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Football Friday, Week 6: Not Ready for Prime Time

October 2, 2008

Greetings Resilient Cougar Nation!

Welcome to Football Friday, only on Thursday…Week 6 style.

Hard to believe, but we have actually reached the halfway point of the 2008 tilt (humor me and count Hawaii as a bowl game).

Thank God.

First and foremost, a big shout out to all of you for your comments this week. Not only were they generally great comments and takes, but they signified that, in spite of being abysmal, we really do have a hard core group of committed fans. And that is something to feel good about. Really.

Now, back to reality.

For weeks now, I’ve been pegging this game as a major upset special. For one, we always seem to play well against the powder blue puff girls (in Football, that is).

For two, UCLA’s offense is pretty bad. And as Sedihawk brilliantly pointed out to me today, UCLA really represents the first straight up, conventional offensive team that we’ve faced all year. In short, no more spread, read-option offenses. Coupled with a pretty weak 3rd string quarterback gives real hope that we could see our first competitive game of the year.

The problem from my perspective is still our offense. And particular, our offensive line (it also doesn’t help that the Evil Vince Grippi is back to his sinister ways and is reporting injuries to 3 out of our top 4 tailbacks. Damn you, Grippi)

While Ocho Rojo showed last Saturday that he really IS the man of the future, I think its a bit much to expect him to light it up in both his second start and first road game. Simply put, guys making their second starts as 18 point dogs rarely fare well. I think such is the case on Saturday–especially since we are still making changes at the tackle position. Look for #8 to make similar mistakes but more BIG PLAYS.

Therefore, while I see a game where we can stay “sort of in it,” this is not a game that we will win.

That said, IF the O-Line steps up, and IF we can avoid the TO’s that have buried us the last 5 weeks, we could WIN this one (last week, with a similar “stellar scenario” we could only make it interesting).

But we won’t. UCLA wins 38-21 in a game that will make all WSU wagers rich: UCLA will NOT cover this weekend. No how, no way, no Chow.

However, lest you all think that Brinkhater has thrown in the towel this season, I haven’t.

I still think we have a real fighting chance to stay out of the conference cellar(Hear that Ted Miller????).

Other games:

USC 31 Oregon 21: As the President once said, “shame me once, shame on.., shame me twice, shame..shame me, DON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN. Conquest makes move to once again be among the best 11-2 teams of all time.

Notre Dame 28 Trees 24. Captain Comeback runs the ball well, but can’t quite get over the hump against Charlie Stump.

Arizona State 28 Cal 21. CAL has QB problems again and can’t bring its Best. ASU will do better now that the expectations are lowered–LOSERS.

Arizona 51 Washington 24. Word to felllow Husky Haters: Their D sucks, but they may get better with a QB that can actually throw the football in the same zip code as an open receiver.

Utes 31 Beavs 28. Great game, but Beavs come back to earth..”Mountain West Rulz!”

And Bandit Bowl 2:

Florida State 24 Miami 23. In true Florida spirit, this “might could” be the game where Wide Right happens to the other team. This should be a good spirited, punk fest: Word to Joe Mommas everywhere.

Enjoy the Games and Go Cougs!!

Sedihawk Says:

Good morning Cougar Nation. Another week, another game. And another chance to scrape ourselves up off the mat. For why do we fall down? So we can get right back up and give it another shot. Tomorrow is just another chance to turn it all around, it’s always darkest before the dawn, cliche’, cliche’, cliche’… get the idea. We’re 1-4 and we’ve sucked in the majority of the four losses. Period.

Do we have hope for this week? After several days of lamenting the lack of talent, depth and character, do we really believe that we can go down and beat UCLA? Well, it’s not impossible. What is it with UCLA and WSU, and why WSU has been able to beat them so frequently of late? We know UCLA hates coming to Pullman and they haven’t been shy about ripping on the Palouse. I was there last year in the 27-7 WSU win, and UCLA was one of the flattest teams I’ve ever seen play college football that day.

While UCLA might lead the overall series 35-18-1, the recent history is something to be excited about. Six of our last seven times, since 2001, WSU has prevailed. And it’s 10 of the last 14, going all the way back to 1992. Even in an awful 1995 season, where we went 3-8 (yes, with Mike Price AND Bill Doba), we still beat them. And there have been some classics and/or KEY wins over them in recent times.

