Le sigh. Just as I was starting to feel chipper after the Utah win, the Bruins fall flat. Back to my usual grumpy self. We’ll take a more holistic view of the season in this roundtable.
A special thank you to Strathmore&Gayley for serving as this week’s guest panelist on the Utah postgame Roundtable. I know I can speak on behalf of the entire Bruins Nation when I say we were all excited and honored to have Strathmore&Gayley participate with us.
Enjoy this week’s Bruins Nation Southern Cal Trogans Postgame Roundtable.
1. The offense scored a touchdown in each of the first three quarters, the defense held Southern Cal to lots of field goals into the third quarter. Grade the offensive and defensive coordinators in this game.
Strathmore&Gayley: Defensive coordinator: I give Bradley an A-, the only thing stopping me from giving him an A is the fact that we lost. Bradley has had the tallest order this year. His unit is missing some serious headliners, he is playing a true freshman at corner and at the end of the day, in almost every game we lost, he has handed the offense the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game. In hindsight, the Wazzu loss, I don’t care what anyone says was dictated by poor officiating. On Luke Falks game winner our D lineman were being blatantly held. That’s not Bradley’s fault. Bradley’s unit forced a turnover when we needed it the most against both Wazzu and ASU. With a full quarter of Football to play against SC and a 12 pt deficit, the D forced a three and out. The fact that the offense is incapable of capitalizing is not on Bradley.
Offensive coordinator: I give Noel an F. Flat out, no remorse F. F in my book means "fail". That’s what he did on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, for the third time. How does a guy get three chances at this? Seth Chandler wrote an intriguing appeal for why Noel is not a failure in Joe’s "bruin revolution is over" thread. I wholeheartedly disagree with it, but it was interesting. If you look at numbers and stats you can actually make a case for Mazzne. But numbers aren’t games, games aren’t won by stats, they are won by SCORES. If you look at what Mazzone’s done it’s pretty damn underwhelming. At different stages of his career he has had UCLA’s #1 passer, UCLA’s #1 rusher and UCLA’s #1 receiver, of all TIME, in addition to Perkins a 1000 yd rusher two straight years and the Pac 12s leading rusher last year. Think about that, that’s a lot of #1s and a lot of talent. I wouldn’t contend that Mazzone turned them into number 1s. Hundley seemed to regress as a passer as time went on.
Mazzone gets an F for play calling as well. It’s the worst kept secret in the league that our last 2 qbs don’t do well when there is pressure. Hundley was a freak and could get a 40 yd scramble. Not a lot of guys, Rosen included, can do that. Every peewee football coach knows that a great way to neutralize a blitz is by throwing a screen pass. I have yet to see one successful screen pass in Mazzone’s tenure. Why is that? The reason is Mazzone is just not a good teacher. He might draw up Xs and Os well (unlikely) but he can’t teach a damn screen pass. That’s mind boggling.
Back to the SC game. Mazzone called a horrible game yet again. He seemed to go into a shell in the first quarter with a paltry 4 pt lead! 3rd and 2 in SC territory and he calls that same Perkins run up the middle for a 1 yd loss. This is after all the yardage on the drive was made up by awesome rosen throws. Hell, that might have even been four down territory, why not let the young guy throw it again? There have been so many of those head scratching moments this year I can’t even chronicle them all. I believe there was another similar play call with a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. That was horrid. There was a fundamental lack of creativity on display yet again. We seem to have three plays this year, run up the middle for no gain, pre snap penalty 2nd and 15 and 3rd and 15 incomplete pass.
Mexibruin: I feel we played a very good game. Both offensively and defensively. I do think we were going to ‘gut’ through this game and win a close game. But some really freakish plays made the difference. The punt return, the fumble return, and the 1st interception. That gave SC a short field and naturally, they capitalized on it. Remove those 3 scores, and it’s an entirely different ball game.
gbruin: I’d give Bradley around a B-/C+. We didn’t get enough pressure on their QB and their O Line dominated our D line and let their run game control the day. But ignoring the short field after the INT, the fumble returned for a TD, and the punt return, the D played probably well enough to win. Mazzone’s offense let us down. It was pretty telling in the post game that the receivers were surprised at how much man press their secondary played. Clearly they weren’t prepared and had no counter to that. As with Mazzone, you get one good game followed by a lousy game. He was a D+ at the worst time possible.
