Thursday, May 31, 2007

Conservative Play Calling

It was a complaint you heard a lot last season, "The play calling is too conservative". It started as a whisper after the game against Rice, it became a loud conversation after the loss to Washington, and it was being shouted from the roof tops after the Bruins lost 4 in a row. It wasn't a pretty situation and Coach Sovboda was eventually fired because of it.

It is easy and common for fans to get upset and blame the coaches, and the play calling, when things go wrong. You hear fans from all schools do it and they do it more often as the losses pile up. Now that I have detailed statistics about the football teams in the PAC-10, I wanted to see if I could confirm or deny the belief that our play calling last year was too conservative. I think the answer will be enlightening.

In the Red Zone

In order to narrow down this topic, I decided to focus on red zone play calling. It seemed like the Bruins moved the ball pretty well last year between the 20's, but when they got into the red zone things would stall. We ended up kicking a lot of field goals, which I'm sure made Justin Medlock pretty happy, but it didn't sit well with the fans.

I ran my queries for all 10 teams in the conference. I figured that way I could get a pretty good comparison between UCLA and other schools. In particular, I wanted to see how the Bruins stacked up against the best offenses in the conference (USC, California, and Oregon) and the worst offenses (Stanford and Arizona).

How we define "conservative" is an important piece to this analysis. It is kind of subjective as each fan will have their own opinion of what the team should be doing. I figured I would go with a fairly simple definition. As the field shortens, it becomes more difficult to pass the ball, so I would say the conservative coach would run the ball more in the red zone than pass. I would also say going for it on 4th down is not something a conservative coach would attempt. Using those measurements as my standard, I crunched the numbers.

UCLA ran the ball 82 times in the red zone and passed it only 42 times. When you compare that to USC, it seems pretty conservative. The Trojans actually passed more in the red zone, 75 times to only 60 rushing attempts. At first I thought that was a pretty glaring difference, but if you look at other top offenses in the conference, like California, they had a similar ratio of passes to runs (2 runs for every 1 pass). Oregon falls in the middle between the pass happy Trojans and the run heavy Bruins and Bears. These numbers don't really give us a clear answer either way but it definitely doesn't point to UCLA being very aggressive in the red zone.

To further confirm that point, the Bruins converted 11 field goals (which ranks them first in the conference) when facing 4th down in the red zone. We only went for it once on 4th down. The Trojans, Bears, and Ducks did attempt to covert more 4th downs, but not many more. The Trojans were ultra aggressive with 5 attempts. Again, a clear answer doesn't seem to emerge from these numbers either.

Goal to Go

Since the red zone numbers were inconclusive, I narrowed the focus down even more, to just look at goal-line situations. I only looked at plays where the team faced 1st and goal-to-go and then analyzed the results. It was here that the numbers were very telling.

Again, determining what is considered "conservative" is a bit subjective. Here I decided that following the play calling pattern of run-run-pass would be a pretty conservative one. I looked at each down independently to see what was being executed.

In 1st and goal the Bruins ran the ball 17 times and only passed once. I was startled to see such a disparity in the numbers. No other team ran the ball more on first down. To make matters worse, the Bruins only averaged 1.3 yards per attempt; the only teams to average less yards per running attempt on 1st down were Stanford and Arizona. Despite the lack of results, the coaches continued to run the ball almost exclusively on 1st and goal.

On second down, things weren't that much better. The Bruins ran the ball 9 times and passed 6 times. We actually averaged less than one yard per running attempt on 2nd down, which ranked the Bruins 9th on the list. Sadly, the Bruins average 3.9 yards per passing attempt which put us 2nd. Instead of passing on second down, we were running, and getting nowhere.

Third downs were the exact opposite. We ran 4 times and passed 6 times. We averaged only 1.3 yards per pass attempt, again ranking us 9th on the list. On the four rushing attempts, we averaged 2 yards, which ranked us 2nd behind Oregon. Here we passed to little success when we could have been rushing for more yards.

It looks like the offense followed the run-run-pass pattern pretty consistently. When we followed that pattern, we gained very few yards. When we broke the pattern, we were one of the more successful teams in the conference. Unfortunately, last season we followed that conservative pattern far too often. So it should come as no surprise that the Bruins had the 3rd lowest TD percentage of all PAC-10 teams in goal-to-go situations.

When you compare these numbers to the more successful offenses in the conference, you'll see that they had a much more balanced attack in goal line situations. The Trojans ran a perfectly balanced 16 running plays and 16 passing plays in 1st and goal to go. California and Oregon ran the ball more on 1st down then USC but not with the same disparity as the Bruins.

There aren't a whole lot of plays in goal line situations, so the impact probably wasn't huge to the overall results of the team. However, the Bruins didn't capitalize on some golden opportunities to score touchdowns and the play calling was a big part of that.

You know what you know

Just to be perfectly fair, these numbers are only based on what plays were actually executed. In the modern college football offense, most plays come into the huddle with options to run or passs. The quarterback can also check-out of the called play and pick something new based on the defense he sees. We can never know exactly what was called on each play, but it seems reasonable to believe that the play executed was the same thing that came into the huddle the vast majority of the time.

Also, in the spirit of openness and honesty, this analysis is a bit superficial. It doesn't take into account the defensive formation or the specific game situation for each play. It could be possible, though highly unlikely, that running the ball 95% of the time on 1st and goal was the right decision based on what the defensive presented. Since I don't have that information, I can not be 100% certain.

That being said, I feel pretty confident in the analysis because other teams, like USC, used a markedly different mix of plays in similar situations and they played an almost identical schedule to UCLA. Personnel plays a role, and I'm sure that effected the offense strategy. But blaming the lack of scoring on the players doesn't explain why the Bruins were more successful when they diverted away from the conservative play calling mix.

Dorrell vs Svoboda

I'm sure the guys over at Bruins Nation and Dump Dorrell will be interested to know that when you perform this same analysis for the games where Dorrell had input (i.e. after the WSU game) and when just Svoboda was in charge (i.e. WSU and earlier) there is virtually no difference in the plays called. In fact, Dorrell was even more conservative, passing the ball only 26% of the time in the red zone to Svoboda's 39%. In goal line situations the team followed the run-run-pass pattern almost exclusively when Dorrell was helping call the shots.

