I am a beat reporter and not a columnist, so typically I don’t like to opine that often.
But last night was my 20th UCLA game, and I think that’s a large enough sample size for comparative measure.
Quite simply, it was the worst game plan I’ve seen out of the UCLA coaching staff in my short tenure, and I’m not sure where they go from here.
Look, everyone knows that Oregon is going to score points. You do not shut down this offense. In its worst game this season, it scored 42 points on a pretty good Arizona State defense. It combines good-but-not-great players with a great-but-maybe-fantastic scheme and fantastic-but-maybe-phenomenal coaching.
Simply put, UCLA was not going to contain the Ducks. No way, no how. With the misdirection – an ESPN commentator called it three-card monty – and the team speed, they are GOING to break off big plays. It is simply unrealistic to expect 11 18-to-22-year-old kids to stay gap responsible for 70 plays.
You go into the game knowing that. You prepare for the game knowing that, you coach for the game knowing that, you scheme for the game knowing that.
So what you do, or at least should do, is ignore the big plays. They’re going to happen. Deal with it, move on. But focus on stopping the eight-yard gain, focus on getting to the quarterback, focus on trying to control the tempo.
A blitz is designed to do all of those things. It is a simple tactic. You send more people than they can block, and you either confuse them, speed them up or cause improvisation. Because don’t forget, THEY ARE 18-to-22 ALSO. They are just as young, just as naive, just as scared, just as nervous. They may be more proficient or more experienced, but I can guarantee you, a 20-year old kid rarely has savvy.
You essentially tell them: “Yeah, you’ll get your points. But you’ll have to scramble the whole time.” And yes, they’ll adjust with some trickery, and yes, they’ll get you a few times because they’re just that good. But it at least it won’t make them look so damn pretty.
Instead, the UCLA coaching staff did nothing.
I don’t have official blitz stats – I’m writing notes, following the action, typing, chatting, etc., and I simply can’t watch the linebackers all game – but I cannot recall more than three blitzes the entire game.
Last year, UCLA could afford to be conservative at times, because Brian Price was a three-man wrecking crew, Korey Bosworth was a capable run-stopping defensive end, Reggie Carter and Kyle Bosworth, while slower than others, knew what they were doing, and Alterraun Verner was a star. Oh, and Rahim Moore was Rahim Moore.
Guess what? There is no Brian Price anymore, Chuck. There is no dominant defensive tackle on this roster – yet, I’ll add, because I think Cassius Marsh can become a monster – and for that matter, there is no seasoned fifth-year defensive end, no fifth-year middle linebacker and outside linebacker, no sensational cornerback. They are not here anymore, Chuck.
You have what you have, and you have to put them in position to succeed.
Tightening up against one of the most prolific offenses in recent memory – Oregon has more points through seven games than they’ve ever had through eight – is just about the worst option.
The Ducks were going to score. We all knew that. But it didn’t have to be so easy.
* A side note: One of my best friends was in town for the game, as a guest of family friend and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, who missed the game with a head injury. We went to a party with Barner after the game, and I got a chance to talk to a few of the Oregon players, in particular former Crespi wideout Blake Stanton, whom I covered in high school.
We talked a lot about the Oregon offense, and at one point he just paused, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Man, we have so much to learn.” I asked him to explain further, and he basically said that half of that offense is just knowing how every player is supposed to move within it. I said is it the players or the scheme, and he just looked at me and smiled.
“It’s the scheme. It’s too good.”