Chiccoa: Same Old Hole

BRO's columnist, Charles Chiccoa, provides another sobering opinion of the Stanford debacle without pulling any punches, while he looks toward the Houston game with a twinge of optimism...

THE SAME OL' HOLE

I would like to leave this city,
This old town don't smell too pretty,
‘Cause I can feel the warning signs,
Runnin' around my mind.

… So here I go,
Still scratching around in the same ol' hole.
My body feels young,
But my mind is very old.

        -- Noel Gallagher, "Half The World Away"

Well my body doesn't feel all that young, but you get the idea: Supporting Bruins football can age you fast. Fair or not to Rick Neuheisel, this hellish stew has been smelling up the house, off and on, for the past twenty years. We used to get some satisfaction throwing out the moldy leftovers every seven years. Then it became five years. If things don't change soon, who knows, the expiration date may get down to four. Small comfort, but at least we can indulge ourselves anew in the good ol' "reasons/excuses" routine. Blame it on the old regime; blame it on the administration; blame it on "the curse," which happens to be my "reason" of preference.

How bad was the Stanford disaster? I mean, a 35-0 wood-shedding at home; 233 yards total offense; 81 yards passing; four turnovers; a 37/23 deficit in time of possession. In other words, more of what we've seen in recent years, only worse: failure to convert third downs; failure to stop the opponent converting; turnovers; conservative, uninspired play-calling on both sides of the ball; and of course "failure to execute" (Coachspeak for deflecting responsibility… as if performance on the field has nothing to do with coaching.) Yeah, this disaster is right up there with the 59-0 BYU job, and on the same shelf with:

1) A matched pair of three-game losing streaks to close out the '64 season and effectively end Billy Barnes' coaching career at age 47.
2) A 61-20, Jim Owens, payback slaughter at UDub in '70.
3) A 35-point loss at Oklahoma in ‘86.
4) A 140-39, five-game skid in ‘92.
5) The Cory Paus, DeShaun Foster, Brian Poli-Dixon extravaganza, which effectively punched Bob Toledo's ticket to coaching oblivion.
6) A 147-71, five-game skid to close out Karl Dorrell's rookie season (preview of things to come).
7) The 52-14 and 66-19 crucifixions at the hands of Arizona and SC, which tarnished a magical Maurice Jones-Drew October and a 10-2 season.

I'm sure you can come up with some that I've left off.

                                                  *****

Having worked the previous Kansas St. telecast, Mike Bellotti previewed the Bruins by declaring The Pistol an "unqualified success," then added: "They couldn't throw the ball, but that'll come." Huh? I thought throwing the ball was an integral part of any unqualified successful offense. But then I'm not a coach (or fortune teller).

Just two games in and it's obvious the Bruins have the same major problem as the last couple of years: little or no passing attack (certainly nothing to worry any competent defense). So, after Andrew Luck comes out a bit tight and misfires on Stanford's first possession, the Bruin offense comes out featuring their veteran, good blocking tailback, Derrick Coleman; no surprise, three and out.

Stanford then gets serious and drives for an easy touchdown and adds a field goal for a 10-0 first quarter, thus setting the tone for another depressing evening with the Bruins: awful quarterbacking, a backbreaking drop, inopportune penalties, wasted timeouts and all the rest.

I don't know which was harder to watch… Rick Neuheisel's 4th and 9 punt from the Stanford 37 with 42 seconds left in the half or Chuck Bullough's 3rd and 10, three-man rush, on which Luck deservedly burned the Bruins, running for the first down and keeping alive that humongous 18-play, nine-minute touchdown drive that salted the game away. Both coaching decisions reeked of complacency, as if the Bruins were some kind of contender waiting out an inferior opponent instead of an irrelevant program coming off two 8th-place finishes in an average conference. Bullough's death-of-a-thousand-cuts, "contain" approach is the same crap we've been looking at (less Rocky Long's two years) since the maddening days of Bobby Field and that crowd. Third and long? Cover your eyes!

It was obvious Neuheisel, Bullough and Norm Chow did not take to heart the lessons of the previous week. Apparently, they still believe they're talented and physical enough to take on good teams straight up.

Other than alternating in some of the quality freshmen in hopes of keeping the defensive front fresher, things looked just like the week before, only Stanford was better than Kansas St. Luck's completion numbers aside, I still don't trust the Bruin secondary: too many receivers running ridiculously open, especially for scores. Aaron Hester will likely have problems keeping his hands off receivers, and it may be problematical balancing Sheldon Price's coverage skills against his poor run support. And the talented Detrich Riley is unfortunately wasted, stacked behind the admittedly improved Tony Dye.

                                                  *****

The Kevin Prince Affair gets "curiouser and curiouser." Time will tell whether his "it factor" is real or a figment of Chow/Neu's imagination… and I don't mean only this season. Seems to me there's been some historical revisionism going on about this kid with respect to last year. Sorry, but I do not believe it and I don't think the numbers can back it up. He looked like, at best, a journeyman leading an 8th place Pac-10 team. And I don't remember him improving much or playing well in the final two games vs. SC and Temple. I do remember him playing better against lesser defenses earlier.

After suffering through all these post-Cade McNown duds - with the outstanding exception of the one Drew Olson season - it seems cruel an unusual punishment to put us through yet another year of unwatchable offense. And for those who believe "going to the running game" is the answer, I have four words for you: eight in the box.

Just like every other college team, the Bruins are going to have to make defenses (the good ones anyway) pay by throwing downfield successfully. And the Richard Brehaut question aside, Prince needs to show some competitive promise on Gameday, because this "trust the coaches" stuff is wearing thin. Also, I wouldn't count on the Bruin D bailing out an inadequate offense. They're having enough problems getting off their blocks and/or defending the edge. Business as usual may need to give way to new ways of thinking and serious self-scouting.

                                                   *****

After anticipating a better start, we're back in survival mode, some fans spoiling for a cyber fight, some gone fishing, some bumping up quality time with the kids and the missus, some just looking forward to tailgating and getting bombed at the Rose Bowl.

The team is likely tucked up in their bunker, "us against the world."

Come on BROs, you know the drill. It's a little like enlisting in the Army: You ought to know what you signed up for. UCLA is not your ordinary football program. At this point, all we need, all we can reasonably ask for… is a win. Maybe Case Keenum and their famous passing attack will be too much, or maybe his concussion will turn out to be a factor. In any case, I doubt Houston's last three recruiting classes were top twenty, so an upset here is not out of the question. You'd have to think the Bruins would finally play with a little fire. The drama again should be first rate.

Keep your eyes on the prize. A .500 season (or even seven wins) has become the new ten win season. Oh happy day.


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