What's interesting, and a bit counter intuitive, is that the offense actually did better after the WSU game (341 yards/gm) than before (321 yards/gm) even with tougher opponents. I think we can attribute that to Pat Cowan getting more comfortable and experienced in the offense and not the shift in offensive play calling.


So, summing all of these rambling up, it does look like the numbers confirm the feelings that many Bruin fans had last season. The play calling was fairly conservative in red zone situations and it became even more conservative (and often times very predictable) in goal-to-go situations. Hopefully new offensive coordinator Jay Norvell can change things up this year and give this offense a better chance at getting into the end zone.

(photo credit:
(photo credit: AP)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How do you know it is the off season?

You know it is the off season when SC football players start showing up on police blotters. The AP reported that Trojan safety Josh Pinkard was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of driving under the influence.

"We're looking into it, and we'll find out the details," Carroll said. "As usual, we'll handle it internally. We take this seriously, and we want to make sure we understand all of the circumstances."

Whats funny about that statement is that Carroll and the SC coaches now have a "usual" way of handling trouble with the law. Of course the "internal" punishment probably means that player will have to run a few laps or maybe not start a game (well, at least until the player he is backing up goes down with an injury).

There are also internet rumors circulating that USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava was involved in an altercation out in Hawii. The details aren't clear, but some posters stated that it was fight between Kaluka and a woman. It has been reported by GaryP over at WeAreSC that a police report has been filed but no charges have been brought, yet. Maybe Kaluka has been hanging out with Frostee Rucker recently.

Some posters on BRO had this account of the incident:

"An arrest warrant has been issued for USC Linebacker Kulaka Maiava. Maiava, according to several witnesses, trespassed onto the campus of Baldwin High School in Wailuku Tuesday and began a heated discussion with a 17 year old female student. Maiava, according to witnesses then assaulted the student causing a blackened eye, broken nose and forcing her to be hospitalized over night with a concussion. Maiava then assaulted the student's boyfriend who tried to intervene. Both students are scheduled to graduate later this week."

Looks like old Pete is running a tight ship, like usual.

Jeremy McGee Transfers

Rumors have been swirling around Bruin websites and message boards for the last few weeks that Jeremy McGee might transfer out of UCLA. Yesterday, the transfer was made official when Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron announced that McGee had accepted a scholarship offer.

"We are excited to have Jeremy McGee joining our program," said Orgeron, "He is from Louisiana, a state where we have recruited well. We welcome Jeremy and his family to ours."

McGee, who was a true freshman last year, saw playing time on special teams. He was assigned kick return duties near the end of the season. Jeremy, who originally was recruited to Westwood as a running back, was switched to corner during the fall camp after Michael Norris was injured, and then to wide receiver.

Jeremy recently returned home to New Orleans be with his family after the death of his mother. This will give him an opportunity to be closer to his father while he completes his college career. He will enroll at Ole Miss this July after completing his classes at UCLA.

We wish him all the best!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rivals 100

The rivals network released their top-100 players for 2008 today. A few Bruin commits made the list:

#43 Rahim Moore (S)
#90 EJ Woods (S)
#93 Kemonte Bateman (WR)

Moore and Woods are going to make a dynamic duo in the UCLA secondary for years to come. If Bateman gets his grades ironed out, he could also be a big impact player for the Bruins. A few other players that UCLA is actively recruiting also are in the top-100:

#11 Tyron Smith (OL)
#40 Blake Ayles (TE)

One of the recruiting experts on Rivals thinks that some other commits might find their way into the top-100 if they have big Senior seasons. Jeremy Crabtree had this to say about 3 other UCLA commits:

To me, Uona Kavienga might get overlooked a little bit because he doesn't play for one of the traditional powerhouses in Los Angeles. He also doesn't not have the physical measurements of some other linebackers in this year's class. I do know it's a very good crop of linebackers, so that makes it tough to compare him to some of the great ones like Nigel Bradham and Arthur Brown. Kavienga brings a tremendous amount of heart and desire to the table. There's a reason that a linebacker-rich school like Oklahoma hasn't given up recruiting him. The kid's a player, and he's one I think eventually will prove he's a top 100 player in the nation.

He also likes Datone Jones and Arron Hester. Some analysts think that that Hester and Anothony Dye are one the best corner combos in the west. When you add them to the mix with Woods and Moore, you can make a pretty good case that UCLA has one of the strongest groups of corners and safeties in the nation for 2008.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Arizona and ASU Statistics

I just uploaded new 2006 statistics for Arizona and Arizona State. I wasn't able to get data for all of their games and I think both teams are missing one or two. Anyways, still very interesting to see the information for the desert schools.

For Wildcat and Sun Devil fans coming to this blog for the first time, you may want to check out the statistics for USC and UCLA as well. Eventually all of UCLA's 2007 opponents, including the entire PAC-10, BYU, Utah, and Notre Dame will be available. You can always find the latest Bruin Roar Football Stats on the right-hand side of the blog.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Drew Olson - Week 7

Before getting to this weeks game against the Cologne Centurions, the AP put together a nice little article about Drew's time in Amsterdam. Drew faces an uphill battle when he gets back to Baltimore this fall. He'll have to compete with Troy Smith, the Heisman trophy winner from Ohio State, who the Ravens picked up in this year's draft.

"I've been watching what Drew's been doing in Amsterdam," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We think the time in Europe is going to serve him very well, and hopefully when he comes back we'll have a chance to see how it translates into what we're doing here."

Former UCLA quarterback, and current Ravens QB coach and Offensive Coordinator, Rick Neuheisel had this to say about Drew. "It's not all pretty with Drew. He's kind of a throwback to Billy Kilmer. His ball doesn't always spiral and it isn't always going to be gorgeous. But he's a winner, which is why we encouraged him to go to Europe - to prove once again that's what he is."

The coaches say there will be a competition for the backup spot on the roster, but I have a hard time believing they would cut their recent draft pick in favor of a free-agent who just spent time in the "minor" leagues of NFL Europa. If Drew doesn't make it at Baltimore, he may be able to find a spot on another team. Smart accurate quarterbacks are always good to have around. Drew is keeping a positive outlook and his latest blog entry is pretty upbeat about the whole thing.