beer&math: This was a close game until the third quarter where a 6 point deficit was expanded to 12 with some demoralizing plays (fumble scoop and score, INTs). So, if the game ended in the early 3rd Quarter, the offense would get a B (good but not spectacular numbers; few 3 n outs; few TD drives) and the defense would get an A-/B+ (thought the defense neutralized SC pretty well especially making them settle for tons of FGs). The game did not end after the 3rd quarter, however, so the final grades are D for the offense (with Mazzone Failing hard in the 3rd and 4th quarters) and C+ for the defense (inability to stop the run in 4th quarter drops grade down). I don’t really blame Rosen for making some bad mistakes. He’s played well enough all year to get a pass in a tough environment. Mazzone, though, let down the entire team with his mind numbing play calling. I won’t go into particulars since Strathmore&Gayley (one of the coolest names btw!) did an excellent job breaking it down before me.
2. We lost LA after owning it for the past three years (Thanks Brett Hundley & Co.!). Do you think this will negatively affect recruiting for UCLA?
Strathmore&Gayley: Yes it absolutely will. We live in one of the recruiting hotbeds of the country. Kids in this part of the world choose their side early. UCLA has a tough time winning recruits from SC due to the fact that SC will do anything (including pay players) to have a successful football program. So to win recruits, we have to win on the field, every time. This year’s loss, coupled with the unfulfilled promise of a "revolution" will set us back. Recruits aren't dumb, in addition to playing time they need a team that is relevant on the national stage so they can get national recognition. Playing for a team that in the last 4 years has won their division 1 time, won the conference 0 times, been to zero major bowl games AND lost their rivalry game, is not an appealing prospect.
Fire Mazzone, I'm sorry I just had to say it.
Mexibruin: No. I think losing 4 games and showing an inability to beat Stanford will hurt recruiting. I think the way Noel Mazzøne calls plays, which inhibits performance, the stats be damned, will hurt recruiting. But, No, I think the USC kids are USC kids regardless, and the UCLA kids are ours. Period. Time to remind everybody that DeSean Jackson and Marshawn Lynch were local kids that were dying to go to UCLA, but would not/could not get admitted, and went to Cal rather than USC. Those are the kinds of obstacles we need to overcome before we can overcome USC on the recruiting trail.
gbruin: You know, I doubt it will make a big difference. We recruited pretty well with Neu at the helm. We recruited better right away when Mora took over. Recruiting didn’t get significantly better while we were beating them 3 in a row, and recruiting didn’t totally tank when they were dominating us. I think the coaching staffs and their personalities and coaching talents are what ultimately win kids over, not just the results from one game a year.
beer&math: I think it will, but not by much. Mora brought in some impressive top 10 classes (some arguably in the top 5). The "Bruin Revolution" is starting to fizzle but UCLA historically always hauls in top 15 classes (give or take), which is roughly where it’s at right now. The class right now is not top 10 material but could be come NSD in February. For comparison, $c is around 20th which is unusual but with a competent coach now hired, they might shoot up. We’ll have to wait and see.
3. Stanford, Oregon, Southern Cal, Utah, and Washington State all finished better than us (to various degrees) in our conference, yet, we were one game away from a Pac-12 South title. What x-factor do you feel the team needs to separate from the pack and rise to the top?
Strathmore&Gayley: The X factor we need is a competent offensive coordinator and O line coach. Our skill positions during Mazzone’s tenure have been pretty much stacked. Brett Hundley? Dual threat qb? Durable as hell? Rosen, #1 qb prospect in the country? The list goes on. Mazzone has not capitalized on this. The "10 win" years look good until you look at the rosters on the teams. Three Final Fours looked pretty good until you realize Howland lost to Memphis in 2008 with two future NBA all stars and two future NBA starters. Everything must be viewed in context.
Our O line coach is a joke. Several of our current O lineman were 4 and 5 star prospects. Most disappointing of all is Benenoch. 5 star guy, big body, but the mental mistakes year after year tells me he has little guidance. Our pre snap penalties on O line are horrendous. These are preparation mistakes. Klemm being an "ace" recruiter is garbage to me. Give me a coachable 3 star prospect over a 5 star guy that doesn’t develop in 3 years any day.