  • Jason Gesser playing on one leg, leading the Cougs to an historic 48-27 win in 2002, clinching the Pac-10 title.
  • The 1997 season opener with Ryan Leaf and Cade McNown going nuts, and a goal-line tackle by Leon Bender to preserve a 37-34 win.
  • The Palouse Posse pitching a 21-0 shutout vs. a ranked Bruins team in the Rose Bowl in 1994.
  • And who could forget the 1988 classic, when Timm Rosenbach, Tim Stallworth, Paul Wulff, Dennis Erickson and the rest of the Cougars shocked the nation with a comeback, 34-30 win over Troy Aikman’s #1 ranked Bruins (we’ll revisit that one tomorrow).

So for whatever reason, we see the powder blue and gold, we get excited.

Anyway, will it matter this week? Here’s what I think will happen:

UCLA has struggled so far, and they were beaten famously at BYU, 59-0. But they did beat the SEC’s Tennessee Vols the week prior. Seems like a very distant memory now, and the BYU fiasco is much more ingrained on the brain. But I don’t think the Vols game should be thrown out, and for this reason – UCLA stood toe to toe with BCS/SEC athletes, mounted a comeback, forced overtime and ultimately prevailed. Can we say the same thing? Absolutely NOT. While Tennessee has proven to be a disappointing SEC team, clearly not one that will be a factor down south, still, this wasn’t exactly Portland State if you get my drift? That game, to me at least, shows that UCLA might have a 1-3 record, but they DO have the ability on a weekly basis to beat a lot of BCS teams. Especially at home.

Speaking of at home, UCLA has beaten Tennessee, was blown out by Arizona, and then lost a tough one last week vs. a good Fresno State team, 36-31. But in that Fresno State game, UCLA, for the first time all season, showed a pulse on offense, and especially the running game with 234 rushing yards. Uh-oh.

Finally, Kevin Craft, the emergency starter at QB after the Bruins lost Pat Cowan and Ben Olson before the season, has more or less settled down. He has thrown five INT’s this season, in four games, and that’s not very good. But consider that FOUR of those INT’s were thrown in the first half vs. Tennessee. Over the last 3 1/2 games, he’s only thrown one INT.

But let’s look at the full picture here. You think OUR offense is bad? We’re at least averaging 19 points per game (yuck). But who is averaging 17 points per game, good for last in the PAC?? UCLA. And while we have sputtered mightily on offense, averaging 322 yards per game, or eighth in the conference…..guess who is LAST in the conference, with a measly 276.8 yards per game?? UCLA.

And UCLA’s defense has been touted as being big, fast, physical, the whole deal. But the Bruins are allowing an amazing 37.5 points per game, eighth in the Pac-10. And they are eighth in the Pac-10 in total defense, giving up 415.8 yards per game. That’s only 21 yards less per game that our awful WSU defense, if you can believe it. Think about that for a second – all those yards and points we have seen the WSU defense give up so far, and UCLA is only 21 yards less per game? That’s a huge shock to me. So they are dealing with a new culture change as well with Slick Rick.
But that’s just the stats, and you know they don’t always tell the story. Judging a team just four or five games into a brand new regime is, as they say, SMALL SAMPLE SIZE. There is way too much of the season left to go before you can fully peg a team, one way or another, and a hell of a lot can change.

So that’s the Bruins. But what about our Cougs? What can we expect?

I think like Brinkhater says, Ocho Rojo will play better. He will make plays and will likely grind out a few drives of note. Brandon Gibson will get his yards and catches, Devin Frischknecht will have a decent day, Jeshua Anderson will turn in a big play or two, and we’ll have some things to cling to as the season rolls on. And believe it or not, I do think our defense will play better this week. There will be some adjustments made, again, and a renewed effort to stop the run. Some new faces will be out there, and that will help, but I think we’ll see some wrinkles to do everything in our power to stop a running game.

ALL that said, it still won’t be enough. If there is one thing we’ve seen as a general tone this season, it’s this – on both sides of the ball, up front, we simply aren’t good enough. We’ve started five different combinations at offensive line, and none of them have proven to be the solution. Even while we had a huge stat game vs. Portland State, we still allowed far too many free shots at the QB’s. But the huge concern is how they’ve been physically overwhelmed vs. BCS opponents on both the offensive and defensive lines. While UCLA’s own offensive line has been overwhelmed as well this season, they will still be able to handle what our defensive front throws at them this week.

In the end, I do see a tight game here. But UCLA gets it done in the trenches. We will have extreme difficulty running the football, and Ocho Rojo, while showing some real upside, still won’t be able to do it without a legit running game. And defensively, we’ll rally to the football and slow down the run early, but UCLA will stick with it and stick with it and stick with it, ultimately wearing out a tired defense. The Bruins pull away late, tack on a 4th quarter TD, and win it going away, 34-20.