Anyways, back to this weeks game. The Admirals got absolutely crushed by Cologne, scoring their only points in the 4th quarter after the outcome was no longer in doubt. Cologne has one of the best defenses in NFL Europa and they completely stifled Olson's offense.

Drew connected on 16 of 38 passes for 196 yards and 1 touchdown. Not a good effort, but the majority of the blame fell at the feet of his offensive line. The Admirals frequently used this weird spread formation with large splits between the big guys up front. They couldn't hang with Cologne's athletic defensive front and Drew was constantly under pressure. They had negative yards in the first quarter and it didn't get much better from there. Drew didn't complete his first pass until almost 4 minutes left in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Olson threw a lateral on a poorly-executed swing pass that ended up going over the running backs head and the ball was recovered by Centurion players deep in Amsterdam territory. He was fortunate that it only ended up in a field goal. Even when Drew was able to connect with his receivers, they would not get many yards or would turn the ball over on a fumble. He struggled with accuracy on longer routes and as Amsterdam fell further behind, the worse his attempts became. It was an all around ugly game.

It doesn't look like the Admirals are going to make the World Bowl game this year. So that means Drew only has three more weeks left in his season with Amsterdam. Next week he takes on the Rhein Fire.

Friday, May 25, 2007

On the Recruiting Trail

In the dog days of summer, between the Spring and Fall practices, the coaches hit the pavement to evaluate high school recruits from around the country. Lots of companies and organizations hold combines, which are like day camps, where the players are put through drills, evaluated, and measured seven different ways from Sunday. Dorrell and company have been visiting a number of these camps over the last few weeks and racking up some frequent flier miles in the process.

Scout reported that Coach Walker was at the Palo Alto Nike Camp to see some of the best talent in the West. That included uncommitted running back Covaughn Deboskie, who is a top target for the Bruins. Some UCLA commits also had a good showings at the the Nike camp, including linebacker Uona Kaveinga.

Dorrell and running backs coach Dino Babers were in Hawaii for the PIAA combine. UCLA has landed some great talent from the islands in recent years, including starting offensive guard Micah Kia and backup defensive end Dylan Rush. It would be great to get a pineapple pipeline of players coming into Westwood. We'll see if Dorrell extends any offers after he returns to the mainland. On a side note, I need to get a job where flying out to Hawaii for a week is considered "working".

With UCLA getting off to such a fast start with the 2008 class, the coaches can take their time and be selective in offering players scholarships. There are still no offensive lineman committed in that class, so I expect the coaches to target a few of the top prospects this summer. The Bruins will probably also take another running back or two and it looks like UCLA is in the running for Milton Knox and Deboskie.

Deboskie has received a lot of attention from Division-1 schools like Arizona, Cal, Florida, USC and, of course, UCLA. He has mentioned in an interview with that early playing time is a key factor in his decision making process.

"I may not go into a situation where I start, but I would like to get some playing time as a freshman," said Deboskie. "I want to be able to get some exposure as a freshman and get adjusted early.

With Markey leaving after this season, the Bruins will have an opening at the tail back position and Deboskie definitely has the talent to compete for playing time from day one. He also wants to play for a team with unity and chemistry, which the current Bruin squad has in abundance.

"I am looking for a team with a lot of unity," said Covaughn. "I want a team that plays hard together because those teams win a lot of games. I don't want to be on a team that is built around one player. When everyone starts up with all of the talk about this guy is an impact player and things like that, people get jealous."

Covaughn has said that he is looking to commit early and may make a decision before the football season starts. We'll have to wait and see if he decides to be a Bruin. It would be awesome to have Deboskie, Dean, and Carter in the backfield for 2008.

(Photo: Karl Dorrell, UCLA; Mark Banker, Oregon State; Dino Babers, UCLA. Credit: PIAA)
(Photo credit: )

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Statistics Feedback from SC and UCLA fans

After visiting a couple Trojan and Bruin message boards this week, I received a lot of good feedback from football fans of both schools. Here were some of the suggested additions to the Bruin Roar Football Statistics data:
  • "Efficiency numbers" and "Red Zone efficiency" from localbruin on BruinGold.
  • "Play calling by distance and down together" from tommytrojan1122 on WeAreSC.
  • "Points Per Possession/Minute" from WestsideUSCFan on WeAreSC.
  • "1st-10th play, etc performance" from Anonymous on BruinRoar.
I've already added some of those to the latest version of the reports. I'm going to see if I can add the others in the next couple of months. I came up with a few more ideas myself:
  • Special teams break downs for punts, kick-off returns, field goals, etc.
  • Play calling sequences for first 3 plays in a drive.
  • Scoring plays by distance.
  • Turnover break down on fumbles and interceptions.
  • Breakdown of drive length by number of plays, distance, and time-of-possession.
If you are itching for a statistic, even an ad-hoc query for something you are interested in knowing, drop me a comment on the blog and I'll see if I can help you out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ranking the Rankings

It is exactly 101 days until the start of the 2007 football season. That might seem like a long ways off, but it is never too early to start talking about pre-season rankings. Or maybe we should call these the pre-pre-season rankings. In any case, lots of publications have come out with their list of top-25 teams for 2007.

You might ask, "Who cares about such rankings?". Well, you should care. Rankings in college football mean a whole lot, especially if you are trying to get to an elite bowl game.

Of the 25 teams that started last season ranked in the AP Poll, 8 of those teams made a BCS bowl. That's a 33% chance of making it into an elite bowl game. Only 1 team from a BCS conference, Wake Forest, played their way into a BCS game after starting the season outside of the top-25. There are 65 teams from BCS conferences, so that means unranked teams had a 1.5% chance of making it. It doesn't take a mathematician to know that your chances go way up when starting the season ranked!

Here is what the experts are saying. Some of these rankings were written before Ben was named the starting quarterback by Coach Dorrell.

