Chiccoa: Can I Look Ahead, Please?

BRO football columnist Charls Chiccoa decides to not take one game at a time and looks down UCLA's schedule...

What's the antonym for arrogance, conceit, overconfidence, swagger?

How about humility, modesty, forbearance? They're virtues, of course, in ordinary everyday life. But football isn't close to ordinary life. Humility and modesty are out the window, and forbearance? Forget about it. These are not qualities you'd associate with Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh and thousands of lesser football coaches in America. You wouldn't really want to invite any of these guys to lunch (at least I wouldn't).

Even with the start we were hoping for now within arm's reach (and I'm talking specifically about a season-opening, five-game win streak) some of us are still stuck in BBS mode, which is to say still thinking in modest terms… fearing an upset this Saturday to a double-digit dog, still holding onto to their preseason hopes of a modest 8-4 regular season. I could be wrong, but that now sounds flat to my ears. In big and small ways, far too much has changed around here from just Rice ‘til today.

Of course one is aware that BBS is alive-and-well throughout Bruin Nation; it's only human nature. Also in play is the corollary impulse toward lowered expectations, something like "I refuse to leave myself open for disappointed yet again." It's the safe, one-game-at-a-time waltz. But I don't dance, and taking it slow is none of my business; leave it to the coaches making the big bucks and the players having the time of their life.

My immediate interest is getting past Oregon State, preferably in impressive fashion, then watching the Bruins dispatch the poor ol' Colorado Buffalo, at which point let the worrying begin: at Cal, Utah, at ASU, Arizona, at WSU. That accounts for three respectable road trips and two seemingly stronger teams at the Rose Bowl. I should admit, none of these opponents look as strong to me as Nebraska, but it's early times, still, and the wind could easily shift in somebody else's favor. But with normal development and winning momentum, UCLA should at least be favored in those games. Not a bad prospect, though, we're only three weeks into the season and there may be too small a sample of games played in order to get a proper feel for the strength of these teams, including the Bruins. But to imagine a secondary, 5-0 sweep five months ago would have seemed like an incredible fever dream.

I don't even want to consider SC and Stanford yet. All this mad prognosticating has already left me exhausted.

*****

On my way to meet up with a couple of friends for the drive to the Rose Bowl, I suddenly felt unable to deal anymore with this endless, maddening heat wave. I didn't have a ticket in hand, and it was a stifling 106 in the west valley at 4:30. To hell with it! Bad fan that I am, I'm not obligated to bake in the Rose Bowl even if faced with the prospect of listening to Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens and Wayne Cook. So… comfortably kicked back in front of my big-assed TV, a Stella in hand after watching Matt Barkley get mugged in Palo Alto, I began searching the radio dial for the Bruin game, finally found it, but quickly damned it as hopeless.

I haven't listened to a Bruins radio broadcast in over a decade, and had forgotten how difficult it is to listen to a football game on the radio. So I turn it off, kill some time, and then think to click onto BRO to periodically check the score. Soon enough I come across the thread that linked to live streaming of the game (or whatever the jargon is), and low-and-behold here come the Bruins out for the second half. Eureka! It may have been like watching a football game through a small window in the next room, but then beggars (who were waiting for Direct TV to blink) can't be choosers. I can no more give an informed account of even the second half, but I can put a few impressions together, in addition to what I could make out on the small screen.

I find it particularly nerve-wracking playing "passing teams," which is to say teams that average 45 or 50 throws a game. I'd much rather play a relatively better team that runs the ball a lot than a relatively worse team that passes a lot. That may go against conventional wisdom, but decades of watching UCLA fail to pressure the passer while putting their faith in "coverage" has left me with "coverage phobia," an unreasonable and irrational hatred of Bobby Field, along with that endless line of mutts that have followed in his bent and broken wake. Also, there's a suppressed, almost instinctive dislike of a select group of defensive backs down through the years, many of whom I've often referred to as "the bane of my existence."

Here's a favorite story you may have missed which is always worth repeating:

Film room… Tennessee Vols wide receivers coach to his players: "When was that [defensive back] beaten?"

Players to coach, (in unison): "At birth!" The obvious inference being that if they were bigger, faster and more talented they'd be wide receivers.

But the Bruin secondary thus far (with the not surprising exception of Aaron Hester) has been more than adequate and, to me, a pleasant surprise. Andrew Abbott, Tevin McDonald, Randall Goforth and Sheldon Price have all played well in the most difficult, thankless roles an undersized football player can take on. And Dalton Hilliard, in particular, along with Stan McKay, has taken very well to the hybrid/rover-back position. And after those three picks vs. Houston, maybe Price is a lock-down corner.

The defensive front, anchored by Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt, Datone Jones, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Cassius Marsh, hasn't really been a surprise. They were all-heralded recruits, and they're finally being used in an intelligent scheme and to their best advantage.

Since the games have started, the big worry along the offensive line has been depth. Jeff Baca and Greg Capella obviously need to get and to stay healthy, but you can't expect this unit to play consistently clean and never miss a block, especially considering its relative youth. These guys have been a surprise, and with any luck involving injuries, should be intriguing to watch as the challenges become more formidable.

Nothing more needs be said about the skill position players: anyone who watched them through spring and pre-season knows these guys are talented, and that talent runs deep. (A guy like Kenny Walker has barely seen the field.)

The transformed Johnathan Franklin is now third on some Heisman watches, while Barkley has taken a tumble. (Who would've expected that just three weeks into the season?) The backs and slot receivers behind him, Damian Thigpen, Jordon James and Steven Manfro, have all been exceptional weapons.

The receivers, with the exception of Devin Lucien and the surprising Darius Bell, haven't really broken out to the same extent as the backs and slots. Jerry Johnson and Shaq Evans haven't caught many balls, but then Noel Mazzone's offense favors the littler guys out of the backfield, with swing passes, wheel routes and such. There may also be some hesitancy in having Brett Hundley throw downfield or in the center of the field where there's more chance of an interception. The same thinking may hold true in the red zone failures to convert touchdowns rather than settling for field goals. Defenses are obviously now more aware of Joseph Fauria, particularly the ally-oops and fades. It might be interesting to see more of Walker, Ricky Marvray and Jordan Payton.

But make no mistake, this season's chances for excellence sit squarely on the shoulders of Hundley. He's put up some very good numbers, but they do look a bit more impressive on paper than they have on the field, which I suppose is a reflection of how well Mazzone's offense fits Hundley. Once his physical talents begin to match up with his competitive talents, and his understanding of the offense inevitably improves, then we'll know what kind of chances the Bruins might have in the last two games of the schedule.

Oh, and of course, there's always the Jim Mora Factor: amazing that he still hasn't put a step wrong.


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