Grading the Bruins at the half

Midway through a critical season for head coach Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins are an enigma, more difficult to grade than a trigonometry term paper. The Bruins stand at 3-3, halfway to bowl eligibility and markedly improved from the 4-8 record of a year ago. Yet even in victory, the team has looked subpar, unable to execute with consistency or precision.

Wins over San Jose State, Oregon State and Washington State have not been without stress, and blowout losses to Texas and Stanford have exposed major weaknesses. Perhaps the team’s best performance came all the way back in Week 1, when they lost by four points by virtue of a missed field goal and missed PAT to a now-6-0 Houston team.

Against the Cougars, the Bruin defense was exposed. Since then, they’ve been stripped to the bone. UCLA ranks in the bottom third nationally in 11 categories, with the defense particularly suspect, 86th or worse out of 120 teams in all four major categories – run, pass, total and scoring defense. Offensively, despite an improved passing game that has only accounted for four interceptions, the Bruins are still averaging only 198.67 passing yards per game, 89th in the country. The running game, though good, hasn’t been able to pick up the slack, and UCLA ranks 62nd nationally in total yardage (393.17 yards per game) and 78th in scoring offense (25.83 ppg).

For the Bruins to advance to the postseason, the defense will have to improve vastly.

For the team to stay in the conference race, the offense will have to step it up a notch or two.

And for the fans to start valuing the wins – and for Neuheisel’s seat to cool down – the Bruins will have to start to look better doing it.

Quarterbacks
C+
Despite the instability of a fault line, the quarterback play has been improved this season for the Bruins. Still, Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince have a long way to go before being considered in the Pac-12 top tier.

Running Backs
B
Erratic usage has been perplexing, but Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman have delivered when called upon. The duo has combined for 839 yards and eight touchdowns and has been pivotal in all three wins. Franklin’s going to break one sooner or later.

Wide Receivers
C+
If Mike Johnson’s message finally clicks, this unit is primed for a big second half. The talent is there between Nelson Rosario (480 yards), Joseph Fauria (196 yards, four touchdowns) and Co., but the consistency and effort has been lacking.

Offensive Line
B-
Four sacks in six games is a massive upgrade over last year, but there is still pressure on the quarterback and a hesitation to open the playbook fully. The run blocking has been good but inconsistent. A healthy Sean Sheller would’ve been crucial.

Defensive Line
D-
What was expected to be a much-improved unit has instead regressed considerably. The Bruins have been simply blown out up front at times, and the opposition has gained 181.5 yards per game on the ground. Then there’s the pass rush, which has disappeared.

Linebackers
D+
Lapses in coverage, missed tackles have plagued unit, particularly in the short passing game. Eric Kendricks looks like a good one in the making, but his playing time has been inconsistent. Patrick Larimore has been better in recent weeks, but needs to make bigger impact.

Defensive Backs
B-
Passive coverage has inflated the opposing passing numbers, but overall impressive starts for Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price. Tony Dye’s absence at safety has been crucial, as has relative lack of depth with several others bumped and bruised.

Special Teams
D
An upswing in recruiting was supposed to have a trickle-down effect on the coverage and return game, but it most certainly has not. Add to that a kicking game that has been comedic at times, and the once-special unit is bordering on mediocrity…or worse.

Coaching
D
In what is a make-or-break year for the entire coaching staff, the group has been shockingly conservative at times, seemingly playing not to lose. Defensive passiveness, offensive indecision has both units playing well below the talent level.

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  • Anonymous

    It is the middle of the season, and Princess still throws interceptions in practices. Neuloser said, “it is correctable”. Give me a break. Just admit it, either Princess sucks and it’s time to move on, or you can’t coach qb’s period. Just resign alrighty. Stop it with the coachspeech.

  • INawe

    So depressing but true. It is hard to stay optimistic for the second half of the season.

  • Blitzed

    “And for the fans to start valuing the wins – and for Neuheisel’s seat to cool down – the Bruins will have to start to look better doing it.”

    EXACTLY. Unlike some fans and players, I just can’t be happy squeaking out ugly wins every week when we look awful in the process.

  • UCLAVES

    I give coaching an F and the head coach, special teams, and D coordinator all get F-.

  • BruininUT

    Jon seems right on with these grades. Although all who follow the Bruins would hate to admit it, but 3-3 is better than last year. As for the coaching, I would rather lose with the offensive and defensive playing an aggressive game plan rather than have the complacent scheming that we see week in and week out. This would be a completely different D with DWalker around. Must be frustrating for the kids to be playing in such a corralled environment!

  • Bob

    Jon you hit it right on the head with a very honest evaluation.

    What I don’t get is how all the Bruin fans watching these game are screaming at the TV wanting the Defense to get aggressive. The linebackers don’t even attempt to fake there going to blitz. They just sit there bent over hands on knee’s.

    I know if my job was on the line I would be making that call upstairs demanding we turn up the heat and get the offense back on the field.

    Here’s a novel concept; THREE AND OUT!!!

  • localbruin

    Inside Ucla Coverage
    D+
    Fall practice reports from Inside Ucla led us, the gullible readers, to believe (hope…pray…beg) that we had a defense. Datone Jones was freakish, NFL ready, blah, blah, blah. Nooooo. Not even close in a game of grenades.

    Inside keeps hiding from its failure and increasingly resorts to video interviews as a subsitute for journalism. Anyone with an iPhone can do this job it seems.

    To salvage the season, Inside needs to address this glaring lack of intellectual production with some insightful analysis (ouch, that hurts when I do that) about why the defense was so highly touted and so under achieving. Only then will Bruin fans begin to see Inside the program.

  • hicalliber

    Jon,
    Are our offensive numbers misleading? I feel like our defense is on the field 75% of the game due to our bend but don’t break philosophy. This in turn leads to less offensive possessions, which will invariably result in less yards, points, etc. More telling statistics are points per possession, 3rd down conversion %, yards per play, and so on. ESPN has really watered downn statistical analysis for the average mouth-breathing fan, and unfortunately most journalists have followed suit. I love your work, Jon, because you usually let your eyes tell you what’s going on…but not here. Our offense is 1000x better this year, although still not where we need to be. our Defense is the problem.

  • Bruin Gold

    Jon Gold’s Grades ARE CORRECT.

    Interestingly, Jon’s comments would have gotten him harrassed and booted off Bruinsnation.com.

    But Joh is being very very honest.

  • Bob

    LB,

    You can come to certain conclusions by pure observation. What you can’t do is predict the behavior of a new coach with a really bad defensive scheme. Hard to blame Jon for this, hard to blame the players.

    When your scheme dictates rushing three to four guys against six O-linemen every play and the opposition knows what you are going to do, your defense is destined to stay on the field for most of the game. Go back to your DVR and focus on the defensive scheme, it’s not Jon’s fault, it’s Tresey’s. More importantly it’s Rick problem, and he needs to be the head coach and ultimately make a change before he gets canned.

  • mike04

    I didn’t know they had term papers in trigonometry. ;)

  • Bruintx

    Gotta say I pretty much agree with most, if not all, of Jon’s grades. Too bad too… I was (cautiously) optimistic this year.

    And Jon is paid to report what he sees and hears. He doesn’t get paid to be psychic. there are racehorses known as “morning glories”. These are horse who train like Secretariat but run like dogs when the race starts. Its not the track reporters fault that they don’t perform in the afternoon after they reported how well they were training.

    Some guys are gamers, some aren’t. Unfortunately, it seems we have a lot of the latter, coaches included. We can still hope……