Mexibruin: I don’t think it’s a question of X factors. The ASU, WSU were very winnable game from a decision making point of view alone. If we win both those games, as we should have, losing to SC would not have mattered, and we’d be playing Stanford one more time.
gbruin: The Bruins need to find consistency. The same team that beat Utah on the road is the same team that wasted senior night against WSU, which was the same team that obliterated OSU which was the same team that frittered away it’s season finale against its rival. UCLA can clearly play very good football. The X factor will be to consistently play very good football. There’s just too much up and down with this program (each year, meaning I don’t think it’s on the players because they change every year), and those downs allow teams like ASU or WSU or Colorado to hang around and possibly ruin your night.
beer&math: I’m a bit deflated since "close" doesn’t count in year four of Mora’s tenure. We should be one of the top 2 or 3 programs in the Pac-12 and I don’t feel like we are. Believe it or not, we are plainly mediocre in the pac-12 from a results standpoint. Yet, only one team out recruits us.
I really like G’s answer since I promise that’s what I was mulling over this week before I read his answer. Mora’s team is indeed unpredictable, up/down, up/down. Simply put: too emotional. The identity of the team follows that of it’s head coach, which in my opinion is overly emotional. If we can focus, we can blow people away (Virginia, UNLV, Arizona, UC Berkeley, and Oregon State) but we usually followed those performances with brain farts (BYU, ASU, Colorado, and WSU). I don’t count Stanford in either category since they blew us away and we never had a chance. We played well against Utah and Southern Cal but it was two equally matched teams (one win, one loss). So, the x-factor is to actually play consistent and to max out our potential (according to the Wooden definition of success) game-in and game-out.
4. The Pac-12 has a fat standard deviation (sigma) and almost all teams are within one sigma. This was Mora’s year to rise to the top, yet he failed. Do you believe he can lead the Bruins past the hump?
Strathmore&Gayley: Mora cannot get us over the hump with his current staff. He needs to really evaluate his sideline. I don’t think there is much accountability demanded from his assistants. How else could Klemm and Mazzone keep their jobs this long? This needs to change, immediately. He can choose to be loyal to them, or choose to be loyal to the team. They are mutually exclusive, Mazzones and Klemm are not good for the team. I’m not a huge football junkie and can’t quote the names of good prospects out there, but that’s Mora’s job. At this point this is his product. His guys, his recruits ,his team. An 8-4 finish with a massive choke job against our rival with everything on the line is not how an ascending program performs.
Mexibruin: I’ve seen no evidence of it.
gbruin: I’m reading this as: Do I think as the CEO of the program, Jim Mora can make the right moves to bring in the right pieces (players, coaches, facilities, fan interest, etc) to make the difference from our current state to an elite level? I’m dubious. While loyalty is a noble trait, Mora’s loyalty to his coaches is holding our football program back. I think the opportunity for UCLA to make the jump to the next level is absolutely there. Does Mora have the ability to take advantage of that opportunity is the question, and like Mexi, I haven’t seen a lot to support it.
beer&math: Dang, why do I ask tough questions. Anyways, I don’t know. If Mora keeps the Mazzones and Klemm then I have a definitive answer as "no." If he can make those tough decisions and bring in some hot-shot coordinators, then "yes." Mora’s brought the Bruins to a respectable level though is still underperforming given the quality of student-athletes that he recruits, and the salaries that he and his staff are paid. Mora’s demonstrated he can make good hires (I liked Spanos as a DC (but he didn’t like the college world), Polamalu, Bradley, etc) so the potential is there if he can bring in the right help to get over the hump.
5. What’s your power ranking of the entire Pac-12? The national conferences, if you are feeling grandiose.
Strathmore&Gayley: I think the Pac 12 is middling this year. No elite team in the bunch. Stanford finished strong, but with losses to unranked teams. Overall it’s a down year. The ACC has been the most impressive in my opinion. I think the Pac will finish well in bowl season because they will get crappy bowls and be matched up against bad opponents.
Mexibruin: Stanford and Oregon are top shelf. Then there is everybody else. Utah and UCLA should be leading the charge of the next level; the teams that are close to making the move. With USC and Wazzu close behind. But, as we have seen, we are all lumped together. Then there is everybody else.
gbruin: The Pac-12 is like a European social democracy. There’s a big middle ground, with OSU falling off one end and Stanford and maybe Oregon slightly above on the top end, and then not a whole lot of difference between the 10 teams in the middle. Contrast that to other conferences which have a couple clearly superior teams with a bunch of dregs at the bottom. It’s hurt the Pac-12 in the CFP race this year. Compared to other conferences, our number one may not beat their number one, but our 3-10 will probably crush their 3-10, but if you hold it to just the top end, we’re probably behind the SEC, B1G Ten (12), and Big 12 (10).
