* I know that that UCLA has one of the best backfields in the conference – and it’s even better than we thought
Rick Neuheisel called Derrick Coleman the team’s most valuable player through four games, and it’s hard to disagree. After Johnathan Franklin went down with a hip injury after a good start – six carries for 36 yards – Coleman took over and gained 100 yards on 20 carries. They were impoortant carries, too, punishing carries that paid off in the end.
Coleman had three critical first downs on UCLA’s last drive to keep the ball away from the Beavers, running five straight times for eight, five, three, three and six yards.
Coleman could’ve had two more touchdowns, if not for Jordon James’ four-yard end-around and Anthony Barr’s two-yard burst up the middle. That kind of variation bodes well going forward for a running game that already ranks second in the Pac-12, and 28th nationally, at 214 yards per game
* I think UCLA’s kicking issues have not been solved yet
Jeff Locke admirably manned up to his issues on Saturday – having two kicks blocked, one a field goal, one a PAT – and he was not blaming a vicious hit on an 85-yard touchdown punt return for his problems. Locke is a very bright football player and should be able to correct the flaw that led to two low kicks, but the delirious fog that set in after 51- and 49-yard field goals against Texas disappeared pretty quickly.
* I know the defense will need to play more aggressively against Andrew Luck
UCLA has let the opposition nickel-and-dime their nickel and dime, and that simply won’t work against THE BEST QUARTERBACK EVAR. Really, though, Luck is a fantastic quarterback not because of his arm strength or his accuracy or his timing. What takes Luck from great to Heisman-worthy is his pinpoint-precise decision-making. Like Case Keenum in Week 1, Luck will find the open man, for five yards or 50, and he’ll be happy to do it.
The Bruin cornerbacks have played surpringly passive for a duo that has the body, speed and mindframe to bully opposing receivers, and that comes from the top down. Through four weeks, there have been countless third-and-short situations when the DBs were seven, eight, nine yards deep, letting the offense dictate the result. Andrew Luck can’t have such an easy go of it.
* I think that UCLA cannot continue to play so conservatively
Rick Neuheisel told the media after the 27-19 win over Oregon State that it was his fault on Jordan Poyer’s 85-yard touchdown return near the end of the first half.
He should’ve apologized for putting the Bruins in that position in the first place.
UCLA continues to play with Tea Party conservatism, never moreso than the “two-minute” drive that wasn’t. With 1:41 left in the first half and the Bruins leading 21-3, UCLA had a chance to essentially end the game. The offense was clicking to that point, scoring touchdowns on three of its five possessions, though one was just a four-yard drive after a Sean Mannion fumble in the OSU red zone. UCLA had gained 173 yards on just 24 plays – an average of 7.2 yards per play – while Oregon State had gained 31 yards total on its previous four drives, showing very little big-play ability.
So what does UCLA do?
With three timeouts left, the Bruins call two runs up the middle, wasting nearly a minute of clock. Then, almost out of nowhere, they decide to hurry it up. First, a nine-yard pass to Nelson Rosario, then an uncharacteristic deep bomb to Randall Carroll which went incomplete, and a four-yard loss on a Richard Brehaut rush. Then the punt and the touchdown, and thisquick, the Beavers are back in the game.
Had UCLA simply run the clock out, that would be one thing. Forgivable, if conservative. But to go from passive to aggressive in the span of two plays was simply baffling and shows a continual lack of confidence in the offense.
* I think UCLA’s season is not over – far from it
The Bruins have not looked very good through four games, but at 2-2 and 1-0 in conference play, September treated UCLA relatively well in terms of bowl hopes.
Home games with Cal, Washington State, Arizona State and Colorado remain, and the Bruins should realistically go 3-1 . Then there are road dates at Stanford, Arizona, Utah and USC. If UCLA can win one of those games – and it can – then the Bruins should be bowl-bound. The Pac-12 has really become a league of 2-7-3 with Oregon and Stanford near-untouchable, Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado in the dregs, and six teams somewhat close together. Obviously Arizona State and USC are a notch ahead of Arizona, Utah, UCLA, Washington and Cal, but they don’t look unbeatable. With eight conference games left, the Bruins just need to play to their talent level, and they’ll be busy in December.