The fanbase seems to be awfully upset about this loss to UCLA. I'm really not sure why. Did people expect a win? The Hoos traveled 3000 miles to face a top-20 team on their home field. The Hoos were 20 point underdogs and lost by 18. Nobody should be the least bit surprised.
The talent level for the Hoos has improved over the last 5 years. But, in this game, they were badly outmatched. UCLA was bigger and faster at the skill positions. Bigger, better and more experienced in the trenched. More talented at QB. And, the Bruins have better coaching.
That's what it is, obviously. It's the coaching. The fanbase likely isn't all that surprised at the outcome of the game. We are just disappointed that the coaching staff hasn't grown. Hasn't learned anything from the past few years. Steve Fairchild still doesn't understand that running a screen on 3rd and long doesn't work because everybody knows you're going to run a screen on 3rd and long. Mike London still doesn't really understand how to use his timeouts. And the players continue to commit bad penalties at inopportune times.
Again, none of this is surprising. Did people expect Steve Fairchild to suddenly channel Bill Walsh? (Is Bill Walsh a dated reference? He's basically the inventor of the west-coast offense, and has to feature prominently on any list of best offensive play-callers.) He talked about going to a power running game, but still spends far too much time in the shotgun. Thing is, against the UCLA front 4, a power running game wasn't going to work. The interior of UCLA's defense is made up of Kenny Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes, Myles Jack and Kenny Young. Those 4 guys may all be first round draft picks when their college careers are done. The interior of the Hoos OL is made up Jackson Matteo, Jack McDonald and Ross Burbank. None of those 3 guys are NFL draft hopefuls.
Next week isn't going to be a whole lot better. Notre Dame's defense isn't as talented as UCLA's, but it's still pretty good. As we get into the ACC season, however, and face Pitt, Cuse, UNC, etc, those teams aren't going to be throwing a dozen top NFL prospects at us. We'll match up a lot better with those teams and maybe a power running game will work. Maybe it won't. Maybe Fairchild will still try to run a power sweep out of the shotgun on 3rd and 3.
The point is, we didn't really learn anything from this week's game. And we aren't likely to learn a whole lot from the next two week's games. The season starts on October 10th in Pittsburgh.
As always some random notes and observations from the game:
- Let's start chronologically. The opening kickoff. Albert Reid runs over towards the corner of the endzone to catch the kick. He then has to gather himself before starting upfield. Is it surprising that he only got out to the 15? The rules changed such that touchbacks on kickoffs bring the ball out to the 25. That's pretty good starting field position. If you can't catch the ball and start upfield right away, just take a knee. Or let the ball go. Once it lands in the endzone, it's a touchback. This is, once again, simply poor coaching. Our special teams coaching is essentially non-existent. I can't recall watching any other team be so consistently bad at special teams.
- This team badly misses Eli Harold. There is nobody on the defense right now that requires a double team. At least, nobody that required a double team from UCLA's OL. Even when blitzing, the OL and a RB were more than capable of handling whatever Jon Tenuta threw at them. Thing is, when you bring pressure and don't get there, you leave your secondary wide open. UCLA's WRs are good enough that the Hoos had to give big cushions when blitzing. This made Josh Rosen's life pretty easy.
- One sack, and that was a coverage sack. In fact, the Hoos best defensive plays came when they stayed back in coverage. I was a bit disappointed that Tenuta didn't spend more time in max coverage. If you aren't getting to the QB, maybe you should stop sending extra pass rushers. Jon Tenuta got outcoached by Noel Mazzone.
- Coach Fairchild. Here's a tip. Running a sweep out of the shotgun on 3rd and short is a bad idea. It's a bad idea the first time you do it. It's a really bad idea the 3rd year in a row you insist in making that play call.
- I don't know if there's a short-term solution to the Steve Fairchild problem. He needed to be let go last year, or at least relieved of play-calling duties. Actually, he needed to be let go after 2013. Kevin Parks rushed for over 1000 yards, at nearly 5 yards per rush. And yet Fairchild decided it would be a good idea to have David Watford throw 427 passes. The only UVA QBs ever to throw 400 passes in a season are Watford and Matt Schaub. Schaub is arguably the best QB UVA has ever produced. Watford might be the worst. It is possible that Steve Fairchild's 2013 season is the worst coaching job anybody has ever done. The fact that he is still this team's offensive coordinator is ridiculous.
