If you didn't catch Friday's teaser article, you're probably wondering why in the world I'm referring to a one-armed judo champion. Here's the article if you want to catch the analogy. If you haven't read it, I recommend doing so before reading this article. --hooper
After hearing many different theories on exactly where to lay blame for the upset, I decided I wanted to see what happened for myself. Armed with Notepad, I watched the entire game and took notes on every play. As I did, I realized that some of our perceptions were not accurate, while others were dead-on. Additionally, I noticed that one aspect of the game was completely ignored, even though it turned out to be one of the most important. Here, I will discuss what I learned, and I will share with you the question I now have that most bothers me about the game.
(My notes are available in reasonably pretty tables, one for each half, in the posts below. I believe you'll find them somewhat amusing, if nothing else, by the time you get into the second half. You can also access the raw files for your own analysis - the first half here and the second half here.)
If you remember the hype leading into the game against UCLA, you'll remember that UT had UCLA outmatched in every phase of the game on paper. Even UCLA's perceived strength - their defensive front - was matched up against UT's greatest strength - the offensive line - who was returning every starter and back from a stellar season. During the game, you can remember all the mistakes UT made: errant passes, missed field goals, the blocked punt, and so on. But remember that UCLA made a lot of mistakes as well; 4 interceptions are a good start. Going into halftime, UT had the lead. UT was quite simply the better team on the field; UCLA couldn't run the ball and the passing game was getting torched by grabby defensive backs (sponsored by Sticky Fingers). And if the injuries during the preseason weren't enough, UCLA suffered a couple more injuries during the game. It was like trying to fight a judo fight with only one arm.
But Norm Chow had done one thing with his starter-by-default quarterback; he taught him one play technique repeatedly so that Craft would have one play he could run well. Craft was well-versed in Chow's chosen technique, and confidently knew he use it if the opportunity was simply present. As it turned out, that technique was UCLA's only shot in the game. They couldn't run, they couldn't throw deep, they couldn't throw out patterns. There was only one option left. Like the one-armed judo champion, Craft had his one move. He had to wait for the opportunity to present itself, but he had his one throw that he knew he could use.
And Craft used his move. Over and over again, never even looking for another move, he used his move until the game was over and UCLA had won. And UT never countered.
After the jump, I discuss some of the unit matchups in the game, including the most puzzling one - the one you never noticed.
Take a step back for a second before judging on this one. Craft clearly had the better game in the second half. Crompton had problems keeping his passes down, while Craft maintained his composure and hit his targets. But in the first half, Crompton was quite effective while Craft made enough mistakes to ensure defeat in 99 of 100 games. Keeping his passes down just a little bit could have changed Crompton's night from 19/41 to around 30/41. Given the way the game ended - especially compared to the expected result - Craft's night has to be considered the better night. I wouldn't go so far as to say his night was hugely better, though.
UCLA WIN: What a second half.
UT O-line vs. UCLA D-line
Who do you think had the better day between these two units, UT or UCLA? Do you have your answer? The real answer: UT, and it wasn't even close. But I will provide an asterisk.
Surprised? Let's take a closer look. UCLA runs a 4-3 base defense, just like UT. The biggest difference between the two defenses was that UCLA tended to blitz. On most plays, UCLA sent 5 rushers against the O-line. They also sent 6 rushers with as much frequency as they sent 4 rushers. In the second half, 7-man and 8-man rushes were not uncommon. The secondary usually played a zone, though they'd mix in an occasional man defense, especially with the sellout blitzes. UCLA had very little success with the 4- and 5-man rushes: the occasional lineman would beat his blocker and get into the backfield, but that was more of an exception than a rule. UCLA's best success in the lines came with stunts. In particular, this little trick seemed to work rather well:
In this simplified picture, you see a typical gap rush. The linebacker on the offense's left has cheated in between the DE and DT, showing blitz. When the ball is snapped, he then peels around the DE. The weakside tackle would block the DE inward, allowing a fairly clean rushing lane for the LB. In this case, the running back (if one was present) would usually be responsible for picking up the LB. But this blitz was pretty effective on occasion, and caused a few of the hurries and incompletions that we saw.