Sports Illustrated: #22
With a staggering 20 returning starters from the squad that stunned USC in last year's regular-season finale, the biggest mystery this spring has involved the quarterback race between incumbents Pat Cowan and Ben Olson. Both have struggled against UCLA's loaded defense.
Fox Sports: #9
Who will the quarterback be? The Pat Cowan/Ben Olson debate will be the big one this off-season. That's the only offensive issue with 10 starters returning. The defense loses Justin Hickman, but All-America end Bruce Davis comes back, along with nine other starters. The team's biggest loss is PK Justin Medlock.
Athlon Sports: #15
The arrival of DeWayne Walker from the NFL coaching ranks as defensive coordinator was just what the doctor ordered, bringing vast improvement on that side of the ball, and the top eight tacklers all return. End Bruce Davis is one of the best pass rushers in America, having registered 12.5 sacks (tied for fourth nationally) last season, and there are four battle-hardened performers at the tackle positions, including starters Kevin Brown and Brigham Harwell.
Lindy's Sports Annual: #22
This is UCLA’s time. Nine of the defensive starters are seniors. Seven offensive starters are seniors. If the Bruins could be trusted to be more consistent, the ranking would be even higher.

Here are some other online publications ranking the Bruins: #6
College Football News: #9 #15
ESPN: #23
Rivals: Unranked

It looks like the Bruins will end up somewhere in the high-teens, low-twenties. That's not a bad starting spot. The relatively easy early schedule should allow the Bruins an opportunity to move close to the top-10 before starting the more difficult part of the schedule. I think the first big test will come September 29th when our boys head up to Corvallis to play the Beavers.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Williams ends Football Career

Jill Painter is reporting on Dohn's blog that running back Derrick Williams is ending his career as a UCLA football player. Williams has had a lot of concussions over the last two years and this wasn't entirely unexpected. He suffered his latest injury during a spring practice and had a number doctors examine him. I think this is the right decision because you don't want to mess around with concussions. The more you have them the more likely you are to get them in the future and cause permanent damage.

This opens up the running back rotation and I think incoming freshman Raymond Carter will definitely see some more minutes this fall. Williams was the fastest back on the roster last season and Carter, who runs track at Crenshaw, will now be the only speedster in the bunch.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I've always loved numbers and statistics. Especially when you apply them to football. There is something gratifying about being able to distill a football game down into a nice little table of data. Maybe I'm weird like that, but I know there are others out there who feel the same way.

One problem I've had over the years is that there just isn't a lot of good statistical data out there for college football. It is either high level stuff like total yards and touchdowns or it is meaningless splits that break down the yards into ridiculous categories like turf type ( My team wins more games on Bermuda!). After years of searching for something better, I decided it was time to create something myself.

Over the last month, I have been working on a computer program that collects play by play data for games, parses out the details, and then saves that information into a database. I can then slice and dice the numbers to my hearts content to find out all kinds of interesting statistics about games, teams, and entire conferences. It is still in the early phases, but I thought I would share some of the results of my work with everyone.

I'm working on generating some reports from the data and I'll be refining those over the summer. I'm looking for feedback on what types of statistics and queries you would like to see in the reports, so after you view them drop me a comment. I'll also be posting around on some message boards looking for feedback. I'll post blog entries as I load more teams, but you can always find the latest updates on the right-hand side of the website under the new Bruin Roar Football Statistics section.

For now, I've loaded all the games for UCLA from 2005 and 2006. I've also loaded in data for USC from 2006 as a comparison. My plan is to load all of the games from last season, for all of the teams we play in 2007, into the database. If I get a positive response from readers then I'll continue to post new reports, for that weeks game, during the season. I think it will definitely be a big resource for you arm-chair analysts out there.

Technical Details

For those of you interested in how the program works, please read on. If you find such computer-speak boring then you may want to check out now.

The program is written primarily in Java. I use the Apache Commons HTTP Client for retrieving the web pages with the play by play data. I then do a screen-scrap of the page and pull out just the play descriptions. Parsing the details of the play data isn't technically difficult but it did take up the most effort.

There are lots of subtle differences in the way plays are described, so finding every possible combination, and reliably extracting that information, has proven to be challenging. I also have to validate the results, as sometimes the original data is just flat out wrong. I try and fix what I can, but it is hard to catch everything as there are over 2,000 plays in a season for a typical team. The good news is that the data is probably 95% correct, so a few misclassified plays one way or the other wont impact the overall numbers much.

Once I have the data parsed, I store it into a pretty simple object structure in memory. I use Velocity to extract the object data out into different file formats. The main format is a set of SQL statements for inserting the information into a local MySQL database. I put everything into a single de-normalized table, just to make the report generation as quick and simple as possible.

To create the reports, I use a local instance of Tomcat running some JSP pages. I have another Java program that loops through all the teams and games, passes those as parameters to the JSP pages, and then saves off the HTML generated. Finally, I run a script that FTPs all the HTML documents to the web server and, viola, you have the reports.

To run the whole thing for one team, for one season, takes less than 5 minutes. There are still a few manual processes in there, but I'm trying to automate the entire thing. I'm still tracking down bugs and refining the program, but I'm pretty happy with the way it works.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Drew Olson - Week 6

In one of those weird scheduling quirks, Drew Olson and the Admirals played Hamburg again this week. Last week, Drew had just an awful game. He missed on his first 5 passes and then threw a nasty pick-6. To make matters worse, he got injured and missed almost the entire game.

In the rematch this week, things could not have gone any better. The first series or two stalled on some penalties, but after that the Admiral were rocking. Drew had, by far, the best game in his professional career. He connected for 3 touchdown passes and even ran one in himself. He had a total of 308 passing yards in a brilliant effort.

The Admirals finally put together a complete offensive game. The running back, Smith, had 4 touchdowns (two of those were passes from Drew) and the offensive line was dominant up front. Drew looked very comfortable and I think he is finally getting back some of that confidence he had his Senior year at UCLA. Hopefully Drew can keep the momentum going for the rest of the season.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Was our Defense Good Last Year?

This is a topic I've seen discussed numerous times on different message boards over the last few months. Was the 2006 edition of UCLA's defense good or was it just smoke and mirrors? Some will point to the SC game as proof positive that the defense was great last season. Holding the #2 team in the country to 9 points (only 7 on offense) was quite an accomplishment. If you consider that the Bruins were the first team since 2001 to hold a Trojan squad to less than 20 points in a game then it makes that defensive effort all the more impressive. Others will point to UCLA's 7-6 record and some pretty bad defeats (Florida State, California, and WSU) as proof that the defense wasn't good for the entire season. So, was our defense good last year? I think the answer is a resounding yes! The exciting part is that they will be even better this season.