Other games:

USC 30 Oregon 27: USC is mad, sure, but they also aren’t as “special” as we thought they would be. The Oregon State offense showed that USC’s defense can be handled up front. Oregon’s o-line is excellent and they will not be intimidated. USC wins it late but it will come right down to the end.

Notre Dame 23 Stanford 18. Harbaugh’s heroes are rolling, already at 3 wins. But a bit of a letdown coming off their big road win at UW.

ASU 33, CAL 20. CAL has opened up the QB job again, and Jahvid Best is hurt. But ASU gets off the mat after their loss to UGA, and Erickson coaches ’em up for the W.

Arizona 57 Washington 31. Agree with Brinkhater here. I have to admit I enjoy watching Jake Locker run the football, but I’ve been down on him as a true QB since the beginning of last year. The kid is simply not a consistent thrower, period. There have been very few “special” running QB’s who could also throw the ball consistently, and at this point Locker looks nothing more than the second coming of Michael Vick….except for the dog fighting crap. Anyway, Ronnie Fouch will keep them in it for a while and will surprise some folks by his ability to move the team, but UW’s defense, WOW. Just WOW. It will be a miracle if AZ fails to score less than 50 in this one.

Utes 33 Beavs 19. I want to think that Oregon State is doing their annual circle-the-wagons deal after yet another slow start. But they have lost at Stanford and were embarrassed vs. Penn State on the road. I think reality hits the Orange-n-Black. LET DOWN CITY against a very good Utah team in Salt Lake.

And Bandit Bowl 2:

Florida State 21 Miami 13. Hooray thugs. Both teams ain’t what they used to be, where it was almost a national holiday when these two would get it on back in the day. But Bowden’s boys have too much for the still-rebuilding Canes.

But as we always say, that’s why they play the games.

Spring Fish Wrap – UCLA Bruins Edition

June 4, 2008

The Rick returns to the Pac-10. And the countdown is now on to see when he appears before the various NCAA infractions committee’s, such as the picture above. I’d give the over-under at, what, 3 seasons? Too high perhaps? Maybe 2.5 seasons. Anyway, you just know what’s coming down in Westwood.

The last we saw of Neuheisel after the ’02 AC, he was dodging bottles of 151 as he ran off the field at Martin Stadium, flipping off the WSU student section in the process. I am pretty sure I yelled something at him as he went to the tunnel, but I really can’t remember. It’s all such a blur. But does the thought of Neuheisel returning to the Pac-10 at UCLA worry you? He was 33-16 at UW and led them to a bowl game in all 4 years at the school. He got himself in a lot of hot water by pissing on the NCAA rule book, time and again, and just couldn’t stay out of the coaching rumor mill whenever a hot job opened up. He takes the brunt of the blame for UW’s situation, and his passion for finesse really turned the team into a shell of what they used to be in the 90’s. Yet here he is, with one more chance to make things right at his alma mater.

The best news for UCLA is who exactly Neuheisel has chosen to hire as his coordinators. DeWayne Walker is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators on the west coast, if not the nation. Tyrone Willingham and company pushed as hard as they could and according to one report, they had him as the next UW defensive coordinator. Walker was even a head coaching candidate this winter, interviewing for the UCLA job and a rumored candidate at several other schools. But the moment Neuheisel took the job, he claimed his #1 recruit was DeWayne Walker, and sure enough, he kept him on the staff. That’s a strong enough move. But to also nab Norm Chow as the OC?? Now that is impressive. Chow was the architect of all those great USC offenses with Pete Carroll. Of course it helps that Carroll gave him Heisman trophy winners to run said offense, but, Chow’s rep is as a brilliant offensive mind and a guy who has done great work with QB’s. Many from the SC days claim it was his arrival that turned Carson Palmer from an inconsistent, “toolsy” QB into a Heisman winner and top NFL draft pick because of Chow’s guidance.

Here’s a look at the post-spring state of UCLA:

2007: A disappointing 6-7, but 5-4 in the Pac-10. Still it wasn’t enough to keep Karl Dorrell around, and he was quickly shown the door after the season. Except for one breakthrough season in 2005 and an upset of USC in 2006, Dorrell was basically a .500 coach, and that doesn’t fly down there for very long. The most disappointing thing about last year was because of yet another late-season fade. UCLA started 5-2 and looked certain to be headed for an upper-division bowl game, but would go on to lose 5 of their last 6, including the Las Vegas bowl. In fact, the 27-7 loss in Pullman started their annual tailspin into the abyss.