The other thing that UCLA would do in their blitzes was to overload one side. They would often send two blitzers on the same side to create a numbers problem. A couple of zone blitzes were even used, where LBs would blitz on one side, a DL would fall back into pass coverage on the other, and the remaining defenders would rotate the coverage. With the exception of a couple of missed blocks and missed assignments, UT was very successful against UCLA's defense and would generally only allow blockers through when they were outnumbered on a side.
UT WIN: Especially when you remember that UCLA's D-line was their best unit on the entire team.
UT receivers v. UCLA secondary
I'll be honest; this portion of the game was very difficult to evaluate. ESPN's cameras did not show the secondary action for most plays. We can infer that the routes tended to take a while to develop, based on how long Crompton tended to hold onto the ball. That might be a matter of UT's receivers not being effective against the secondary, or it might be a result of the design of the routes. Either way, it's just speculation. I will say this: the receivers did have a few drops that they should have caught. That wasn't a credit to the secondary so much as as fault of the receivers. Overall, I'll call it a push, but only because I don't have better information. (Crompton's tendency to overthrow didn't help much, either.)
PUSH: Too hard to tell with ESPN's camera angles to give a fair evaluation.
UCLA O-line vs. UT D-line
You remember this one well. UT's stubborn 4-3 D with Downy-soft zone coverage. You remember the kajillion pass completions in the second half. You remember wondering: "Why can't the D-line get to Craft? If only we could put that guy on his backside!" You remember how the UT D-line couldn't beat the UCLA O-line. And you'd be wrong.
Just like the offense, UT's D-line owned UCLA's O-line. For most plays (nearly all, actually), UT rushed only 4. The LBs were held back in pass/run read coverage. Yet the 4 linemen were consistently able to push their blockers back - particularly the DEs. If you get a good look at the second half, you'll notice that Craft was routinely bumped/hit/harassed/pressured/whatevered by both DEs just after he threw the ball. The problem was not that couldn't get there in time; the problem was that nobody could have gotten there in time. UCLA's second half offense was designed to have the ball released before a pass rush could get to the quarterback. Craft was occasionally moved out of the pocket, particularly for throws beyond about 10 yards. The run game was even more lopsided. UCLA's 0.9 yards-per-rush average came almost exclusively against a standard 4-man rush. Even if you remove the effect of the one 9-yard sack, you still end up around 1 yard/rush. That is considered a defensive win by anybody's standards.
UT WIN: But UCLA gameplanned around this, as you'll soon see.
UCLA Receivers v. UT Secondary
This has to be considered a UCLA win by a large margin. Even though UT's secondary notched 4 interceptions in the first half, most of those were as much to fault of Craft's high throws as they were the reward of the rangy secondary. But even though I call this a resounding victory for UCLA, I don't blame the secondary too much. they did have a few miscues. For example, on UCLA's first touchdown drive in the second half, they faced a 1st and 10 on UT's 22. The TE ran an inside seam route and caught a pass for a first and goal on the 3. The primary defender had bought a head fake by the TE and reacted to an outside pattern. In doing so, the defender turned his back to the QB and took a step outside, thereby removing himself from the play. The safety didn't get over in time to stop the completion, though I don't know if he could have anyway. But having said all that, I must admit that it's hard to stop a 5-yard pass pattern when nearly every play looked like this:
But rather than jump routes, things looked like this after the snap:
Umm, yeah. It wasn't every play, unlike what our brains would have us believe, but it was typical for UT's defense to start the entire secondary more than 5 yards off the line of scrimmage and to have the LBs hovering near the 5-yard mark. As I have drawn, the 4 linemen were usually able to beat the protection; you can see the ends coming around the corner on both sides, and the singled-up DT winning the battle against the guard. But Craft, having received the snap from shotgun, would usually back up a few steps more, meaning the line had about 8 yards to go to reach him. There is simply no way a lineman can run the 8 yards to sack the quarterback faster than a receiver can run 5 yards in a pass pattern, especially when the lineman has blockers to contend with and the receiver does not.
One of the halftime adjustments Chow made was to have Craft back up 3-5 steps and throw. The receivers would run routes that curled inward (slants and seams) such that they would turn their heads to look for the pass at the same time Craft was throwing. I imagine that Craft was instructed to throw the ball to the cheerleaders if the receivers were covered at that instant, but I can't say that for sure. It's not like UT ever played man coverage or tried to jump a route.