UCLA's defense under Dewayne Walker utilizes an aggressive, blitzing style of attack. He often leaves his corners on islands with little or no help and focuses on pressuring the quarterback and stopping the other team's rushing game. That play calling philosophy made the Bruin defense outstanding against the run. Walker's defense was ranked 1st in the conference and 9th nationally, last season, in rushing defense.

The downside to the strategy is that it can give up big plays, especially on long passes when the receiver gets behind the DB. If you count up the number of our opponents' plays that went for more than 20-yards, there is a direct correlation to Bruin defeats. Teams that had four or more plays in that category beat the Bruins: FSU (9), Oregon(6), WSU(5), Notre Dame(5), Cal(4), and UW(4). Teams that had four or fewer plays in that category ended the day with a loss: Utah(4), Rice(3), Arizona(3), USC (2), ASU (2), Stanford (1), Oregon State (1). Walker basically utilized the opposite philosophy of former defensive coordinator, Larry Kerr. You could call it a "Break don't bend" defense. With four Seniors in the secondary this season, expect the number of big plays to go down and the number of wins to go up.

Walker also works under the principle that the "sum is greater than the parts". He believes that solid fundamentals, team tackling, and great schemes can make up for any athletic deficiencies on a defense. I think he was proven right last year. He took a group of players that few expected to succeed and turned them into the 2nd best defense in the conference. Considering where this squad was in 2005, you have to view the improvement nothing short of miraculous.

The Good

These games were absolutely brilliant from a defensive standpoint. Not all of them were victories, but the blame for those defeats cannot be laid at the feet of the defense. It was these games that solidified UCLA's reputation as a stingy defense that could carry the team.

Stanford. It doesn't get much better than a shutout. That's exactly what the Bruin defense put together at the Rose Bowl on that fine Saturday. The defense even managed to score two touchdowns, one on a blocked punt and the other on a fumble recovery. The Cardinal was in the dumps this last season, it is true. But the Bruins were one of only two teams to hold them to zero points and the only team to shutout the Cardinal when Trent Edwards was in the lineup.

Arizona. Sure, the Cats were struggling when they played UCLA. But we dominated them for most of the game, including holding them to a total of -22 rushing yards. Holding a team to negative rushing yards is very, very difficult, so you have to be impressed. The defense also had as many touchdowns as the Wild Cats offense. Arizona fished the year with victories over WSU, Cal , and Oregon and just missed out on a bowl bid.

Arizona State . The Sun Devils had an up and down year, but they did make the Hawii Bowl. They put up 47 points on Washington State the week before playing the Bruins. We held them to 12 points on their home turf.

Utah . The Utes finished 2007 at 8-5 with a win in the Armed Forces Bowl. They were not a top-tier team, but they had some good players on offense. UCLA blanked them in the 2nd half and the Bruin defense had almost as many points (6) as the Utah offense (10).

Notre Dame. We lost this game, but we were 1 minute, and one big play, away from holding the Irish to 13 points in South Bend . It was a masterful effort by Walker and company that included numerous sacks of Quinn. This game had a lot of 3-and-outs by the Bruin offense that left the defense on the field for a big chunk of the 2nd half. Notre Dame finished 2006 with 10 wins and an invitation to the Sugar Bowl.

Oregon State. This was a 10-win team including a Sun Bowl victory. They had won the four games prior to playing the Bruins with victories over SC and Arizona State. They also won the four games after playing UCLA including victories over Hawaii , Oregon , and Missouri . The Beaver's offense average 28 points a game; we held them to 7.

USC. Obviously the best effort all season and a big win against a top-5 team. UCLA was the first team in 5 years to hold the Trojans to under 20 points. The defense gave up one TD in four quarters and held SC to negative rushing yards in the 2nd half. The defensive accomplishment in this game cannot be overstated enough. SC has had let-down games before, but still managed to find ways to score and win. UCLA completely suffocated them all day long.

The Bad

These two games were just poor defensive efforts all around. Definitely the low point in the season.

Washington State. Not much to say about this game. The Bruins were coming off of the Notre Dame loss. The corners just got burned a number of times and there was almost no pressure on the quarterback. The Bruins actually held the lead at halftime but things quickly fell apart in the second half. A total emotional let down game after the last minute defeat the prior week.

California. The Bears were too much for the Bruins. Like the WSU game, the Bruins kept things close in the first half but things got away in the 3rd quarter. I think Walker was too conservative with his play calling as he was trying to protect his corners. The silver lining is that he put together three brilliant defensive efforts in the next three games and returned to his aggressive blitzing style.

The Ugly

These games ended up with some ugly numbers in the box score that made our defense look bad. However, there were definitely some extraneous circumstances that spoiled an otherwise good defensive effort.

Rice. We ended up beating the Owls, but the game was far too close considering the caliber of players on that team. Don't get me wrong, Rice wasn't all bad, they did make a Bowl game this past season. But UCLA had far superior talent and should have won easily. When you break down the game, Rice only had 184 yards with 124 of those yards coming on three big plays. Almost all their attempts were stopped for losses or short gains with 41 rushing plays going for 3 yards or less.

Oregon. Walker got straight up out coached for one quarter. He even admitted it after the game. The Bruins gave up three quick touchdowns, but after that they put the clamp on the Duck's offense holding them to 10 points over the next 3 quarters. This was a tough road game in a very hostile stadium. I think the results would have been radically different if the boys played this game in Pasadena.

Washington. The Huskies spent the better part of the first half going backwards. I don't think they even had a positive yard until near the end of the 2nd quarter. Ben Olson and the offense went into a coma for the 2nd half and left the defense on the field for far too long. Eventually, Stanback found his legs and was almost impossible to contain. What started out as a blow-out victory by the Bruins ended in defeat.

