Chiccoa: The Pressure's Building

BRO columnist Charles Chiccoa looks at the drama of the season and the situation with Rick Neuheisel...

Say what you will about the Bruins' precipitous drop into nowhere, but it does make for great week-to-week, "R"-rated drama. BROs are daily at each other's throats, much like the last bloody days of the Bob Toledo and Karl Dorrell regimes… only worse.

Message boards are no longer for the faint of heart or those seeking uplift. Imagine two bourgeois, cyberpunk gangs, fresh out of white-collar prison, setting about each other with sword and trident, cross bow, catapult, trebuchet and emoticons. Surely, a spectacle fit for Jonathan Swift. Boys, boys, calm yourselves. Time and critical mass will decide the big question hanging over Rick Neuheisel. In any case, we'll all have achieved some clarity.

If Rick somehow saves his skin, the rude boys will finally be able to walk away and go fishing, schedule vacations in the fall, or begin massive home improvement projects with all the money they've saved supporting UCLA football. If they happen to retain a shred of curiosity over the program (and we know they will), they'll still have the newspapers and BRO. Who can blame them? Without some sort of rational hope, what's a Crank to do?

Serious tailgaters, of course, have never needed a respectable football program to fill their Special Saturdays at the Rose Bowl. An elaborate outdoor cookout with family and friends on beautiful late-summer, early-fall afternoons is enough; if the Bruins win or play well, so much the better. Family traditions die hard.

If you find 3-3 acceptable, no sweat; you got a conference road win and another conference win preceding a bye. You're obviously not overjoyed, but that's life in this latest, and worst, Dark Age. You're still defending Rick Neuheisel and recommending patience, though patience is running short on Joe Tresey. (I mean who could defend the guy? Pressure defense? Ha!)

If you're in the opposite camp, patience has now become a dirty word. If Mike Stoops can get the boot midseason, why not Rick? If the Bruins rack up one more stinker in Tucson, turn him loose. Give Mike Johnson the interim tag, and start the new search the following morning. And pray Dan Guerrero finally gets some thoughtful, knowledgeable help this time. (Dan's beginning to look like our very own Tom Hansen.)


Other than a general coaching failure, it seems to me there's no rational defense for what we've seen thus far: passing offense 12th in the Pac-12, efficiency 8th; total offense, 8th; scoring, 9th; rushing defense, 11th; pass defense, 5th; passing defensive efficiency, 9th; total defense 10th; scoring defense, 10th; red zone defense, 10th; red zone offense, 8th; sacks, 11th (not even one per game); 3rd down defense efficiency, 12th (118th in the nation). Only sacks against, and rushing offense, 3rd and 2nd, respectively, are decent. The Bruins are lucky to be 3-3.


I'll leave future game predictions and "stone-cold locks" to others.

Though Houston remains undefeated, the Texas game now looks like a huge red flag. San Jose State and Oregon State were pretty unimpressive wins, and the Stanford spanking was as expected. It may be too early to discount the Washington State win. The Cougs looked kind of formidable to me, and if Marshall Lobbestael falters they now have a healthy Jeff Tuel, last year's surprisingly impressive quarterback. Either one of them could start for the Bruins.

As I understand it, the conventional wisdom seems to be: Colorado, a sure win (if there is such a thing); Cal, Arizona and Utah tossups (Arizona, despite their 1-5 record, scares me more than Cal or Utah because of what Nick Foles could do to the Bruins weak pass defense); and Arizona State and SC likely losses. With three wins banked and four more possible, you can see that 7-5, 6-6 may not be as far-fetched as it seemed that night the Bruins found themselves in a second-half dogfight with San Jose State (for God's sake!). Is this what constitutes "firing out" for DG?


Sheldon Price will be sorely needed for Arizona, and I'm not sure the smallish Andrew Abbott might not be a better corner than Aaron Hester, who seems better suited, in my opinion, for strong safety. In any case, the Bruins should be in a "nickel" nearly the entire game the way Foles throws the ball around. So Hester and Abbott should both get plenty of action. Hopefully Eric Kendricks will see increased playing time, though I suspect Tresey may favor Sean Westgate vs. the pass.

On the principle that things change, Tresey might actually be emboldened to jack up the quarterback pressure since he finally got some penetration, some tackles for loss, vs. the Cougars. If not, Foles could put up some frightening numbers on the Bruins' limp zone underneath coverage, which has been the primary reason the defense can't get off the field. At least Kendricks, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Donovan Carter and Sealii Epenesa have at last established themselves as key defenders.

If the Bruins manage to return from Tucson with a win, the loyalists might even launch a counter takeover of the message boards.

Some things I think we'd all like to see: more carries for Derrick Coleman; some tailback carries for Jordon James; more passes to Randall Carroll, Shaq Evans, Josh Smith and Ricky Marvray; not to mention "the lonesome end," Joseph Fauria. Quick, athletic, with good hands and 6' 8", Fauria has become the most shamefully underused weapon in the conference. Wake up Rick! I'd also like to see Nelson Rosario quit hunting one-handed catches and the spectacular play in favor of more focused and consistent play. He should be a greater threat than he is.

To tell the truth, I've become increasingly less enchanted with the idea of Richard Brehaut (and I've never been impressed with Kevin Prince). Both are among the less talented quarterbacks in the conference, closer to Kevin Craft than to any of the good-to-great former Bruin Quarterbacks. The fact that both are tough, work hard, and have been the victim of apparently unlucky injuries is certainly worthy of sympathy, but sympathy doesn't buy wins. Considered without tears, neither of them has performed up to scratch. Then, again, things do change. One can only hope the current incumbent finally loosens up and takes the position. There were some encouraging signs vs. Washington State, along with some of the same head-scratching throws we've seen before. Touch throws are still Prince's biggest problem and, like Brehaut, he seldom comes off his primary receiver. I wouldn't mind seeing Brett Hundley burn his redshirt, but only if Prince fails early and Hundley has several games to get his feet wet.

And finally, the notorious booing incident:

Though I understand people being put off by the tasteless booing of Prince when he took the field after Brehaut's injury, I wasn't shocked, just as I wasn't shocked at the even louder cheers for him when he led the Bruins back from the brink of a devastating defeat.

I've never booed anyone, though I've often felt like it. The sound, the action itself, strikes me as ridiculous. But anyone who found the incident unforgiveable is simply pissing in the wind. Football fans, by and large, are not the same crowd you'll see at the Music Center applauding "The Dude" or at Royce Hall for an evening of avant-garde, modern dance. Sports fans boo.

In America, fans have been known to attack aging firstbase coaches. In Europe and South America (and even Dodgers Stadium) fans have committed murder. And less reflective fans don't bother to differentiate between 30-year old, million-dollar pros and 18-to-23-year-old college players. Prince does have a history, after all, and he won't be the last college player, no matter the circumstances, to get booed, no matter how unfair it may seem. The game is everything… and anything goes that fans can get away with. Vulgarity is also a common coin today. Are college fans any less passionate, less hot-blooded, than NFL or NBA fans? I doubt it. And there is this: college football and basketball players are not exactly your normal students. They're recognizable. They're local heroes of a sort.

Even Prince understands. "Football fans are football fans," he said. "They want to see their team win. I have gotten mad at players who haven't made plays. That goes with the game." Hey, we always knew he was a smart kid.

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