***THIS WAS THE MAJORITY OF UCLA'S OFFENSIVE PLAYS IN THE SECOND HALF***
Take a minute to vent and come back when you're done.
It comes down to this: UCLA had one play available; the quick inside pass route. UT had them beat on every other possible offensive play. UCLA kept playing the quick inside route (and probably still would be if the game were still going on). UT stubbornly held to the zone defense, hoping that the next play would be the play that Chow changed his pattern and tried to throw deep. This staring contest went on for the entire second half.
My Question: What were the linebackers supposed to be doing?
Did you notice how I set up the LBs 5 yards back and had them backpedalling after the snap? Me too. There were some plays where the only non-lineman defenders within 10 yards of the LOS at the time of the pass were cornerbacks, and the pass would be a 6-yard pattern to the slot receiver or the tight end. That means that even the linebackers had backpedaled after the ball was snapped. That would make sense on a 3rd and 22, but not on a 2nd and 10. I've been wrestling with this question ever since I noticed the pattern during my game review, and I can only think of two conclusions: 1) Chavis didn't want to reveal defensive schemes to be used in conference play, or 2) Chavis didn't want to give the linebackers any responsibility. I really want to believe that neither is the case, but I don't know enough to venture any other guesses. If you have a thought on this, please let me know. This really bothers me.
Ellix Wilson, the middle linebacker, had more than twice as many tackles as any other defender (11 for Wilson to 5 for Morley, a safety). One of the 11 tackles was a sack, but most of the remaining 10 were tackles of TEs and slot receivers shortly after catching the ball in the 5-10 yard range in the middle of the field. Bolden and Dan Williams had 7 between the two, which came on run plays. McCoy. Fisher, Myers-White, Berry and Reveiz are the others with more than 2. Notice how safety and linebacker heavy the tackling stats were; this was the result of the inside passes, where safeties and LBs are the most common defenders. The linebackers played a solid game, but I believe that the defensive schemes left them in positions to end a play only after the play had already been made; they were rarely given a chance to disrupt the passing lanes or hit the receivers immediately. (In short, they had to play reactively rather than proactively.)
I will defend Chavis with this: if anything else in UT's play had worked better (and that's not asking for much), his defense would have been sufficient. It prevents the long throws, the line was good enough to stop the run, and the only passes available were short and time-consuming. It's a great way to kill the clock if you want to get the game over with. But it's playing to hold on; it's not playing to beat the other team. And it's a defense that relies on the rest of the team to cover for you.
Even with all of the mistakes UT made on the field and in the gameplanning, they still perhaps should have won that game (I still think that was a safety, but oh well). It took UT's worst and UCLA's best for UCLA to eke a win out in overtime, but that's what they got. Applause to UCLA for doing the things they needed to do. Also know that UT has a much, much better team than the final score would indicate.
But that plucky little one-armed judo champion?
Sometimes your biggest weakness can become your biggest strength. Take, for example, the story of one JUCO quarterback who decided to study at UCLA despite the fact that the team was hopelessly outmatched.
The boy began lessons with an old football offense master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn't understand why, after three weeks of training the master had taught him only one move.
"Chow," the boy finally said, "Shouldn't I be learning more moves?"
"This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you'll ever need to know," the Chow replied.
Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.
Several months later, Chow took the boy to his first practice. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two scrimmages. The third scrimmage proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the play. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the game.
This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the head coach called a halftime huddle. Most people thought that he was about to pull the boy when the coach and coordinator intervened.
"No," they insisted, "Let him continue."
Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his linebackers deep. Instantly, the boy used his move to complete pass after pass. The boy had won the second half and the overtime. He was the champion.
On the way home, the boy and Chow reviewed every pass in each and every play. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
"Chow, how did I win the game with only one pass?"
"You won for two reasons," Chow answered. "First, you've almost mastered one of the most important throws in all of football. And second, the only known defence for that move is for your opponent to jump into the passing lanes."
The boy's biggest weakness (knowing only one move) had become his biggest strength (needing only one move).