Florida State . The Florida State loss wasn't entirely on the defense. They actually played well for most of the game. It was a blocked punt, a pick-6, and a fumble inside the 20 (which lead to a FSU touchdown) that accounted for 21 of FSU's 44 points. UCLA lead for the better part of the game and held the advantage going into the fourth quarter. The Noles' offense wasn't the best in the country but they had a ton of talent on that team. They finally put all the pieces together for the Emerald Bowl and it ended up being too much for our guys.

Looking forward to 2007

In 2005, UCLA had the 113th ranked defense in the country and 9th in the PAC-10. The team only had 25 sacks, 8 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Coming into the 2006 season, we had to replace 3 starting senior linebackers ( Walker , Havner, and London), a starting defensive back (Cassell), and a starting safety (Page). We also had a new defensive coordinator and a lot of new position coaches. That's not exactly starting from a position of strength and few thought the defense could improve enough to be at the top of the conference.

At the end of 2006, we had 40 sacks, 13 interceptions, and 3 fumble recoveries. The team was ranked the 35th defense in the country (a 78 spot improvement) and 2nd in the conference. Coming into the 2007 season, we return 10 starters (most of whom will be Seniors). The team is in their second year under Walker and they can probably spend less time working on fundamentals and more time on the finer points of the game.

I'm very excited to see what this defense will accomplish next season. They had a few up-and-down games last year, but they made huge strives toward becoming one of the best defensive units in the country. With Walker building on his prior accomplishments, this team will be a terror on the field and I expect them to have an outstanding season.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Blast From the Past

I came across a link to these digital images while reading Scott Wolf's Trojan blog of all things. The UCLA library has made available a ton of images from the 1920's - 1990's. There are some great pictures in there of UCLA football games. Here are some of the best. If you click the image you'll see it in it's full size.

Stanford vs UCLA football game, 1986

UCLA quarterback John Sciarra during Cal game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, 1975

Eric Ball during Iowa Hawkeyes football game, 1986

Drew Olson - Week 5

Here is how you know you're having a bad day as a quarterback. Your first five passes are incomplete and your 6th attempt is tipped, intercepted, and returned 30 yards for a touchdown. Just to add injury to insult, you suffer a bruise to your calf and have to sit out the rest of the game while your understudy almost leads your team to a thrilling come-from-behind victory.

That about sums up the day Drew Olson had against the Hamburg Sea Devils this past Sunday. Drew finished the day with a dismal 2 of 7 with 1 INT. We'll have to wait and see if his leg injury is bad enough for him to miss any more games. He injured the other leg, not the one he broke while at UCLA, so hopefully it isn't something serious.

In one of those weird cosmic twists-of-fate, Drew's backup for the game was Corey Bramlet. Bramlet was the quarterback for the Wyoming Cowboys when Drew broke his leg back in 2004 in that gawd awful Las Vegas Bowl. Just to make things even weirder, Corey faced off against his older brother Casey who was the starting QB for Hamburg.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

2008 Recruiting off to a Fast Start

The recruiting season has been in full swing for the last 3 months and the Bruins have been racking up an impressive list of commitments. UCLA's 14 commitments are the most in the conference at this point. In fact, the other nine PAC-10 teams have a combined 20 recruits, so the Bruins have been gaining commitments at a blistering pace. Of course, how you finish the recruiting season is more important than how you start; but it is great to see Dorrell and company landing some good recruits early in the year.

“I’d say this is by far the fastest start Dorrell’s got at UCLA,” said Brandon Huffman, the West regional analyst for “This is one of the best starts UCLA’s had in probably a decade.”

This class is very pivotal to the future of UCLA football. Every year recruiting is important, but more so for this group of players. The 2008 season represents a changing of the guard for the program as 30 Seniors ( 18 of whom are starters) will be leaving the program after this year. The Bruins will have openings at almost every position and recruits from this class will probably be asked to fill many of them. Usually very few true freshman see significant minutes, but I think we'll see a lot of these guys in the two-deep if not the starting lineup by the end of next season.


Eric Scott, the new wide receiver coach, has been drawing in some great players for 2008. Scott has a lot of connections to inner-city L.A. schools and he is using his influence to bring in some great players on both sides of the ball. New offensive coordinator and QB coach Jay Norvell has also landed his first recruit for the Bruins and the first quarterback for a PAC-10 team.

Aundre Dean (RB) leads the list on the offensive side of the ball. Landing Dean was a bit of a surprise to many Bruin fans. He lives in Katy Texas which is outside of UCLA's primary recruiting area. At first Dean had given an oral commitment to the Texas A&M Aggies, but an unofficial visit to Westwood changed his mind. Dean is now committed to playing for the Bruins.

Dean is tall and slim as a junior, but he will probably pack on another 15-20 lbs of muscle before stepping onto Spalding field. He reminds me of DeShaun Foster as he runs with a lot of power. He will have Carter and Bell ahead of him his Freshman year, but he could play his way into some minutes each week.

Kemonte Bateman (WR) is the latest star player from UCLA's Crenshaw pipeline. He has been tearing it up at the combines this summer and putting up some very impressive numbers. With a mass exodus of receivers after this season, Bateman could definitely find his way into the starting rotation. He has a few academic issues he needs to clear-up, but if he takes care of business he should be in the blue and gold next year.

Nick Crissman (QB) is the only quarterback so far to commit to a PAC-10 school. The coaching staff took a long time in deciding which south land quarterbacks to offer and Crissman got the nod. He is a pro-style QB, who is very smart and an accurate passer. Those are definitely two skills crucial for UCLA's complex west-coast offense. Crissman doesn't strike me as a player who will start for a few years. He will have Ben/Pat ahead of him in 2008 and Chris Forcier as a red-shirt freshman waiting in the wings.

Rounding out the other offensive commitments are Antwon Moutra (WR) and Jerry Johnson (WR). Both look like solid players but neither has really stood out as future impact players at this point. We'll see what they can do during their Senior seasons.


It is not a coincidence that the best players to commit this year are on defense and in the secondary. Dewayne Walker has been hard at work on the recruiting path; it turns out Walker is not only a great defensive coordinator and secondary coach, but also a very good recruiter as well. Many considered him a key reason why the Bruins landed Brian Price last season and why Carter and Price stuck with UCLA even when they were getting a lot of pressure from Pete Carroll.

