November 28, 2007

State of the Program - Football

The news for the football program compared to that of the hardcourt is… Well, we’ll call it ambiguous with a chance of optimism. Though UCLA shut out the top-10 Oregon Ducks this past weekend, winning 16-0, the win hardly felt like an accomplishment. This post by Dave over at the Oregon blog Addicted to Quack may be more descriptive of what the game does to OU's Rose Bowl hopes, but it nevertheless also provides an example of what most viewers probably wished would happen to the Rose Bowl partway through the game this past Saturday. The offensive ineptitude was epic.

Oregon started its second-string QB, Brady Leaf, who went down with an injury in the first quarter. Deep reserves Cody Kempt and Justin Roper couldn’t do anything on offense, and the Oregon run game faltered as a result. Excellent OU tailback Jonathan Stewart was also playing despite a lingering injury. UCLA’s win was more a result of Oregon’s inability to move the ball without Dennis Dixon – and a number of its other offensive weapons, also lost to injury – than it was due to Bruin defensive prowess. The defense played well, to be sure; but how well is almost impossible to determine.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s air attack was nonexistent. In the first half, I mean that in a literal fashion – wait, I take that back. Nonexistence would have been preferable to the actual outcome, in which the Bruins completed more passes to Oregon’s secondary than their own wide receivers. Osaar Rasshan went 0-7, with one interception on an attempted deep pass play. Coming in at the start of the second half in a return from injury, opening day starter Ben Olson had some success, limited though it was. He went 4-10 with an INT in the back of the end zone on a spectacular play by a Duck cornerback, but did seem to provide at least the threat of a passing game. That finally opened up some running lanes for UCLA’s tailbacks, mainly Chris Markey and walk-on Craig Sheppard, the latter of whom scored the game’s only touchdown on a 21-yard run.

Not in the box score, but deserving a mention, was a trick play worthy of Bob Toledo on the opening kickoff of the second half. Markey took the kick, and then threw across the field to a wide-open Matt Slater, who raced untouched into the end zone. The play was nullified, however, because Markey threw the ball (obviously) forwards instead of backwards. The day as a whole was marked entirely by offensive ineptitude, so it was a sad moment indeed to see the by far the most successful pass of the day called back. I suppose it's really a condensed version of the story of the game, and in a macro sense, of UCLA's entire season.

And so the Bruins find themselves facing a resurgent USC Trojan team that is coming off a 20-point whipping of Arizona State and looking to return to the Rose Bowl. With this year's game being played in the Coliseum, UCLA’s chances look grim. During Karl Dorrell’s tenure at UCLA, games played on USC’s home turf have featured Trojan victories of 25, and 47 points. The two contests at the Rose Bowl were a 5-point win for USC and last season’s astonishing 13-9 upset by the Bruins. Suffice to say, UCLA plays USC far more evenly at home than on the ‘road’ (despite the fact that the L.A. Coliseum is actually closer to Westwood than the Rose Bowl).

The Bruins look to a hopefully healthy Ben Olson to lead them against the Trojans, an opportunity he missed last season. If Olson can’t play, UCLA turns next to either last week’s starter Rasshan, or last season’s hero Patrick Cowan, who may be available coming off his own injury. For UCLA to have any chance in the game, they must establish some sort of offensive consistency early. Probably through the passing game, where the Trojan defense is the "most" (finger quotes sadly necessary) suspect. Otherwise the Bruins are in major trouble, as expecting to hold USC’s offense to less than 10 points two times in a row seems the unlikeliest of outcomes.

With both the football and basketball teams facing major tests this weekend, it will be interesting to view how the two programs do, given the upward trend of basketball and the general downward spiral of football.

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