Offensive Scheme: Chow’s a versatile offensive coach, employing tons of different looks in his USC days. Some one-back with triple WR sets, some power or offset-I formations, some shotgun. Pretty much everything. The big difference here though is that UCLA is NOT one of the read-option, shotgun-exclusive offenses that are the rage right now. They are much more of your traditional, sophisticated NFL-style attack. This is a WELCOME CHANGE to a UCLA offense that was basically putrid last year. How bad was it? #92 in scoring offense, #101 in passing offense, and #99 in total offense. Peeee-U! However their offensive skill positions were devastated with injuries down the stretch last year, so some of those numbers are deceiving.

Defensive Scheme: Walker employs a 4-3 attack and will blitz when necessary, but they aren’t the biggest gambling defense around. They have had a lot of talent in recent seasons, and last year they were a top-30 defense, including 14th against the run. UCLA has become much more of a defensive team over the last several years.

Top Offensive Player: Make no mistake about it, UCLA is thin in the skill-position player department. But they do have Kahlil Bell back from last year, although he is coming off a knee injury. They are hopeful he will be OK to start the season. Bell led the team with 795 rushing yards, 5 TD’s and an impressive 5.6 yards per carry. He actually had 34 LESS carries compared to starter Chris Markey, who is now out of the program. If healthy, Bell has size, speed and moves. Check it out:

Top Defensive Player: The defense has some strong talent back, including DT Brian Price and his 7 sacks, LB Kyle Bosworth and his 74 tackles, or corner Alterraun Verner and his 75 tackles, 4 picks and 15 pass break-ups. But overall, LB Reggie Carter looks like the top impact player on D for UCLA in ’08. Carter had 62 tackles last year, not an overwhelming amount by any stretch and is good for third on the team among returning players. But he did have 12 tackles for loss last year, including a couple of sacks. At 6-2, 221, he runs extremely well and will now move from weakside to the middle. The junior will likely be in the 100-tackle range and will handle all the defensive calls in the middle of the defense.

Top Spring Questions:

1) What up with the QB injuries?

A good question after spring practices. Starter Patrick Cowan tore his left ACL and is already done for 2008. Backup Ben Olson broke his right foot late in the spring and will be out for several months. However UCLA does believe that Olson will be back as the starter by the opener. At least they hope so. If Olson is ready to go, he’s got to get better in a hurry. He was underwhelming in 7 games last year, completing only 48% of his passes with 7 TD’s and 6 INT’s. Olson has all the tools coaches dream of, 6-4, 235 and a rocket for a left arm. But he just hasn’t put it together despite all the hype of his arrival a few years ago, and all of a sudden he’s a senior and regarded as a reclamation project for Norm Chow. It’s now or never for Olson.

2) If Olson is OK, Who Will Protect Him?

That’s the scary part for UCLA’s offense. Just two starters are back on the O-line in tackle Micah Kia and center Micah Reed, but Kia is the only returning starter back at his original position. Reed is sliding over from guard to start at center. Even worse, eight of the top ten in the post-spring two-deep roster on the O-line DIDN’T PLAY A SINGLE SNAP in 2007! They are young, young, young up front, and that is a potentially lethal situation for any QB.

Bottom Line: The Bruins begin with a tough slate, including Tennessee to open the season and then travel to BYU on 9/13. This will be the third time in a year that UCLA plays BYU (kind of weird). Anyway, after the road game at BYU they host Arizona and Fresno State before the Cougs raid Pasadena on 10/4. That makes for 4 home games out of their first 5. Not to suggest that they will be looking past WSU, but UCLA does go to Oregon the following week. But 4 of the first 5 at home could set up some momentum as they get into the meat of the season.

Believe it or not, UCLA is starting to look like a rebuilding job more than anything else. But despite the losses of so many skill position guys, the young, thin O-line, the injured QB’s, etc, the first year might be better than people think. Neuheisel’s M-O is to basically show up and win immediately with the prior staff’s players. UCLA has recruited well over the last few years, so there is talent in the pipeline, even if it isn’t experienced. Neuheisel usually wins people over early in the game, like a breath of fresh air, and immediately things improve. But then things start to deteriorate, as you realize he recruits wide receivers, running backs and QB’s every recruiting class and basically ignores offensive and defensive linemen. He’s a sucker for the skill-positions and will load up on guys like that. But maybe this time he’s learned his lesson. Maybe the dynamic combo of Walker and Chow will be the forces behind UCLA’s resurgence. Time will tell, but this is regarded as Neuheisel’s last stand in the college ranks.