Rahim Moore (S), a Dorsey safety, is definitely the highlight of the recruiting class so far. Moore has been ranked as one of the top-10 players in the west for 2008 and he will likely be a 5-star recruit when the final rankings come out this fall.

He continues to get offers from BCS schools including Auburn, USC, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, and Nebraska. There have been reports that Pete Carroll is still aggressively pursuing Moore. I'm sure one of Walker's primary goals this recruiting season is to make sure the Bruins stay on top of Rahim's list. Moore said that the hiring of receivers coach Eric Scott sold him on UCLA. Moore's Dorsey team played against Scott, who used to be the offensive coordinator at Crenshaw.

E.J. Woods (S) of Crespi Carmelite is another standout player who will join Moore in the secondary in 2008. He is also being pursued by some big schools like Michigan and California. He committed on the same day as Rahim and the two will be a deadly duo in the UCLA defense for years to come. With the departure of Keyes and Horton after this season, Brett Locket will be the only experienced safety available. I think either Woods or Moore could start early for the Bruins.

Damien Holmes (DE) and Datone Jones (DE) are two stellar defensive lineman that committed early in March. I'm sure the success of Davis and Hickman this last season under Walker's tutelage was a key reason these two decided to commit to UCLA. Holmes is a lot like Davis, a bit small but very fast and athletic with great pass rushing instincts. Jones is a highly recruited end from Compton High School. He has received offers from USC, Notre Dame, Nebraska and a number of PAC-10 schools. Jones is also small for the end position, but he has a large frame and will undoubtedly add some weight and muscle before coming to Westwood.

Uona Kaveinga (LB) has been pursued aggressively by BYU, but the standout linebacker from Arizona has not wavered from his desire to be a Bruin. He is a bruising linebacker who is extremely aggressive and loves to take off the ball carrier's head. Uona has great size already as a Junior and he should come in and compete for playing time right away.

Patrick Larimore (LB) is a an unheralded linebacker from Hart high school. He racked up a ton of tackles last season and he has a great instinct for finding the ball. He has good size and good speed. Since the Bruins have been undersized at the linebacker spot for years, I think Patrick will stand out early. He should have a great Senior year at Hart and I expect his stock to rise a lot this year.

Aaron Hester
(CB) and Anthony Dye (CB) are two quality defensive backs to add to the star-studded secondary. Hester is a bit undersized but he has some good speed and could even play wide receiver. Dye is also a bit small for a corner, but he is very tough. He played a lot of hockey growing up and even participated in some youth hockey tournaments. You got to love a guy who brings the mental toughness and agility of a hockey player to the gridiron.

Johnathan Franklin
(S) is fellow teammate of Rahim Moore at Dorsey. While not as talented as Moore, Franklin is a solid recruit that will help add depth to a secondary that will be full of new faces and inexperienced players in 2008.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Will Bushgate Ever End?

The short answer is no.

At least that's the impression I got from reading Michael Silver's latest article on Sports Illustrated. Silver offers up a hypothetical change in policy that the NCAA can use to force Bush into testifying on the case. While an interesting proposition, there is no chance it will be adopted. What I found more interesting were some comments he received from one of the investigators.

Silver interviewed Pac-10 associate commissioner Ron Barker for his article. What few people remember is that there are actually two investigations underway. Besides the NCAA, the conference is also investigating the Bush family antics, and Barker is leading that investigation. When asked about the status of things, Barker had this to say:

"This case is a long, long way from being over. There is a lot of information being gathered that I can't speak about. We've had some interesting things happen in the last two weeks that have put some new life into this."

It has been over 7 months since the release of the original Yahoo Article that started the entire controversy. If Baker is saying that they are still a long, long way from finishing their investigation then what time frame are we walking about? One year? Two years? More!?! Yahoo took 8 months to collect a mountain of evidence. If even half of that evidence holds up then that should be more than enough to find that Bush and family violated NCAA rules concearning illegal benefits. I'm not sure what evidence the Pac-10 has collected to date, but if that isn't enough to come to a conclusion then I wonder what will.

The second part of Baker's comments seem to shed some hope that the investigation is still moving forward. That's what I thought the first time I read them, but when I read them again, it made me even more skeptical that the investigation will end anytime soon. I'm not sure what events have sparked new life into the investigation, but two weeks ago the Pac-10 investigation was all but dead. I'm sure two weeks from now it will be dead again. Maybe that is because of a lack of cooperation from the parties but I also think it comes from a lack of will. I don't think the conference or the NCAA is really pursuing this case with much vigor.

When asked what is delaying the investigation, Baker said it was because he couldn't get anyone to speak to him.

"This is the first time I've encountered anything like this, where all parties -- even those who've turned against each other -- have not cooperated with an investigation," Barker said. "I've never had a problem getting the information in the past."

Even if the parties won't talk to Barker directly, there are these alleged audio tapes that Bush's wannabe agent Michaels said he recorded. Who knows if those tapes even exist or if they will surface sometime in the future but they might be enough to convince the investigators of foul play. But with Michaels settling his lawsuit with Bush and part of that settlement being a non-disclosure clause, I think that is pretty much a dead-end. Ultimately, Bush has bought Michaels' silence and there isn't anything the NCAA can do about it.

At the end of the day, there doesn't seem to be much hope that anything will come from this investigation. Since nobody is talking and the conference and the NCAA don't seem highly motivated to push it forward, I think we'll never see a satisfying resolution. It is sad too, because Bush is basically making a mockery of the NCAA. What we've learned from this is that a player can receive illegal benefits and as long as nobody finds out about it until after he leaves school then he can get away with it.

Bruin Rewind of Spring Game

There is a Bruin Rewind on tonight of the spring game. It should play as a defensive highlight reel. It's great that FSN puts together replays of scrimmages. If you weren't able to attend the game then this is your opportunity to check it out.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Focus on Football

So my blog is almost 3 weeks old! I'm still working on the format and the look and feel of the site. My goal is to have the title graphics and everything finished before the month is over. I'm also spending some time on a computer program that generates some very interesting football statistics. I'll be posting more about that this summer.

