What a difference a day makes. 24 little hours. That’s what the UCLA coaching staff allows the Bruin football squad to savor the sweet taste of victory. Today however, it’s 24 hours to suffer the agony of defeat; a bad, bad hangover. Only it’s going to last more than 24 hours. It’s going to sting until they beat up on somebody. Colorado is up next.
The #19 ranked Bruin Express was well on it’s way to an unexpected Cinderella season, after years of football mediocrity and irrelevance. Coming into the Oregon State game, UCLA was 3-0, beating top 25 Nebraska. The Bruins boasted the nation’s #2 offense and showcased a fast and furious 3-4 defense. Long suffering and frustrated UCLA fans were starting to believe that a return to Bruin football glory past was indeed happening. The Express ground to a screeching, grinding halt in front of some 55,000 fans on a very hot Pasadena afternoon, coming up short 20-27 against the Beavers. No, that’s not a senior moment comment. The 1-0 Beavers came into the Bruin’s lair and beat them in front of their families and friends. To make matters worse, the wheels fell off the mighty Bruins offense on National TV.
What went wrong? How did this happen? Shades of the broken promises of coaches past! Questions and concerns are no doubt floating through the minds of Bruin fans everywhere. Rightfully so. The railing, wailing and gnashing of teeth is evident in certain, well trafficked Bruin fan sites. I half expected to see calls for the virtual lynching of Jim L Mora and his staff. Charges of incompetence came fast of furious. The Bruins were out coached; the team was unprepared; the play calling on offense was bad; the defensive play calling was bad; our FG kicker sucks, etc. There’s no joy in Bruinville.
No doubt in my mind that somewhere in the bowels of the city, a certain M. Barkley is smiling to himself thinking, “Welcome to my world. Sucks, doesn’t it?”
So, what really happened? To begin with, the Oregon State Beavers are for real. Head Coach Mike Riley and staff have built the Beavers one helluva defense, shutting down a solid, Top 25 Wisconsin squad and Montee Ball, 10-7 in the Beavers’ 1st game of the season. Now, they’ve defeated another (formerly) Top 25 team to go 2-0 this season. Not bad at all. Mike Riley has made a nasty habit of ambushing ranked teams. He’s a very good coach with a solid staff and they’ve recruited some excellent athletes. One of those athletes is Sean Mannion, their tall, strong and tough QB. The son of a football coach, Mannion is a sophomore with a cannon for an arm, but with a 4 year starter’s knowledge of defensive schemes. Behind a stout, experienced OL, Mannion threw for 379 yards and 2 TDs, against 1 INT. Unfortunately, two of the scores were passes completed against last week’s secondary hero, Sheldon Price. After recording 3 INTs against Houston, Price was repeatedly burned by OSU’s excellent WRs. On one long, scoring pass play, Price had no deep help as Safety Tevin McDonald bit hard on another excellent Mannion fake, moving him away from the play. The young Bruin defense faced an excellent game plan, and play calling by an outstanding offensive minded coach in Mike Riley.
Give credit where it is due. The OSU staff had three games worth of film to spot UCLA’s defensive and offensive tendencies and 2 weeks to work on counters. Their game plan on D was simple enough. Take away the #UCLA run game and let the freshman beat them through the air. Hundley almost did. He threw for 372 yards and a score, plus a QB keeper for another TD. Hundley also had some misses on receivers that were open. One time he hit empty grass with nary a Bruin around. On a crucial throw late in the 4th quarter, Brett Jr. missed a wide open Kenny Walker for the tying TD, tossing the ball just out of reach for the fast freshman WR. Throughout the game, Hundley’s receivers seemed to have the dropsies at the worst possible time, missing at least 6 very catchable balls. Two of the passes dropped were sure TDs. Other drops were drive killers. Manfro was inconsistent in this game, dropping a sure TD and killing a drive with another drop. Big Joe Fauria wasn’t much of a factor. Joe has been off his game and missed an opportunity for a score. Watching his motion and movement, it is clear Joe has a back problem that is affecting his play. What is also clear is that Hundley’s speed is way off. Although not hobbling visibly, it is obvious he is not nearly as mobile or as quick as he was in the first 2 games.
The very stout and experienced OSU defensive front 7 were winning the battle in the trenches, getting penetration time and again, schooling the very young Bruin OL in the process. Unlike some others of strong opinion, I believe that all the coaching and practice in the world cannot impart real game experience. Only playing can do that. You use the coaching, techniques and knowledge learned in practice, then apply them in game. You learn off the film what worked for you and what didn’t, and why. You learn your strengths and your weaknesses. Then you go back to practice with the coaches to work on those things to improve for the next game. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. For the great players, this process won’t end until retirement.
Monday morning, this hangover had better be gone. Classes begin on Thursday for the fall quarter at UCLA. Coaches Mora, Mazzone and Spanos and the rest will be there at 7am sharp to begin preparation for next week’s game against a suddenly confident Colorado. The much ballyhooed soft and favorable schedule of the Pac12 is history. The #19 ranking is history. The unbeaten streak is history. The Bruins got into a tough fight and came up short. There was no giving up. No surrender. They played hard to the last down; a quantum shift from before. The Bruins are better than what they showed and they know it. That should mean wounded pride and embarrassment for not playing to their full potential. Time to shake it off. The only easy game was yesterday. Time to start a new streak and put all the doubts to rest. The only ranking that matters is the one at the end of the season.
Bruins, you’ve got work to do.