All Ball Sports: Bruins brew over LSU, Dodgers costly season, and prep football kicks off
The UCLA football team is alive and well and undefeated.
At least for this week.
Head coach Chip Kelly is alive and well and still employed.
At least for this week.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is still alive and still being touted as a pro prospect
At least for this week.
But Bruins fans should hold off on celebrating their season-opening 44-10 demolition of an over-matched and under-manned Hawaii team, at least until next weekend.
That’s when they’ll host big, bad LSU at the Rose Bowl.
If they can beat the Tigers, a perennial Southeastern Conference power who won the National championship two years ago and are currently ranked 16 in national polls, then Kelly and the Bruins will have something to brag about, some tangible evidence to back up their claim that the football program has finally turned the corner after three frustrating years of losing and ineptitude under the alleged genius coach.
But for now they will have to settle for making these modest claims after beating Hawaii: Kelly finally has a non-conference victory, and a season opening victory on his UCLA resume.
Talk about small victories.
And there are plenty of reasons to doubt that the Bruins are on their way to becoming a legit Pac-12 contender, not to mention a national title contender.
Start with dwindling fan support that could become permanent. After 637 days without the opportunity to see UCLA play in person, the turnout at the Rose Bowl Saturday – an announced crowd of 32,982 that looked more inflated than the price of hamburger —signaled that Bruin fans and alumni are no longer motivated to make the 20-mile drive to Pasadena without being given more reason to believe something fundamental has changed.
One reason to suspect the announced attendance was grossly inflated, in addition to the huge swaths of empty seats in the grand old palace that seats more than 80,000: it was only 400 more than the record low turnout for a home game, set against Oregon State all the way back in 1992. That’s a record Kelly surely could do without, and it appears he made sure it didn’t happen.
Second, and more important, was the performance of Thompson-Robinson, who as a senior is still Kelly’s most high-profile and highly rated recruit as he enters his final season in blue and gold.
While his passing numbers were barely acceptable – 10 of 20 for 130 yards – his performance was so bad at the start of the game that Kelly was forced to turn to the running game to generate any offense at all. DTR admitted he played badly but said it didn’t matter as long as his team got the win.
“There’s a million different excuses I could give with the defense and all that stuff, at the end of the day we got to maximize our opportunities when given,” he said after the game. “If the running game is that strong, we are only going to get a few passes and we have to maximize on all those opportunities.”
Still, the physical mis-match between these two teams was so great that the Bruins could have won 75-0 if DTR was functioning the way he sometimes has in the past.
And that has always been the trouble with his game, ever since he showed up in Westwood from Las Vegas four years ago: from game to game and even from play to play, he can look like former Bruin great Troy Aikman and then suddenly turn into Helen of Troy.
Consider the opening sequence. After the fired-up Bruins defense shut down the Rainbow Warriors on three straight plays, they forced a punt – but a bizarre penalty gave them the ball on the 15-yard line when it was ruled that the Hawaii punter had slipped during the punt and let his knee scrape the ground before the ball was in the air, meaning that the ball was dead right there.
So DTR was all set up to score an immediate touchdown on a short field. But on the very first play he overthrew a wide-open receiver in the end zone and the Bruins eventually settled for a chip-shot field goal and a 3-0 lead.
DTR missed badly on a couple more open receivers, and then out of frustration he took off for a broken-field run that ended with him trying to leap over a Hawaii linebacker. His athleticism has always been DTR’s best asset, but in this case his reckless jump resulted in a terrifying mid-air collision that could have ended his season right there.
It didn’t, but you can bet Kelly chewed him out and warned him not to try such a crazy play again. That’s always been the other problem with DTR: he’s undersized for a big-time quarterback, which makes him vulnerable to injury when he runs, which is his preference.
But Kelly has stuck with him for three years, and it’s clear now the two of them are going to sink or swim together this year – assuming DTR stays healthy and Kelly stays employed.
Kelly’s status will be on the line every game this year as the pressure builds for him to achieve some semblance of the incredible success he had as the coach of Oregon a decade ago. From 2007 to 2012, he twice won the PAC-12 Coach of the Year Award and got the Ducks to a major bowl game every year, including 2011 when they advanced to the national championship game.
But after totally washing out in the pros – fired from Philadelphia after two years and then from San Francisco after a single season – Kelly found himself in the coaching wilderness, a former boy wonder now looking for a job – any job.
Enter UCLA, which took him off the scrap heap and signed him to a five-year deal worth $23 million. Over the first three years of that contract, he compiled a 10-21 record – meaning he has been paid $1.2 million for each of his 10 victories.
Even worse, his teams here never resembled the up-tempo teams with a so-called “blur offense” that he showcased at Oregon.
