Mid-Game Mistakes Doomed the Bruins
For UCLA, the saddest part about its 31-29 loss to Washington State on Saturday was not the Bruins’ lackluster effort at the start when they fell behind, 7-0, 18 seconds into the game.
It was UCLA’s poor performance after Brigham Harwell’s fumble recovery in the end zone tied the score, at 7-7, midway through the first quarter.
By then, the Bruins knew they had their hands full with the Cougars, but instead of playing focused football, they continued making fundamental mistakes until they trailed, 31-16, early in the fourth quarter.
“All of the preparation and the mind-set going into this football game was about as good as it’s ever been,” said Coach Karl Dorrell about his team, which gave up 506 yards of total offense and did not score touchdown on offense until the fourth quarter. “We just weren’t playing well at the beginning of the game.”
Although the Bruins performed better in the second half, they still missed too many tackles for a team that needs one more victory to become bowl eligible with games against Oregon and USC. That was evident on a key play in Washington State’s final scoring drive, which began late in the third quarter.
With the Cougars ahead, 24-16, and pinned deep in their own territory, the Bruins hurt themselves with a series of arm tackles on a 56-yard pass play from Alex Brink to Jason Hill.
Before the play, Brink, a redshirt freshman, noticed a zone blitz call made by the Bruins and audibled to a quick slant pass to Hill. With UCLA rushing linebacker Wesley Walker from the right side while dropping end Bruce Davis on the left, Brink completed a pass to Hill at the Washington State 27-yard line.
But instead of being tackled after the catch by one of the three UCLA defenders near him, Hill avoided major contact and advanced the ball to the Bruins’ 27. Six different players had a chance to tackle Hill with two Bruins having two attempts before he was stopped. Three plays later, Washington State scored.
“You always preach that tackling is 90% desire and 10% technique,” defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said. “I know the guys have the desire to do it. But I felt that we fell off tackles and left our feet too much.”
Quarterback Drew Olson did not have one of his better games Saturday, but finished strong by completing seven of 14 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Even as Olson struggled, Dorrell did not come close to replacing him with junior college transfer David Koral. “We didn’t think a lot of the issues were necessarily his fault,” Dorrell said of Olson, who has thrown 13 touchdowns and five interceptions in his last five games.
Offensive coordinator Tom Cable said Olson was simply part of a unit that in the first half had “pretty similar” problems. “We were just out there doing nothing,” said Cable, who added that the thought of replacing Olson “never came up.” “It was more of an issue,” Cable said, “of getting the guys motivated to go out and get a bowl game.”