I’m really not sure what to make of last week’s UCLA game.
On its face, it was an unexpectedly impressive outing. UCLA went to Autzen to face off against 11th ranked Oregon, a team many people think will be in the mix for the College Football Playoff this year. UCLA was playing with a backup QB in, Chase Griffin, making his first-ever collegiate start. The Bruins turned the ball over multiple times, but kept fighting and kept themselves in it, even having a chance to win on the final drive. They also held Oregon to under 100 yards rushing, including just 18 yards on 12 carries for star running back CJ Verdell.
Griffin was solid in his first start, and UCLA had over 200 yards on the ground, with Demetric Felton and Brittain Brown both contributing. Kyle Philips and Greg Dulcich were effective through the air, and one could argue that the offensive line and the defense both look improved from last year. Considering how bad UCLA has been as of recent and how good Oregon has been, I was expecting something more along the lines of an Oregon blowout.
Having said that, it seemed like UCLA did everything they could to lose this game. You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win, yet UCLA continues to do so at an alarming rate. The Bruins had 4 turnovers leading to 28 points in this one, and have had 9 turnovers leading to 49 points in just three games so far this year. Griffin had a fumble on a keeper early that led to a touchdown, followed by a Qwuantrezz Knight fumble on the ensuing kickoff that led to six more. Just like that, 14-0. It’s great that they clawed back into it, but how many times have we seen UCLA give away football games with these kinds of mistakes? It can’t happen, especially this early in games.
People generally seemed more impressed with Chase Griffin than the numbers would indicate. In addition to the aforementioned fumble, he was 19/31 for just 195 yards, a touchdown, and 2 picks. Both picks were bad. The first was about as UCLA a play as you will find: Loading up and getting ready to chuck the ball downfield on a hail mary to end the half, Griffin was smashed while throwing and the ball floated to the Oregon defense and ended up going for six the other way as time expired. The second was both a force and an overthrow.
He did play with a solid sense of timing and rhythm, especially as the Ducks got pressure around the edge. I’d say it’s pretty much a wash between him and DTR at this point. Some think that Griffin gives the Bruins a better chance to win, but I would lean toward DTR because he is more talented and gives you more ability running the football. Having said that, it looks like Chase Griffin may get the start as DTR appears to be under contract tracing at the moment.
The Bruins did defend the run well, but they were gashed through the air by the redshirt sophomore Tyler Shough. After Oregon took a 14-0 lead, the Bruins tied it up 14-14 and eventually went up 21-17. The Ducks would again go up 31-21 and the Bruins cut it to 31-28, only to again go down 38-28. They got a break with a Ducks missed field goal and would cut the deficit to 38-35, but by the time the Bruins got the ball back at the end, they didn’t really have enough time to mount a drive. Despite the score and the fight, the Ducks remained in control for most of the game
And therein lies the problem: Whether this was a good showing for the Bruins or not really depends on your perspective. Without the turnovers, the Bruins win. At the same time, you can’t really say “without the turnovers”, because the Bruins would be a very different team if they didn’t turn the football over. So it’s either that’s a good thing in that they were close to winning, or a bad thing in that they had a winnable game that they blew.
Regardless, that one’s in the books, and the Bruins have an upcoming matchup this weekend against the Arizona Wildcats in the Rose Bowl.
It’s Kevin Sumlin Time!
In come the Wildcats led by their head coach, Kevin Sumlin, who truly is an interesting figure. A former player, Sumlin is one of the more notable architects of the spread offense. He was part of the staff that coached the record-setting Purdue spread offense under Drew Brees in the late 90s. He spent a lot of his career as an assistant under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. He then spent four years at Houston and led them to a 12-1 season in his final year. But most notably is what he did with Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M.
Sumlin became the head coach at A&M during the first year they transitioned to the SEC. Along with Kliff Kingsbury, they crafted an explosive up-tempo attack for the talented but wild redshirt sophomore Johnny Manziel and took the SEC by storm with an insane offensive juggernaut. The Aggies set multiple records and finished the season 11-2 with a bowl win over Oklahoma and an upset win in Tuscaloosa against otherwise undefeated Alabama.
It was a phenomenal coaching job for a young, relatively inexperienced head coach who stepped into a pretty tough situation. The Aggies were new to the SEC, and they were running the type of offense that, according to conventional wisdom, would not work against the uber-talented SEC defenses. But they stepped in and got running right away, and pretty much no one had an answer for these guys.
That year would be Sumlin’s peak at A&M. They went 9-4 the following year, followed by 3 straight 8-5 seasons and a 7-5 2017 season that ultimately saw Sumlin fired before his team’s bowl game. Sumlin finished with a respectable 51-26 record at A&M, but a mere 25-23 in SEC play. For a program like A&M, that’s not gonna do it.
Sumlin is 95-60 overall as a head coach, but his Arizona results have been less kind. He took over in 2018 and cashed in a 5-7 season (4-5 Pac 12) followed by a 4-8 (2-7 Pac 12) 2019 season. They are 0-2 this year and in the midst of a 10 game losing streak. Also notable was Sumlin’s inability to improve on Khalil Tate‘s Heisman level freshman year once Rich Rodriguez left.
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Arizona’s schedule has been tougher than UCLA’s. They lost a 34-30 game to USC that they honestly should have won, and they lost by multiple scores to Washington last week, another Pac-12 powerhouse.
This week’s game will be more even. Both of these teams are led by third-year struggling head coaches who were formerly innovative but who now see their fans running out of patience as they are unable to recreate their early career magic with lesser programs.
Nothing would surprise me in this one. I could see Arizona blowing UCLA out, and I could see UCLA blowing Arizona out. That’s just the nature of the Pac-12. That’s especially true for Chip Kelly, whose Bruins tenure has seen him beat USC and Washington State while losing to San Diego State and Fresno State.
All losing streaks do come to an end eventually, and no one wants to play a team that is cornered. Having said that, this is absolutely a winnable game for UCLA. If they are able to keep running the football and can just cut down on the turnovers, we should be looking at a win here.
But at the end of the day, nothing’s a given. Wins and losses are all that matters, and it won’t matter how good UCLA can play or how much potential they have if they aren’t able to start stringing together W’s.
For the Bruins, this is a winnable game against a winnable opponent. The good teams win those games. Will the Bruins?