beer&math: People keep saying "parity" is good for the sport but I just don’t know. Besides Stanford and Oregon (UO is looking very good with a healthy Vernon Adams), like I said in my Question 4 preamble, the middle (everyone except Oregon State) is pretty good. However, I don’t know how I feel about that. Anyone can beat any other team (which basically happened conference wide) which I guess is good but I just don’t know. If we remove the top 2 teams from every conference then have everyone else play everyone else (hypothetically), then I’d say the Pac-12 or the SEC would come out victorious. Yet, nationally, you don’t get credit for everyone beating each other up (unless it’s the SEC). You look around the country and you basically don’t want to lose and you will be rewarded (Clemson, OSU seem like the main examples this season, Baylor previously). Sometimes I feel we should just give up on 9 conference games and drop down to 8, and start scheduling FCS schools. Then the Pac-12 would better it’s odds for winning a championship.
6. There’s been rumors swirling around the internets that the Mazzones and Klemm are going to be fired by Mora. Looking around the country, many head coaches have already announced such decisions. Do you think the lack of announcement by Mora makes the rumor more or less probable (or does not apply--trying to cover my bases in case Bruinette rips me apart :P)
Strathmore&Gayley: Mora is a pretty conservative guy. I think even if he does plan on making big changes it will happen after the bowl game. Considering that we will be playing in the Chicken Feed Bowl, that announcement is only a few weeks away! I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept Mazzone and canned Klemm. Given the purported ties between Rosen and Mazzone he might keep them in place. Also the fact that Klemm has had disciplinary action taken against him AND he sucks as a coach might make it easier to can him. If Mazzone stays the "Bruin Revolution" is over.
Mexibruin: More probable. I believe he is hoping to push Noel Mazzøne into a HC job somewhere, and then appear to be growing coaches as opposed to firing coaches which would be an indictment of the job he’s done. I’ll add that according to the rumors I’ve heard, Demetrice Martin is in that club of coaches walking the gangplank.
gbruin: I don’t think the Bruins or Mora can or would say a whole lot right now with the bowl invites and title games pending because some of our targets (please, please let Mora be targeting someone) may still be in the thick of things, and it’s not UCLA’s style to stir the pot. I don’t put a lot of stock in rumors other than to validate that it’s not just BN that’s wants a change at some coaching spots, so I really have no idea if Mora is considering a change or not. His recent nomination of Mazzone as the top assistant coach in the conference actually makes me think that’s a ploy to increase Noel’s value on the market to help him find a soft landing spot.
beer&math: I really want to believe in Mexi and G’s answers and in Mora’s shrewdness! With so many job openings across the country, I really hope Mazzone gets a HC job at a place where his annoying "aw shucks" shtick won’t piss off fans/boosters.
7. The Extra Point. What’s on your mind?
Strathmore&Gayley: It's gonna sting watching SC play in that game. Call me crazy, but I think they might even win. Shaw might go back into his conservative shell and Helton will call a great game like he did against Utah. Helton is not a clown like the rest, if we don't make big coaching moves we will be looking at more than a one game losing streak to southern cal.
Mexibruin: I don’t think we are in as bad a position as many tend to believe. That game was ours. In my mind, we are still better than USC. We are going to get an awful lot of talent back from injuries next year, and the younger guys got a lot of playing time this year. Josh Rosen will be one year older and wiser. Not to mention the recruits that will be coming in. I was strangely not as upset as others about the loss. It was very depressing. But I don’t think any coaching decisions led those flukey plays. If anybody thinks they are, I’d like to see the opposite: show how to call a pick six or a punt return for a score when you need it most.
gbruin: I’m tired. Tired of hoping. Tired of analyzing. Tired of falling short. Tired of being disappointed. Tired of fans and friends and former friends being disappointed. Just tired. I’ve been wanting to win a Rose Bowl since I enrolled as a freshman in fall of 1986. 30 years. I’m tired.
But I’ll gear up to do it all over again next fall.
beer&math: I’m sad the football season is ending. This season I was so busy that I did not watch or read as much football as I wanted to (though I did write about it more now that I help out at BN). Further, the twilight of football means it will be increasingly difficult to ignore the dumpster fire that is men’s "basketball." I’m writing the post game after the Kentucky game, so expect hilarity to ensue since I know not what I’m talking about. Let me not end in a bummer. This seems apropos:
Also, Congrats Josh!
That’s it for the Southern Cal Trogans Postgame 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.