The UCLA Bruins are a mess. Two weeks removed from an exciting and, in retrospect, solid win against the Utah Utes in Rice-Eccles Stadium on a Thursday night, UCLA re-associated itself with the middle of the Pac-12 conference.
Don’t be mistaken: Stanford’s a good team. The Cardinal are a talented bunch with a coach whose ultra-conservatism somehow always works to Stanford’s advantage. David Shaw’s blatant reliance on his defense to beat the Bruins was a good call, if a bit naive. The Cardinal held UCLA to 266 yards, and if we’re totally honest, it barely felt like the Bruins broke the 200 mark.
But let’s be frank here, too. These UCLA Bruins faltered, and faltered badly. You can point fingers at UCLA’s young offensive line, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong, but let’s not forget that the Bruins fielded a young-as-hell line last season, too, and somehow ran all over Stanford’s defense, a statistically superior squad to this season’s Stanford defense. Noel Mazzone’s clever play-calling last year was as responsible for the Bruins’ success as his vanilla play-calling is responsible for this season’s offensive woes.
For two weeks straight, the UCLA offense was almost unbearable to watch. Brett Hundley pieced together the worst performance of his career, following a pretty crappy 400-yard game the week prior. Not only did Hundley only complete 61 percent of his passes, but he averaged 4.9 yards per attempt, while tossing two picks. If you want a comparison, Hundley’s first-half performance against Nebraska earlier this year looked a bit better than his whole-game performance against Stanford on Saturday.
And sure, that offensive line really threw off the sophomore QB. It didn’t help that Jake Brendel couldn’t get off a decent snap the entire game either (seriously; shouldn’t the coaching staff have stamped that out already? It’s been five weeks), and though that could’ve thrown off timing, you can continue to glare at Mazzone. Mazzone, fully aware that his offensive line can’t hold off Stanford’s damn-good front seven for very long, continued to keep calling the same play, over and over again. Channeling his inner-Lane Kiffin, Mazzone thought it wise to toss the ball outside on every single play. Sure, the Utes had success against Stanford with the swing pass, but rolling with that strategy on every goddamn play became nauseating, and we’re sure it annoyed the hell out of Stanford since they had literally nothing to do but to defend it.
And then, of course, was Mazzone’s decision to never give Malcolm Jones the ball after he earned 28 yards off of just a couple of carries. We’re not sure if that was sustainable, but Mazzone never gave the senior running back the chance to see if his success would at least shoulder some of the offense’s load.
Mazzone went through a similar phase in 2012, too, and his teams got punished by Oregon State and California midway through the season. The repetitiveness of the offense damned the Bruins in both those games and significantly held them back against Houston and Utah.
This year, Mazzone won’t have the luxury of a midseason bye week; no, he’ll have to get his crap together on the fly if UCLA’s going to have any chance of salvaging this season.
The vitriol we’re spittin’ at Mazzone, though, should be restricted to his offense. UCLA’s defense? Masterful. Beautiful. Congrats, Lou Spanos. Your unit is the best unit in Los Angeles.
Because these Bruins were swarming, suffocating the Cardinal for most of this game until fatigue got the best of them. That’s expected when your incompetent offense can’t seem to stay on the field for longer than three to five plays at a time.
That’ll happen to defenses, especially against a Stanford offense that only cares to wear you down until extreme exhaustion. David Shaw and his offense did just that, running up the gut over, and over, and over, and over, and over (and over!) again. Though people poke fun at Stanford for being boring, they were at the most boring against the Bruins. Their goal, clearly, was to bore the living hell out of the Bruin defense, and in the process, they pounded it to the point where the Bruins were both bored and battered.
But boy, credit especially goes to UCLA’s secondary, a secondary that stood step for step with every possible Stanford target, limiting Hogan until the Cardinal finally broke through an exhausted unit. Though it feels like there was no silver lining in this game, the defense was definitely a bright spot for most of the game.
And time after time, the defense provided the UCLA offense with a chance to get back into the game. Short of scoring, the defense did everything possible for the Bruins to win this game. And, in a way only Mazzone knows how, the UCLA offense squandered those opportunities.
The offense, if we’re real, should be ashamed of themselves. While the defense did its part, the Bruin offense failed them.
Good luck against Oregon, Bruins. You can take the night off, defense. No point in fighting to get your offense on the field if its just as desperate to get off of it.