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The Morning After, Part Ten: Washington

UCLA Football is 8-2, and that record would not have surprised a lot of Bruin fans before the season began. But the way we have gotten here, and the fact that we're even here at all, might surprise a lot of people.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I'll bet a lot of Bruin fans aren't surprised that we are 8-2 at this point in the season.

How we got here might be a bigger surprise. But I'm starting not to care as much.

In my lifetime of functioning (and bristling) under a variety of overly micromanaging supervisors, I have recognized that the paths we take don't  always matter as much as getting to the proper destination, especially if the differences between the various paths are negligible.

It's sort of an unWoodenesque point of view, so it makes me a bit uneasy to think about things this way.  Coach was never about aiming for results. He was always more about the process of how to do things correctly, and when things were done properly, then he'd let the results speak for themselves. But Coach also had the ability to change his path depending on the talents and strengths of his players. One path followed the way with short quick well conditioned players. Another path followed the way of great inside play. One path was built on the most unstoppable shot in the history of basketball The common end point of all of those paths was excellence and Coach showed there were a lot of ways to get  to that destination.

So to a major degree, in sports, the ends justify the means. They don't change the color or the font or the size to the W in the sports pages. They just put a bigger or smaller number next to it. And though only a couple of the Ws have been what we expected, there is still an 8 there. Given some of the performances we've seen from this team, we should be pretty happy we're in this position. That 8 could be a 4 or a 5.

Before the season, I was talking on the ASU Devils Den podcast and I think I said the Bruins could win 11 games this year. That was a really lofty goal, but it seemed possible. I'll admit, after the Utah and Oregon games last month, that number seemed much closer to impossible. The close wins over Cal and Colorado were Ws but they didn't inspire much confidence as we looked ahead to better opponents.

Still, we had people writing on BN that they were certain that things were going to get better and we should be patient. My response to those people was that I hoped they were right, but I hadn't seen anything from the team and especially the coaches  to give me confidence that any of their rosy scenarios would likely to bloom. I asked, what about the penalties or about the offensive line's ability to protect the QB or about how many yards the defense was surrendering or if our kicking game would come through in the clutch.

Both of my parents were born and raised in Missouri, so some of that show me attitude trickled down.

Well, the Bruins are starting to show some signs of answering those concerns.

After the abomination of the 10 sack disaster against Utah, the staff changed personnel on the O Line and the Bruins have given up 8 sacks in 5 games since and we have had a more consistent run game.

After an embarrassing first half against Arizona where the referees actually had to bring in replacement yellow flags because the ones they started the game with were as worn out as their rotator cuffs, we have had 6 penalties in the last 3 halves of football.

The defense is playing with more consistency. Rather than giving up 600+ yards of offense and relying on turnovers or mistakes by the opponent to bail us out, the D has been steady is holding offenses well below their season averages for points.

Our field goal kicker was 3 for 3 last night including one from 47 that was good all the way.

There has been improvement over this season, and while I think anyone with a sophisticated eye for football would recognize that this team hasn't played anywhere near its potential, there is some comfort in seeing that the Bruins just played their best game of the year. The O line led a solid run game. The quarterback looked for and connected on a lot of intermediate routes in the middle of the field. The pass rush was a legitimate asset. Even the game plans from the coaches, probably our biggest downfall all season, were pretty reasonable. We had 4 penalties in the game, and one (the delay of game) was negligible and one ( the offensive PI) was an SPTR joke. See? Even the zebras couldn't believe what they were seeing out there. And the Bruins maintained that quality through the whole 60 minutes, and not for just a half or just a single drive.

Don't take this as me saying that we've definitively turned a corner or that we're what we could be this season. There is still room for improvement out there, especially with some of the conservative mindset from the coaches, and it's not as if Washington is a top 10 team. The UW offense is one of the worst in the conference. Their best pash rusher who sacked our QB on the very first drive went out later in the first quarter abd did not return. We took advantage of their secondary where their best corner was dismissed from the team earlier this week. And the Huskies did take their best linebacker and make him a full time running back, weakening the best part of their defense. Who on earth would make that mistake?

Yes, it was a good game by the Bruins, and it's important to keep that good in context. But better good and improving than where we've been much of this season. This isn't the road most of us envisioned when the year began, but if it's about the destination, then the road doesn't matter.

Unfortunately, it's a little too late to reach that destination of the elite season that some Bruin fans saw as possible, and many national pundits were predicting.  The likelihood of U.C.L.A. working itself back into the national championship conversation is tiny. For the Bruins to take that step up into the realm of the elite teams in future years, things like penalties and pass protection and consistent defense and solid special teams need to be answered out of the gate, and not as a response to our apparently annual October slump. And there are still legitimate questions about some of the coaching staff where the best answer appears to be a change at the position.

But for this year, we're not impossibly far off. We called for a Pac-12 title and a good look at the College Football Playoff. We'll need some help, but we're still in that conversation. And if the coaching staff and team continue to show signs of improvement and keep providing some answers to the ongoing questions of us Bruin fans who want something more tangible than faith, then maybe reaching that destination for this season is still an option.

We haven't traveled the road I would have picked or predicted, but we win our last two games and we we get there in the end, I'm not going to complain about the route.

And one last note, as you know, I don't talk about players by name in this weekly review unless there are some pretty extenuating circumstances, but...Brett Hundley.

Short one today. Stomach flu. Be well, everyone.