If you are a fan of the UCLA football team, you may want to use caution as you read this, as well as keep an open mind and try to refrain from saying I’m nothing but a hater who has given up on my alma mater’s program.
Because after what transpired at the Rose Bowl in their last game, I am not going to sugarcoat anything as in the time-honored tradition of “Tough Love”, I am going to be brutally honest about these Bruins and how they have performed not only against their last opponent, the Utah Utes, but during this 2014 season in general.
Probably the most brutal that I’ve been about UCLA on the gridiron in a while.
There was one moment in particular as I sat in Section 1 at the Rose Bowl – yes, I was at this past Saturday’s game – when, sorry to say, I got a gut feeling that Utah was going to win.
It was just before the start of the fourth quarter, during a TV timeout…
I was looking at the two sidelines as both teams gathered together to pump themselves up for the last 15 minutes of what, despite everything, was a hard-fought battle of a game that could go either way.
All of the Bruins gathered together in a huddle and jumping up and down in a fairly modest fashion. I got the impression that they were pumped, but not as excited and jacked to the ceiling as they needed to be.
Which is exactly what I noticed among those red and black-clad Utes from Salt Lake City as they were going absolutely wild, holding their helmets up in the air and squirting water from their bottles.
I hoped I would be wrong in my prediction as the quarter started, and as it turned out I almost was, but…
Well, we all – at least in Bruin Nation – know the outcome of that contest, so I don’t think I need to rehash bad images or bitter memories.
I do believe I need to look at this blue and gold-colored team with a harsh hand and a brutally “Tough Love” assessment:
THERE ARE TOO MANY HOLES IN THIS BRUIN TEAM TO BE CONSIDERED AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE.
What’s more, these holes were exposed in the weeks before Utah celebrated on the Rose Bowl turf and in front of their fans in the end zone, as I’ll never forget how lightly regarded – at least in football – Memphis almost pulled off the biggest win their history in UCLA’s previous home game
One of those holes is one that I and many others thought would be a strength – the defense, which has more or less been a sieve all season, particularly against the run in giving up 242 yards to the Utes, including the crucial yardage needed for them to make their game-winning field goal.
(By the way, we’ll get to the Bruins’ field goal issues in a moment)
I don’t want to dwell too much on raw statistics, but giving up over 400 yards per game is not going to win a Pac-12 title OR a spot among the four teams in the College Football Playoff.
Neither is the fact that the two (arguably) best players on UCLA’s defense, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack, have a grand total of four tackles for loss and ZERO sacks between them.
Though things could be MUCH better on that side of the ball, it’s not the defense that’s the biggest problem in my view.
Neither is the kicking, although after looking at Ka’imi Fairbairn’s career numbers as the Bruin placekicker – 69% percentage, including eight-for-18 from 40-plus yards and never making a kick in three tries from more than 50 yards, one of those tries being on Saturday night – it’s safe for me to state this:
Fairbairn is a decent kicker, but he’s just not good enough.
A GREAT kicker, someone who people won’t have to hold their breath for if long tries must be made, is what UCLA needs to reach the heights that all of Bruin Nation so desires.
To this point, Fairbairn simply does not fit that bill.
It wasn’t my intention to pick on the junior kicker or the Bruin defense, though; that’s saved for a unit that hasn’t just disappointed me, it has flat-out ticked me off:
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
NO group of guys whose job is to protect the quarterback and make holes for running backs to gain good yardage should EVER be giving up ten – TEN – sacks in a game; no NFL line, no college line, no high school line…heck, not even a Pop Warner line of seven-year olds!
But that’s exactly what those big uglies did on Saturday as it’s a true miracle that touted quarterback Brett Hundley made it through the game without injury, especially after he was sacked three straight times during a second half possession.
Some fans are blaming Hundley as well for not using his legs more and holding on to the ball way too long, as well as him making bad gaffes like throwing that pick-six in the first quarter when no one in a blue jersey was anywhere near the area.