It’s one thing to have a terrible record in your first couple of years. That’s understandable as a new coach installs a new culture with a new staff and new players. But to lose with such a boring, predictable offense after being hired and hailed for your innovative offensive schemes and relentless emphasis on speed all across the field – well, that’s a firing offense.
And of course he still hasn’t won a rivalry game against USC, which is the biggest strike against him of all.
If they can pull off a big upset against LSU next weekend, the Bruins could open the season with a three-game win streak as they then play Fresno State, whom they should beat as easily as they handled Hawaii.
If they can do that, then it’s time to think something has fundamentally changed in Westwood.
At $260 million, the Dodgers have the largest payroll in the major leagues – by far. And according to all the experts, the Dodgers have used that money to build the most talented team in all of baseball.
As a result, as of Sunday night they have the second-best record in MLB at 82-48.
But as they enter the home stretch of the long, long season that started six months ago, the Dodgers are facing a prospect no one could have imagined for the reigning World Series champions back in April: they will have to play in the wild-card game just to get into the playoffs.
In other words, they could lose just one game – the wild-card game – and be done for the season despite their awesome lineup.
How did this potential one-and-done situation happen? Well, the problem is that the San Francisco Giants – their ancient rivals going back more than 100 years to the New York years – have the best record in baseball and lead the Western Division at 84-45.
And even as the Dodgers have won 16 of their last 19 games, they have only moved up one game on the equally hot Giants, who they now trail by two and a half games with 32 games left.
That means there is still time for the Dodgers to surge ahead, win their ninth consecutive
Western division crown, and enter the best-of-five Divisional Series with the home field advantage.
But that is not going to happen unless the Giants cool off. Unless and until that happens, it doesn’t matter how many games the Dodgers win.
The irony of this ancient rivalry flaring back to life is that as recently as a month ago the biggest threat to the boys in blue appeared to come from the other end of the Cali coastline: the San Diego Padres.
The Padres have been collecting elite talent by spending big bucks over the last two years, including stealing the Dodger’s all-star infielder Manny Machado when he became a free agent two years ago. And they have one of the two or three best young players in the game in outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr., a titanic talent both at bat and in the field.
The Padres won seven of their first eight games against the Dodgers this year, and appeared to have their number. But after the Dodgers swept a four-game series from them last month, the Padres have faded like Donald Trump after Twitter banned him from their platform for inciting violence.
So that leaves the Dodgers and the Giants locked in a death struggle for control of the West Division of the National League, with the loser locked into the dreaded, anything-can-happen wild-card game.
The Dodgers travel to the Bay Area next weekend for a three-game series that could easily determine the outcome of their season. Win all three games and they will be set up to win the West and avoid the wild-card game. Lose all three, fall six behind the Giants with 25 games left, and they will be left to figure out who will start the wild-card game – probably their ace, Walker Buhler – against Cincinnati, their likely opponent.
Win just one or even two of the games, and they will be forced to continue their season-long pursuit of the Giants.
If ever the Dodgers needed their elite talent – Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, etc. – to step forward, next weekend is it. The harsh reality: the 3-game series will probably determine the rest of their season.
After the season, regardless of whether the Dodgers or the Giants win the West, MLB needs to reform its playoff format and seed teams on the basis of their overall record, not which division they happen to compete in, so this kind of crazy, unfair situation never happens again.
That’s something that both the Dodgers and Giants can agree on.
Mira Costa Football gets Out-run; Redondo gets Crushed
It’s hard to believe, but the high school football season is already two games old. And Mira Costa, which is already showcasing the high-octane style of football they have been known for in recent years, is at it again.
The Mustangs opened the season with a non-league 40-6 pasting of Paramount and then fell to St. Francis 44-35 in another non-league game Friday night.
In pounding Paramount, senior quarterback Casey Pavlick picked up where he left off last season, leading the Mustangs to five touchdowns and showing the same powerful arm and great accuracy he displayed last season.
But against St. Francis, it was the runner’s turn to step forward – on both teams.
The Mustang’s senior running back Matthew Kraskouskas powered his way to 247 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns. And Pavlick completed 12 of 19 passes for 235 yards and three TD’s. His prime target was Reese Leonard, who hauled in 7 passes for 122 yards and two TD’s.
But it wasn’t enough as St. Francis running back Max Garrison rushed for 371 yards and scored an incredible six touchdowns to lead the way to victory.
Costa will travel to Lakewood Mayfair Friday night for another non-league game.
Redondo, meanwhile, opened its season and was absolutely crushed 35-0 by Simi Valley. There’s not much to say about a score like that except better luck next week when the Sea Hawks travel to Torrance for a non-league game.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @paulteetor. ER
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