We asked Jason over ath the great UCLA/Georgia Blog What's Bruin Dawg? to do a little Q&A for this weekend's big game. These are our questions and his answers. Our answers to his questions will up later on this evening.
It has been a nutty season for UCLA, win games you shouldn't, lose games you should. Pick the one thing or game that made you scratch your head the most this season?
This one's easy: the decision to start throwing the ball in the Notre Dame game. Notre Dame's rush defense was/is terrible - at the time, they ranked 108th in rushing defense, and Kahlil Bell was healthy in the Notre Dame game. When Cowan goes down with his knee injury, the coaching staff brings in McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and they proceed to...pass the ball? We all know how that turned out - Bethel-Thompson looked lost and confused in the offense, threw four interceptions, fumbled away a ball once, and played terribly. I'll still never get over this. It was one of the dumbest coaching decisions I've seen in a long, long time. If we keep running the ball in that game, we win 6-0. Notre Dame had 140 yards of total offense and won, 20-6. I think Norvell and Dorrell were trying to be way too cute in this game - and if there's one thing I hate most about the WCO, it is its tendency to be too cute. Pound the ball - do it over and over, and win the game. Especially with a walk-on redshirt freshman at quarterback.
I know he has been in and out with injuries the past two seasons, but after all the hype over Ben Olson in 2006 he has yet to really put up the numbers that his level of talent would indicate, is all on the coaches or was there a little too much hype?
I think it's a combination of both at this point. Let's not forget that Olson took two years off in between being named "The Greatest Quarterback - Ever" and actually joining the UCLA squad. I don't care who you are - but if you take two years off from something, you're going to either lose a little bit of skill or look a little rusty coming back (see: Henson, Drew). Additionally, however, I think the coaching staff has deprived Olson of a lot of his confidence. Olson's biggest weapon is the deep ball - guess what the WCO doesn't really like to use? That's right - the deep ball. Our pass protection has also been abysmal, so Olson essentially has no time to move up in the pocket and make deep throws. If you look at games in which Olson has been successful - Stanford this year, Utah last year - those games were prototypical Ben Olson games, in which the running game set up the deep jump-ball. Olson has great touch on deep routes - why we continue to not utilize these skills is beyond me. Ben Olson will never be a 65% passer - and unfortunately, that's what our offensive scheme continues to ask of him.
I'd be remiss not to contrast Olson's style of play against Matt Stafford, if only because I think they're the exact same player, skills-wise. You might also recall that Matt Stafford was the 1st or 2nd ranked quarterback in his class last year. Georgia's offensive line is young and inexperienced, Stafford is not a particularly accurate passer, percentage wise - but man, can he throw a deep ball. Unlike UCLA's coaches, Mark Richt and Mike Bobo have developed an offensive scheme that goes something like this: run first, throw deep jump passes to Massaqoui and Sean Bailey for big plays. Rinse and repeat.
This has worked for Georgia, and I would also suspect it would work for UCLA and Ben Olson. It's a shame our offensive coordinator is so obstinate in having Ben Olson throw 10 yard curl patterns and slants, because it's not what he's good at.
The battle of the game will obviously be between the UCLA defensive line against the USC offensive line, what other match-ups are you interested in?
I think another key area to pay attention to will be Special Teams. Matthew Slater and Terrance Austin have been UCLA's most effective offensive weapons over the past month, and I'm sure USC's special teams unit will be paying a lot of attention to them. I'll be very interested to see if USC decides to kick to both Austin and Slater. If they do, I think they both have the ability to break a big play, and that might jumpstart the UCLA offense.
Additionally, Forbath will need to be his usual accurate self if we're to have a chance in this game.
I'd also be watching closely to see if Aaron Perez's foot falls off during this game. He punted 10 times last week - I'm going to assume his leg's pretty tired. As we all likely remember, it was Perez's gorgeous 60+ yard punt that sealed the game for UCLA last year. I don't suspect we'll see the same sort of power out of his legs this week, and I'll also be very interested to see if UCLA decides to kick to McKnight if he is back there returning punts. McKnight has the same escapability that Slater does, and I think he has the raw ability to break some pretty big plays. It'd be nice if he could cough the ball up once or twice, though. I'm really praying for that.
It has been mentioned that Ben Olson will probably start but there has been some talk about using multiple QB's, do think Dorrell and Norvell can set up a package of plays for Rasshan in time for the game that can be effective?
Well, I've seen the last three weeks' worth of games, and if Dorrell and Norvell haven't throught about running more QB options with Rashaan by the Oregon game, I don't hold out much hope for the light suddenly turning on in their heads now. Why they haven't developed - or at least utilized - a set of plays that lean on Rashaan's escapability is beyond me. In the Oregon game last week, Rashaan ran a grand total of one QB keeper. It was the only play in which UCLA gained a first down in the first half. You think that this would tell them something, but apparently, they're much smarter than me and that's why I'm not an offensive coordinator.
