Our defense is battling two offenses this year - the opponents and our own.
Depicted here by Bruce Campbell, portraying Will Muschamp:
When you're #2 in the country in yardage defense and #33 in scoring defense, there's a hell of a lot of field position being flipped and scoring happening when your defense isn't on the field and unable to affect outcomes.
Why do people blame the defense for the UCLA loss in dumb equivalence to the other units when the offense and defense defecated their housecoats throughout the whole game like a chili-cook out aneurysm? I'm not sure. I learned a long time ago most people evaluate the world emotionally, not critically. The defense played like a C+/B- and our offense and special teams were Fs.
When you're taught to have no expectations of our offense and special teams, but still hold out some hope that the defense can create miracles, a first half of defensive domination betrayed by 4 turnovers inside of our 42, creating a 13-3 margin, immediately turns into a backlash when the defense has the temerity to allow - gasp - a touchdown drive to open the 3rd quarter. Yes, it was a killer. But it only effectively ended the game because the we knew our offense couldn't manufacture points. And the defense had effectively pitched a shutout to that point. The lead spotted to UCLA by our other units allowed UCLA the luxury to pick at the scab of what all of us knew would be our weakness coming into the season - a sustained running attack over four quarters.
A competent offense has us in at halftime up 14-0 and the game turns out differently. And anything but a Muschamp defense has us down 24-0 minimum at halftime. So let's quit the dumb equivalence. It's embarrassing.
A dominant first half gave way to a tough second half as we lost gap control on some key plays, didn't make adjustments in our secondary to deal with UCLA motion (see Kevin Prince Veer option TD as Aaron Williams waves wildly for a safety to walk over and is ignored) and match our fronts and some guys were trying to create a big play and do too much to turn the game singlehandedly. Once you lose discipline against the option, you're sunk. Eddie Jones, Jackson Jeffcoat, Sam Acho all got caught in the 2nd half. The second DTs were disappointing down the stretch after a solid first half. Okafor wore down and Tyrell Higgins just isn't a game changer. Surprisingly, Kheeston dominated the LOS inside, but UCLA made their hay doubling him and working around him. Despite a rookie mistake here and there, I'm completely blown away by Jackson Jeffcoat. His ability in space, his skill set, is off the charts.
I still like Okafor's prospects long term at DT. He's 20-25 pounds away from being a force.
Keenan Robinson played a hell of game for much of the contest (9 tackles) with authoritative hitting and good pursuit. We played Norton some to compensate for Acho's lack of plug and thump skills and he delivered a big hit, but got lost in the wash a time or two. E Acho had a tough game in general, despite a good stat line of 7 tackles and a sack. You don't want to get into the run blitzing game against option teams and without room to roam, Acho was forced to play left-handed. He made some really poor instinctive decisions on the option and got caught in the wash. Acho will be much better the next time he sees option.
I challenged Blake Gideon in my Keys To The Game to show run support ability in the alley and he didn't rise to the occasion. He did, however, stare down WRs and QBs running out of bounds after 8 yard gains as if he'd just knocked them unconscious. Okay. For a guy out there for his brains, why the motion adjustment issues in the 2nd half, particularly the short-side Veer run by Prince? Gideon can play better and if he can't give us cerebral value-adds, he's not helping us out there.
Aaron Williams played an excellent game. He was physical in run support and I appreciated his effort the whole game.
Curtis was awful on the punt decision, had fantastic coverage all game, and was sub-mediocre in run support. Not strong enough at the point of attack. Probably our best coverage guy through four games.
Chykie. Not physical at all. Disappointing. The UCLA wide receivers really wore him down mentally and physically. I'm sympathetic to Chykie - he's never experienced blocking in practice.
Kenny Vaccaro sure put his nose in there. Several tackles that hurt. 11 tackles in all. I wish he would spend the offseason in the film room because his constant presence on the field would upgrade us quite a bit. Really like this kid's effort.
Christian Scott was turf toed.
Justin Tucker was a reliable 2/2 on field goals and John Gold got ahold of one, nailing it 60+.
Curtis Brown fielded a punt inside the 5 trying to make a play. He knew what he was doing and I'm 100% sure it was to try to make something happen. This is a huge no-no at every level of football. It resulted in a gimme UCLA TD which was decisive in burying our 1st half prospects. Additionally, we gave UCLA another fresh set of downs on a 4th down after doing the exact same thing in Lubbock a week earlier. You can't do this. This has to stop. We didn't cover well, we didn't return well, and we were a net negative here compared to UCLA.
I have to brag again about Adrian Phillips on kick coverage. He's fantastic and a real football player.
Despite all of the outraged posturing post-game, there were folks who played well. Mostly on the defensive side of the ball. They should be recognized, just as with any other game.
I thought the defense played a dominating half, got down on themselves when they saw 13 next to UCLA when it should have said 0 and then started pressing trying to make a play. At the same time, UCLA introduced some motion elements that our safeties were slow to adjust to and the Bruins between the tackles staple runs began to go for 5-6 yards a pop as our DL wore down and the defense eroded. That set up some nice option outside for the coup de grace.
I didn't think we gave up at all until the last UCLA TD.
It's weird for any high school player who grew up between the 70s and 90s playing the option and who knows the rules by heart to see the younger generations struggle to master the more advanced concepts. Probably why you never want Air Force and Navy on your non-conference schedule. The merits of contrarianism. It's so alien to these kids. Of course, all the guys who played high school in our day would freak out at a spread offense. We would have had DE and LBs lined up on the slot receivers and our run support safeties would get smoked.
This was the first less than stellar effort from our defense this year and, sadly, they're playing on a team so badly coached on offense that we can't afford a bad quarter or two. I still trust Muschamp and this defense will continue to be our primary hope for any kind of a successful season. Though I do think Mack does a good job of cultivating a team atmosphere, resentments will begin to boil up between offense and defense if the O can't at least burn some clock and punt instead of coughing it up 2-3 times a game.