/sophomore Cade McNown was a different guy. Our loss to Stanford in McNown’s sophomore year was one of the most frustrating I’ve ever watched. I can’t remember the details, just the anger and anxiety. I remember that at one point we couldn’t get a play off, failing to snap the ball or call timeout before getting a delay of game. We wondered if McNown would ever be good.

Something clicked between his second and third seasons. Somehow, he got on the same page as then head coach Bob Toledo and then offensive coordinator Al Borges and we started scoring like Tommy at his favorite pinball table. And I can’t help but point out that Toledo/Borges had much more in common with Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich than with Dorrell/Neuheisel/Mora/Mazzone (you’ll forgive me for not listing all of our past OCs. The only one I remember is Norm Chow, anyway). Toledo was a go-for-it gambler whose approach rubbed off on McNown. We all remember going down to Alabama and beating the Crimson Tide in the rain. Those of us who were there will always consider it one of our favorite UCLA football memories. But do you remember the Alabama game the year before, the one played in the Rose Bowl? We lost starting quarterback Cory Paus on the first series and the Tide returned our first punt for a touchdown. It was hotter than heck with the sun beating down and we started the second series with backup Ryan McCann. And if memory serves, Toledo went for it on fourth down three times on that next series, converting two first downs and scoring a touchdown to tie the game. We beat number-three Alabama 35-24 that day.

At this point, I still can’t quite put my finger on what we’ve got with Mora/Mazzone/Hundley. Is d-first Mora just a play it safe coach whose giving Mazzone his direction? Is there a problem with Mazzone’s playbook, or just problems with the plays he calls? Are we short-handed, lacking a five-star playmaker or enough veterans on the offensive line? Is Hundley hurt? Finally, do we need to remind ourselves that redshirt-sophomore Brett Hundley is only in his second year as a starter, looking not too different than true-soph Cade McNown did in his second season under center? If so, do we dare dream that Hundley next season resembles McNown during 20-straight?

Lots of questions, with the Buffaloes coming to town. Like Berkeley, Colorado isn’t very good. A win tomorrow won’t really provide the answers to any of our questions.

That’s okay. We need an easy win, need to rest up and let heal some of the injured bodies and need Hundley to have a week to start to get right. Every game on our remaining regular season schedule is very winnable. Let’s win them and then see how we measure up to the best in the conference title game.

And, with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Colorado Buffaloes edition.

  1. How many times will UCLA go for it on fourth down tomorrow?
  2. Name a Bruin who intercepts a pass tomorrow?
  3. What number will be higher, Anthony Barr tackles or Malcolm Jones carries?