To those fans I say this:
How can you really blame any quarterback when he doesn’t get any time to throw whatsoever?
That has been the case with Hundley not only against Utah, not only this season as he has gone down a whopping 23 times and counting this year, but for his entire tenure at UCLA as no college quarterback has been sacked more than him during the past two and a half years – 109 times in 32 games!
For the record, UCLA’s ranking in sacks allowed out of 128 schools?
To say that that’s not the mark of even a good college football team, let alone a great one, would be a pronounced understatement as all of this futility has led me to this harsh conclusion:
THE BRUINS’ OFFENSIVE LINE IS NEITHER GOOD ENOUGH NOR QUICK ENOUGH TO BE TRULY EFFECTIVE ON A CONSISTENT BASIS IN THE PAC-12 CONFERENCE OR IN DIVISION 1 FBS FOOTBALL.
It’s common knowledge that pass blocking is done with the feet, as quick feet makes it easier to block effectively. UCLA’s blockers, in my view, are lacking that quickness – the number of sacks allowed are proof enough.
The worst part of all of this is that this Bruin program has had two and a half years to fix this particular issue, and that these group of linemen have, for the most part, been together that long.
That the results have yet to consistently show themselves on the field is very frustrating and anger-inducing.
It reminds me of my first high school band director (I was in the marching band during my high school days as well as at UCLA), who would scream this at us whenever we didn’t perform well or made too many mistakes…
“YOU STINK! YOU CAN’T MARCH!! YOU CAN’T PLAY!!! YOU STINK!!!! I HATE YOU!!!!!”
Change the “march” and “play” to “pass block” and run block”, and that’s precisely what I think about the Bruin offensive line.
And I don’t want to hear about how that unit has suffered injuries as that is nothing but a crutch and an excuse; championship teams replace injured players in a “Next Man Up” approach and don’t miss a beat.
Nor do I want to hear anything about how “These are 18 and 19-year old kids”, and here’s why:
If our country’s Armed Forces personnel – many of them in the same age group as college football players – can die in Iraq and Afghanistan by bullets and IEDs, those college football players (UCLA’s in this case) can take some harsh “Tough Love” criticism as at least they’re not getting shot at.
I can sum this issue up by a saying that I often use for football:
“IF YOU DON’T HAVE A GOOD LINE (on either side of the ball), YOU DON’T HAVE A GOOD TEAM.”
Right now, the Bruins don’t have a good offensive line.
And with that being the case, I honestly don’t think that the Utah loss will be the only one in 2014 with teams like California (believe or not, their offense is top-notch and – more importantly – they are in first place in the Pac-12 North), Stanford, Arizona and USC awaiting.
Having said that…
After all of this brutality from yours truly there actually IS a silver lining…
UCLA’s next game will be against an Oregon team whose problems mirror the Bruins’ as they have an extremely sub-par offensive line who got pushed around in their last game by Arizona at home and caused the Ducks’ star quarterback, Marcus Mariota, to be sacked a bunch of times.
Not to mention a defense that was never that great during their recent glory years, giving up many yards and points with an attitude of “It doesn’t really matter, because we’ll just outscore them.”
I, for one, am very much looking forward to what is now a not-as-big-a-marquee-game-as-it could-have-been for one simple reason…
I need to see how UCLA will bounce back from the pounding disaster that Utah put upon them.
Because with both teams having one loss, this is essentially an elimination game as far as the Pac-12 championship and possible playoff run is concerned.
In other words, the loser’s hopes for glory and national adoration will be pretty much over.
Thank goodness the game’s at home in the Rose Bowl among the Bruin Nation – that’s why I give the Bruins a chance.
By roughly 6:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon – the game’s at 12:30 – I will know if UCLA’s truly a team to be reckoned with…
Or a team that frustratingly disappoints and fails to meet expectations like so many other Bruin gridiron squads in the past.