After two games, we haven't learned much about the UCLA Bruins. They came out and stunned Tennessee in the opener, then promptly laid an egg and got blasted by BYU next time out.
Their offense went from decent to atrocious, and their defense went from phenomenal to beyond atrocious. The defense is much harder to figure out, and I'll discuss that later.
But the offensive struggles, particularly running the ball, boil down to one thing; and the one thing that we HAVE learned about UCLA thus far: they may have the worst offensive line (for a BCS school) in history.
The primary culprit for the lack of talent and effectiveness along the o-line is former coach Karl Dorrell. The unit was sorely under-recruited during his tenure as coach, and the cupboard was left completely empty for Rick Neuheisel.
The two bright spots coming into the season were tackles Sean Sheller and Micah Kia, both with size, speed, and NFL potential. Sheller promptly tore his ACL in an offseason ATV accident, and Kia broke his hand prior to the opener and has been ineffective.
Starting center Micah Reed, the only other member of the line with starting experience, sprained his knee in the BYU game, leaving the offensive line to be manned by three sophomores (including a former DT), a freshman, and Kia, who should be nearly full strength by next week. Only Kia has ever started a game prior to this year.
Left guard Darius Savage has potential, but it's just that: potential; meaning it hasn't been fulfilled yet. That's the story up and down the line. Where there's talent, there's no experience, and where there is even a little experience, the talent is lacking.
To make matters worse (if possible), running back Kahlil Bell sprained his ankle against Tennessee, speedy freshman Raymond Carter sprained his MCL against BYU, and touted freshman Aundre Dean sprained his ankle in his only carry against BYU as well. That leaves unproductive Chane Moline and freshman Johnathan Franklin to carry the ball next week against Arizona if none of the top three recover. Franklin has never carried the ball in college.
In terms of the passing offense, Kevin Craft was ok against BYU, considering that he had no time to throw and the receivers were rarely open. He misfired on a few passes, but overall played a decent game.
If the running game even had a pulse, Craft's performance would be good enough to keep the Bruins in nearly any game. WR's Dominique Johnson and Terrance Austin, along with TE's Ryan Moya and Cory Harkey, looked alright against BYU; good enough that we can expect them to produce later in the season in conference play.
As for the defense, I'm not sure what to say. It's easy to say that they were on the field for nearly 40 minutes and they got tired, but that's just not an ok excuse.BYU marched right down the field on it's opening possession for an easy score, with Max Hall going 6-6 and never getting touched.
It seemed more like a matter of confidence. Al Verner, the Bruins top cover corner, got burned with short passes a few times early, and it seemed like he lost the confidence that makes him one of the best corners in the country. The D-Line was miserable in generating a pass rush, which in turn gave Hall all day to throw. That did nothing to help their confidence, and significantly boosted Hall's.
UCLA found out the hard way that football is decided in the trenches. BYU dominated both lines, and in turn dominated the game.
I feel that UCLA's defensive line simply had a bad game, and will bounce back, but it's clear that Neuheisel will need to heavily recruit offensive linemen before the Bruins can hope to compete with a team like BYU, let alone USC.
For now, UCLA needs to give the younger players some looks and reps so that they'll have experience for 2009 and beyond, when UCLA should make a huge leap to the top of the Pac 10.
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