Are we at the point where we should expect better?
After miserable football for the past three seasons, I suppose that I shouldn’t get too worked up about Saturdays 28-25 loss to UCLA. I guess that I should look at a three-point conference loss and just say “Ah, well, at least is wasn’t a blowout.”
Then again, I feel like that we’re beyond that.
At what point should we expect this team to perform better? I know that there’s been a talent gap in the past, and there’s been a size gap, and there’s been an overall personnel gap, but are we not now at the point that those things have come even? If so, then what’s the excuse for losing a game the way the Cougs did on Saturday?
I know the knee-jerk answer is “Jeff Tuel”, but I’m taking him out of the conversation.
The problem that we saw against UCLA is the same problem that we’ve seen time and again — a defense that is not up to par and an offense that is good, but not good enough to keep the Cougs in the game against an offense with a pulse.
As a fan, this is disappointing. Very disappointing. I’m not one of those who expected a lot of wins this season, or even the six required for bowl eligibility, but when I see the Cougs get in to the red zone three times (really four if you count the series after the gifted penalty) in the first half and come away with no TDs, it’s maddening. It’s not like UCLA’s red zone defense is good. Or even decent. In fact, before Saturday’s Herculean performance, the Bruins allowed teams to score TDs in 66 percent of their trips to the red zone.
I’m not sure what happened to the game plan when they arrived within the 20, but it turned in to some circus of plays that took too long to develop and were routinely crushed by UCLA linemen. I know that in year’s past, the red zone was pretty foreign territory to the Cougs, but this season there shouldn’t be any reason for confusion.
My big concern coming in to this game was not the red zone offense. It was the defense wearing down as time went on. As much as I love to celebrate being correct, I’d happily accept error in this case. Unfortunately I was spot on . The Cougar D looked great in the first quarter, allowing only 12 total yards and forcing two punts. Unfortunately, they only forced two more punts the rest of the game.
The D-line got little penetration once again, failing to sack either Bruin QB once in the game, or register a tackle for loss. The Cougs got only three in the game. Alex Hoffman-Ellis was the bright spot again and led all tacklers with seven and one for a loss and was, as usual, involved in just about every play. The secondary gave up 201 yards in the air, which isn’t that much, but is a little problematic when you consider that the Bruins only threw the ball 20 times (with 12 completions, that’s 16.75 yards per completion).
This all leads to big concerns as the schedule cranks it up a notch and the conference’s power offenses still lay ahead, starting with No. 5 Stanford on Saturday. Currently, the pass defense is giving up 227.8 yards per game (72nd in the nation), the run defense is giving up 135.8 yards (53rd) and the 363 total yards per game is 52nd in the nation. Again, all of this is okay, especially considering the horrid numbers of the past, but then you consider the offenses that they’ve faced. Of the four FBS schools the Cougs have played, here are their average national rankings:
Rush offense: 65th
Pass offense: 81st
Total offense: 83rd
If the Cougs want to continue to move forward, the D has to crank it up. There are no more patsies on the schedule. Even OSU got a win this weekend. If they want to win one more game, much less three, they have to get serious on the defensive side of the ball and they have to take advantage of opportunities on offense. They won’t last long settling for field goals.
With Tuel (hopefully) returning to the lineup, this is the perfect time for this team to rally around their leader and show that they are better than what we saw on Saturday. Or perhaps we expect too much.
Here are some highlights from Saturday’s game if you’re interested: