Under Construction

October 8, 2006

(at UCLA 27, UA 7)

Put on your hardhats. We're rebuilding.

It doesn't mean we stop caring. It doesn't mean we stop trying to win. It means we identify areas in need of improvement and work on them in games regardless of the results. It means we applaud individual and team development. It means we support our young players as they grow.

For example, I was going to run through our first four non-sack running plays which netted 18 yards (in the wrong direction) but I won't. I also will not dwell on the fact that our only points came when a roughing penalty bailed us out of a 3rd and 21.

No, I'm going to focus on the positives and the future. Mike Thomas reminded us of his playmaking ability with his 10-yard catch and run for the TD. One area for improvement for Mike is concentrating on the routine catches as hard as he does on the tough ones. He also needs to come back for the ball on hitch routes so his quarterback doesn't get saddled with an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown.

I liked the onside kick call. Yeah, it led to a three-play scoring drive for the Bruins, but if we don't try it, what, we lose 20-7 instead? 1) This team has to gamble if it wants to score points. 2) We need to practice plays like that.

Speaking of onside kicks, we should take a look at that sweet lob kick UCLA tried. It was perfectly disguised and they came very close to pulling it off. Steal it.

This should not go unnoticed: We converted a 3rd and 1 on a run up the middle with 10 minutes left in the game. I don't know the last time that happened, but I really enjoyed it.

Since we're now halfway through the season it's a good time to see how we're doing in some key areas. Before the year began I said I was going to keep an eye on turnovers this year. Here's a game-by-game breakdown:

BYU - gained 2 fumbles, lost 1 interception. [+1]
LSU - gained 3 (2 fumbles, 1 INT), lost 4 (1 fumble, 3 INT). [-1]
SFA - gained 1 fumble, lost 2 (1 fumble, 1 INT). [-1]
USC - gained 2 (1 fumble, 1 INT), lost 2 (1 fumble, 1 INT). [even]
UW - gained 1 INT, lost 1 INT. [even]
UCLA - gained nothing, lost 1 INT. [-1]

This puts us at -2 which is on pace for -4 on the year which would be an improvement from last year's -9.

The penalty story looks like this:

BYU - 8 for 61 yards
LSU - 3 for 14
SFA - 5 for 34
USC - 4 for 30
UW - 8 for 78
UCLA - 7 for 65

That averages out to 5.8 penalties for 47 yards a game which, again, would be a slight improvement over the 6.6 and 52.8 we averaged last year. If the Cats can get back to the discipline they showed in the USC game we'll be in good shape in the penalty department.

There is however one statistical category where we've really regressed. Can you guess which one? I'll give you a hint: It starts with S and rhymes with "sacks". The tally:

BYU - gained 3, allowed 2. [+1]
LSU - gained 0, allowed 3. [-3]
SFA - gained 1, allowed 0. [+1]
USC - gained 1, allowed 5. [-4]
UW - gained 0, allowed 6. [-6]
UCLA - gained 0, allowed 3. [-3]

Oh my. That's a total of 5 recorded sacks against 19 surrendered. Both numbers badly compare to last year's season totals of 24 gained and 21 given up. To make matters worse, if you take away Louis Holmes we only have 2 sacks through 6 entire games. The D-line has to work on getting to the quarterback, and the O-line has to keep people away from him.

That last note is easily the most troubling one as we reach half-year. Willie Tuitama's health is a major concern. There is nothing funny about head injuries. The cliché is that developing teams are supposed to play young players and let them take their lumps. But the lumps aren't supposed to include multiple trips to the hospital. The helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Willie out of the game was his second in the UCLA game. This is beyond ridiculous. We have to put the kid's health first, and if that means shutting him down now and starting over fresh in spring ball, so be it.

So this is officially a rebuilding year. Again. No sense in trying to demand it be anything else. The only thing that matters is: Are we doing what is necessary to make this program better tomorrow?

Modest won/loss goals are acceptable during rebuilding years. Posting a better record than last year is certainly a reasonable goal. That means two more wins. And one of them has to be this Saturday.

I really hope the players take the Stanford game seriously. How can you not be overly excited and focused? We can actually win this one!

You know Stanford is fired up about this game. As I said last week they are starving for a victory over anybody. One win probably means more to them than a third win means to us. You don't want to take desperate lightly.

Mike Stoops has actually done well in these non-TV road games. In fact, half of his Pac-10 wins (Washington in '04 and OSU last year) have been invisible to the Tucson eye.

You know, it might be a good thing that local fans can't see this next game. We need a break from each other. We're not broken up, we aren't seeing other people, we're just taking some time to focus on ourselves.

Our codependent relationship with the Arizona Wildcats will be back in full swing on October 21.

Bring your hardhat.

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