- What else can I say about Steve Fairchild. He's a bad coach. If Mike London and the rest of the football powers-that-be can't see that, that is an indictment on them. If they can see it and choose not to do anything about it, that is also an indictment on them. If they can see, want to do something about it, but don't know what to do or can't find a replacement, well then that's also an indictment on them. You can fault Steve Fairchild for being a bad coach. You can't fault Steve Fairchild for still having a job 3 years in. That's on London and that's on Jon Oliver and maybe that's on Craig Littlepage.
- I thought Matt Johns handled himself pretty well. He was under pressure a lot and he got no help from the running game. But he made some plays with his feet, moved around and bought time, and was only sacked once. Yeah, he could've been better. The throw that he made for the INT was a bad throw. He threw a duck. I'm pleased with Johns' play in this game.
- Smoke was also good. He didn't dance around as much as he used to. He was decisive in his cuts. He averaged 12.5 yards per receptions (after averaging less than 7 yards per reception a year ago). He didn't have many holes to run through, but as mentioned above, that wasn't particularly surprising.
- Albert Reid, on the other hand, was none too impressive. Along with the aforementioned hesitation on the KO return, he simply didn't seem decisive in his runs. It was hard to tell for sure, because he also didn't have many holes to run through. Still, as a bigger back, you have liked to see Reid run hard into the line trying to get what he can.
- And why is Reid even back on KOs. Where is Daniel Hamm? He's the track star, he's one of the fastest guys on the team. Let's see what he can do with the ball in his hands.
- Olamide Zaccheaus saw one pass for 3 yards. It was a short crossing route on 3rd and 9. You're telling me that somebody else couldn't have run that route. Only 2 true freshmen played, Zaccheaus and C.J. Stalker. We'll see if that continues after the pre-season talk of 6 or 7 true freshmen getting playing time. David Eldridge didn't play, which helps explain why there were no real deep passes attempted. Also helping to explain that is the lack of time in the pocket for Johns and, once again, Steve Fairchild.
- Seeing an early run for Vincent Croce be successful, I can't understand why the Hoos didn't go back to that. (OK, I can understand it, Fairchild...) Croce is a 260 pound FB. If there aren't any holes to run through, maybe a guy like Croce can make his own holes. Especially on short yardage, I'd love to see some more of those plays.
- Along those lines, I love what UCLA does on some short yardage/goalline plays. Using Eddie Vanderdoes as a big FB and Myles Jack as a bigger RB. The Hoos could do something similar. Andrew Brown is certainly athletic enough to be used as a FB in short yardage situations. Or even as a "Refrigerator" Perry type RB. If nothing else, it would be interesting. And Steve Fairchild hasn't done much that is interesting.
- Trent Corney is listed as a starter, because the Hoos started in a nickel. This was the first meaningful action Corney has gotten in his career. If somebody were to host a decathlon for all FBS players tomorrow, with no chance for training, I think Corney might win it. The lone sack the Hoos got was made by Corney, although David Dean got credit for the sack. Corney had a shot at Josh Rosen, but couldn't finish the play. Slotting Corney on defense was a huge mistake. Maybe the biggest mistake of the Mike London era, and that is saying something. Corney could be a Rob Gronkowski type mismatch at TE. Seriously. If you're an NFL scout of director and player personnel and you're reading this...first of all, thanks for reading...second of all, sign Corney. Throw him on your practice squad for a year while you teach him a little about getting off the line and running some basic pass routes. You'll thank me in the end.
- The nickel that the Hoos started the game in had 3 safeties (Blanding, Rainey and Wahee). UCLA started in a 3-WR set. The Hoos were surely looking run, but UCLA called a deep pass, which was almost successful. Certainly, you can't blame the Hoos for expecting a run with a true freshman QB on his first play. But this is just another case of the Hoos being out-coached. Had the Hoos been thinking deep pass, probably Tim Harris is on the field over Wil Wahee.
- On that deep ball, though Maurice Canady won't get credit for a pass defended, he made a great play by making up ground and getting in between the ball and the receiver and disrupting the play. Maybe Kenneth Walker would've dropped the pass anyway, I don't know. But certainly after Canady flashed in front of him, a catch was less likely. For anybody who says Canady isn't any good, and I saw somebody on our game thread say just that, you're wrong and this play was case in point. The Hoos DBs gave too big a cushion to the UCLA WRs, but this was scheme and not poor play on their part. Again, if you blitz the QB and don't get there, I don't care if you've got Darrell Revis, Deion Sanders and Charles Woodson in the secondary, you're gonna get beat. (Well, ok, if you've got peak Revis, Deion and Woodson against a college team, you're probably going to be ok.)