I have no doubt there's a set of plays in the playbook that call for QB roll-outs and options - after all, that's basically all Pat Cowan did against USC last year, so I'm still holding out a bit of hope. Olson reportedly tweaked his knee in practice on Tuesday, and Cowan got a bunch of first-team reps, so the quarterback situation is a mess, to put it mildly. I'm not sure anyone's going to have gotten enough reps to be sufficiently prepared on Saturday, and that's worrisome. There's a reason no one runs a 3 quarterback system - that's because it would be a nightmare.
Honestly, if I were OC, I'd keep Olson in on the passing plays and then run out Rashaan when we were going to run a QB option, Tebow circa 2006 style. I know this isn't going to happen, though - but I can always dream. We'll probably do something incredibly stupid, like have Rashaan try and throw 70-yard stop and gos, and bring in Olson to run quarterback sneaks - y'know, just to mix it up a bit.
UCLA has been bit pretty hard by the injury bug this season. If you had to pick one player to have back for this game who would it be?
Brigham Harwell. The key to UCLA's victory last year was pressure on the defensive front, and with both Harwell and Dragovic out for the season, the defensive line has pretty much been Bruce Davis. In the games where UCLA has gotten effective pressure on quarterbacks, we've had to get our linebackers involved in some more exotic blitz packages.
It's safe to say that with Fred Davis roaming the middle of the field, I think exotic blitz packages are a bad, bad idea against USC on Saturday. UCLA was able to get pressure mainly rushing just four last year - and Hickman and Davis tore up USC's offensive line. With only Davis consistently being able to generate pressure on the defensive line, I think this will be a game where we'll really miss the inside presence of both Harwell and Dragovic, but I think Harwell's the more key player of the two. USC's offensive line has also been a bit banged up this year, and it's a shame we're probably not going to be able to take as much advantage of that as we would if Harwell were healthy. That's injuries for you, though.
I think we are all in agreement that Dorrell needs to go and we believe he is gone. Who do you want for your new head coach?
Man, I wish I could share your optimism in believing that he's gone for sure. I've seen way too many weird things happen with this team to assume that Dorrell is as good as gone. That said, I do generally trust that Dan Guerrero is much more serious about that football program than Pete Dalis ever was, and that's going to translate in to changes. Whether that means Dorrell is certainly gone, who knows. I will say this: UCLA set an attendance record at the Rose Bowl this year. We're a 6-5 team, and we set an attendance record. Chew on that one for a second. This, to me, shows that the Athletic Administration is finally getting serious about marketing football to the school, and the fans have responded. That's a great first step.
As far as taking the next step vis-a-vis a new coach, you know who I would really like that hasn't gotten a lot of talk? Mike Singeltary. He's currently a DC with the 49ers, he's relatively young, and I can only imagine what would happen to Kurt Streeter's head if Dorrell were fired and they replaced him with another African-American coach. I certainly think that Singletary is a bit of stretch, if only because I get the feeling that UCLA's next head coaching search is going to focus on an offensive-first head coach, what with the ineptitude of our offense currently. But I would love him as a hire, and I think he's itching to get a head-coaching position.
If UCLA does go the offense route, I think the focus is going to be on Chris Petersen, Norm Chow, and Rick Neuheisel. I would be somewhat leery of a Norm Chow hire - not because of any of his USC ties (after all, Bo Schembechler worked for Woody Hayes, and I think that worked out alright for Michigan), but because I don't think he'd be a great recruiter. I also have my reservations about Petersen - success at Boise State hasn't really translated to success at other schools (Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins), so I'll reserve my judgement there. And Rick Neuheisel - no, just no. I don't understand UCLA's fascination with continuing to hire Donahue's re-treads. Neuheisel took two good programs - Washington and Colorado - and ran them in to the ground. I have no idea why his name keeps popping up. Out of the three, I'd be happiest with a Petersen hire, but if Chow came in and assembled a good staff (not an easy thing to do at UCLA), I could potentially get exicted about that hire as well.
Other potential names that are going to be thrown out there: Mike Leach at Texas Tech, who would be like Bob Toledo redux - all offense, no defense; Bobby Hauck from Montana, a DII program that's looked impressive, though they have a rather long rap sheet that seems to imply a lack of institutional control, Paul Johnson from Navy, and Bronco Mendenhall from BYU. If you haven't looked lately, the Cougars are a really impressive program. Plus, how cool would it be to have a coach named Bronco Mendenhall? It sounds like he could just club you to death by staring at you.
Thanks Jason, Enjoy the game!