Today I decided that I would keep this site primarily focused on UCLA football. I still love basketball, but my heart and passion have always been on the gridiron. I'll occasionally post on basketball topics but I think keeping this a UCLA football blog will mean much better content for the readers. Besides, there are already a lot of great Bruin Basketball blogs.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Drew Olson - Week 4

Another week and another up-and-down game for Drew. He just can't seem to put together an entire game and this week against Frankfurt was no exception. He's going to have to perform for four quarters if he wants to see playing time on Sundays back in the States.

Drew looked masterful in the first half. He connected on most of his passes, including a long bombs to his favorite target Skyler Fulton. Olson also rattled off a 12-yard scramble on a 3rd-and-10 that kept a crucial drive alive. His team was rolling and Drew hit two TD passes to give the Admirals a 19 - 0 lead (they missed 2 extra-points). The running game for Amsterdam was much better this week and that relieved some of the pressure on Drew and gave him a legitimate play-action pass in that first half.

It looked like Drew might get a 3rd TD pass in the 2nd quarter but he got picked with a few minutes left. It was a very similar situation to the first game Amsterdam played against Frankfurt. Drew just under threw a pass near the end zone and it ended up in a Galaxy player's hands.

The 2nd half continued where the first left off. Drew was struggling and the Admirals had a number of 3-and-outs. Olson also threw another interception deep in his own territory that could have cost Amsterdam the game. His team managed to hold on to the lead (just barely) and squeaked out the win. Not a great way to finish the game, considering the very hot start. Olson finished 16-32, 2 TD, and 2 INT.

In my opinion Drew needs to work on getting rid of the ball more. It seems like he is trying to force the ball on every play and that is accounting for the high number of interceptions he has for the season. His arm strength just isn't there as he almost always under throws players on longer routes and he has a hard time with placing the ball on passes over 20 yards. He's putting up decent numbers considering he doesn't have a lot of help around him, but consistency is definitely a big issue right now.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

QB Nick Crissman commits

Nick Crissman received an offer from Karl Dorrell on Friday and the Edison quarterback wasted no time in making a verbal commitment to the Bruins. Bruin Blitz reported that offensive coordinator Jay Norvell went out and visited the high schools' of several of the area's top quarterbacks this week. The coaches spent weeks researching which local quarterbacks to offer and Crissman was high on the list

Earlier this year, Karl Dorrell said he would like to take just one quarterback each recruiting season. With such a large class in 2008, we'll have to wait and see if he sticks with that plan. Crissman, who is a 6'3" 200 lbs pro-style QB, looks to be a solid pickup for Norvell and Dorrell.

Nick had a breakout season as a Junior and it earned him a spot on the All-Orange County 2nd team as well as Offensive Back of the Year honors in the Sunset Leaue. His OCVarsity profile records Crissman racking up some great numbers last year. 3015 yards, 27 TD, 11 INT, 231-367 (63%). Crissman also made Rivals 250 to watch list for next season.

Here is a video of the Edison and Servite game last year. You can watch Nick in action.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Eight in a Row

Ahhh... the 90's. Interns were still working in the White House, rock was grungy, and Al Gore was busy inventing the internet. The Bruins were also compiling a series-record eight consecutive victories over their cross-town rivals. Thanks to the awesomeness that is YouTube, you can re-live those glorious years in nice little 10 minute intervals.

1992. One of the great stories in the rivalry was that of walk-on quarterback John Barnes. He spent the beginning of his career bouncing around between colleges and finally ended up at UCSB, only to have the football program canceled after one season. For his senior year, he transfered to Westwood and walked onto the football team. He was buried deep in the depth chart but through injury and opportunity, he was named the starting quarterback for the SC game. He lead the Bruins to a thrilling 38-37 victory that started the streak.

1993. Sorry, there I can't seem to find a video for this one.

1994. The Bruin's swarming defense was all over Johnson sacking him 6 times as they hold the Trojans to only 19 points. JJ Stokes makes some spectacular catches in this one and the Bruins roll 31 - 19.

1995. Cade McNown makes his freshman debut at the Coliseum. The Bruins take an early lead but the Trojan make it a close finish.

1996. Probably one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the series. The Trojans jump out to a quick 17-point lead. McNown and the Bruins trail the entire game and face a 17-point deficit when they get the ball in the 4th quarter. After two drives resulting in 10 points, the Bruin defense gets a fortunate fumble with a few minutes left. They charge down the field and tie the game with only 40 seconds left. Two overtimes later, the Bruins pull out the come-from-behind victory much to the delight of the Rose Bowl crowd.

1997. The Bruins find themselves in the middle of another streak in '97. After losing the first two games of the season, the Bruin were riding an 8 game winning streak when they paid a visit to the Coliseum. They take out the Trojans 31 to 24.

1998. DeShaun Foster joins in on the fun as Cade and Company took the nation's longest winning streak and a #3 ranking into the game. Foster knocked off two TD runs and the Bruins cap off the 8th consecutive win in the series.

The next 7 games would go Troy's way, but they couldn't match the 8 game streak the Bruins compiled in the 90's. It was truly a great time to be a UCLA fan.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

NFL Draft

I didn't watch much of the NFL draft this year. The experts thought that only two Bruins had a chance at going during the two day event. So there wasn't a whole lot of motivation for me to sit through the hours and hours of TV coverage.

In the end, only Justin Medlock got drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 5th round. That sounds late but specialists tend to go late in the draft. Justin was actually the first kicker selected this year. I watched him at this all-star challenge a few months back. Medlock was definitely the best field-goal kicker there. He was the most accurate and also boomed in a 50-yarder.

There was talk that Justin Hickman might have been drafted in the 6th or 7th round, but he slipped through undrafted. Even though he lead the Bruins (and the PAC-10) in sacks last year, Justin is a bit undersized for the NFL. He'll probably end up playing outside linebacker in the pros.

When the draft is over, all the free agents sign. Willis signed with the Baltimore Ravens and Hickman has a contract with the Redskins. Brian Dohn reported on his blog that Junior Taylor was close to a deal with the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.

Taylor has been trying to overcome another knee injury he suffered at an all-star game this January. The worst part is that he actually got hurt during the practice and never even played in the game. Dohn has a great article about Taylor's desire to make the NFL and how he has been fighting depression from being stuck in a bed for months. I sure hope Junior gets another chance to play football; he deserves it.