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Pac-12 Musings: Will UCLA Football Turn the Page and Protect the Big Fish?

October 18, 2016

 

 

 

When UCLA lost to Oregon in 2013 after giving up 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points, head coach Jim Mora said this

 

"We’re so close, but it doesn’t matter. We’re not after being close. To heck with being close. Losers can be close. We want to get. We want to win those games. The coulda, woulda shoulda, all that crap, we don’t want that. I’m tired of that. It’s time for UCLA to turn the freaking page and be something different and win those games."

 

Nothing has changed in three years. Heck, nothing has changed in eight years.  From the Daily Bruin's October 12, 2008 edition:

 

With half of the season completed, the Bruins are 2-4 overall. Part of the trouble, [Rick] Neuheisel said, is the lack of a consistent running game. The Bruins have tried to establish an effective running attack early in games throughout the season. When that hasn’t worked, the offense has been unable to recover. In the first half Saturday, the Bruin offense converted just four of 11 third downs. They faced so many third downs in the half because of their inability to run, averaging just 1.2 yards per carry. 

 

This year the 3-4 Bruins have the third worst-rushing offense in the country. The company with which it keeps is alarming. UCLA is among only five teams that has not eclipsed a three-plus rushing-yards-per-carry average:  Kansas, Miami (OH), South Alabama and Texas State are the other four. 

 

Mora has no answers—just a lot of observations and summations that pour salt on freshly opened old wounds. 

 

“I’ve never in my career been around a run game as awful as this,” Mora said, according to an LA Times report. “That has to be the first thing we address. It’s staggeringly poor and we have to fix it.”

 

"We" is the coaching staff. The "awful" is twofold—the product on the field and the coaching of that product. 

 

Recognize talent. Develop talent. Win. Those are three tenets to which most good coaches adhere.  

 

UCLA has no problem identifying elite talent as evidenced by its consistently high recruiting class rankings. Developing offensive talent and winning with said talent appear to be a five-year work in progress.

 

So far, offensive staff changes have not been made to try and save the season. Not even a two-year show-cause order as a result of recruiting violations committed by associate head coach Adrian Klemm has Mora reaching for the Rolodex.

 

Klemm, the Bruins' top recruiter, claimed he did not know that paying for prospects' training and housing was a violation. Via USAToday:

 

Klemm told the NCAA he believed the arrangement was legal because the players had already signed National Letters of Intent with UCLA. That statement was the basis for the NCAA to slap him with an unethical conduct violation.

 

“The hearing panel was quite troubled by the associate head coach’s statements of ignorance of the rules,” the report said.

 

If Level II NCAA violations do not prompt Mora to make changes, what will?

 

Against Washington State, the Bruins could only muster up 43 rushing yards in their 27-21 loss at Pullman, WA. Star quarterback Josh Rosen was out with injuries, but all three running backs were available to play. If there is a bright spot, it is this: UCLA improved its rushing productivity over the previous week's total of -1.  

 

Mora, like his predecessors, has whipped out the powder-blue-and-gold gramophone and is playing a broken record. 

 

“Kind of the same old story unfortunately,” Mora said. “We couldn’t run the ball, we couldn’t protect the passer.”

 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

 

Patrick Cowan, Ben Olson, Kevin Craft, Chris Forcier, Richard Brehaut, Nick Crissman, Brett Hundley, Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Fafaul and Josh Rosen. These are Bruin quarterbacks that have either missed playing time due to injuries or have been pressed into emergency duty in the last 10 years because of another's injury. Ten quarterbacks. 

 

Some may argue UCLA has had a lot of bad luck. Maintaining consistency is difficult when a unit is disrupted by injuries. UCLA is a case study in disruption. But if the injury bug infects a team seemingly every year, why not be more proactive in preparing for the worst case scenario?

 

When reserve quarterback Jerry Neuheisel bailed from UCLA with one year of eligibility left to go play in Japan, the 2016 depth chart was greener than a troop of girl scouts on a whale watching boat trip. 

 

Fafaul, a former walk-on, was the designated heir apparent if Rosen couldn't play on Saturday. The off-the-table options were two highly-touted redshirt freshmen. UCLA's game plan was roll the dice with Rosen and pray the running game materializes. 

 

Naturally, that blew up when Rosen was injured on October 8 at Arizona State. Everyone saw this coming.

 

Except the salaried grown-ups on the Bruins' sideline. 

 

Fafaul played with grit and heart at Washington State. His receivers dropped perfect passes. His offensive line could not open up holes for the running backs. 

 

It was heartwarming to see Fafaul play up to his maximum potential. It was gut wrenching to watch the coaching staff—and let's be honest, most of the offense—fail him. 

 

UCLA is still of the mindset that landing a marquee quarterback will win championships. It's like landing a 750-pound Marlin and then expecting to keep it by tying it to the boat with a needle and thread.

 

A stout offensive line is a cure-all for most offenses. A decent quarterback behind a great line will have time to go through his progressions and make the right throw.

 

Alabama wins championships without marquee quarterbacks. Alabama wins championships with superior offensive lines. And solid running between the tackles. And great coaching. 

 

It is college football fundamentals 101. 

 

Since 2000, only three Bruin offensive linemen have been drafted to the NFL: Jeff Baca, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Caleb Benenoch. USC has had 13. Stanford has had 10.

 

Until its guards and tackles are developed and coached up—or UCLA starts a dual-threat quarterback—the Bruins will not win meaningful games. Perhaps Mora, a former NFL coach with zero college football coaching experience, expected his 4 and 5-star talent to be NFL turn-key ready.  

 

UCLA landed four 4-star linemen in its class of 2015: Tevita Halalilo, Andre James, Fred Ulu-Perry and Josh Wariboko-Alali. Talent is not an issue at UCLA. The Bruins also had 5-star running back Soso Jamabo and 5-star quarterback Josh Rosen in that same class. 

 

That's an Alabama-like recruiting haul. 

 

UCLA is dripping with elite talent. Unfortunately, the "Bruin Revolution" coined by Mora is dripping with sarcasm. 

 

From 2012-14, UCLA did beat USC, albeit the NCAA made sure the Trojans had 60 less scholarshipped players during that time frame. UCLA may have won a three-year citywide battle, but it lost the war.  

 

Mora is 0-6 vs Stanford, 0-2 vs Oregon and 2-2 in bowls. A bowl berth looks highly unlikely unless this team turns it around quickly.

 

This Saturday UCLA hosts Utah for Homecoming.  If Rosen is healthy enough to start, the odds increase that UCLA rises from the ashes.

 

But at what cost?

 

If immediate changes are not made on the line to protect the big fish, Rosen should just sit out. Another injury could do permanent damage and jeopardize his potential NFL draft status and earnings. 

 

Mora makes $3.25 million a year. Klemm makes $760,000. Rosen makes nil. 

 

Only one of those Bruins is currently earning his keep. 

 

 

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