Chiccoa: On Second Thought

BRO Football Columnist Charles Chiccoa reassesses some of the personnel after the semi-exposing loss to Oregon State...

Oregon State proved to be a lot better than some of us thought, including Vegas and the bettors who "corrected" the line on this game by a whopping 5 or so points. But even that proved too modest a move. This sort of thing, this over- and under-valuing a team, is common throughout the college football season, let alone in September when things are still unclear regarding the vast number of teams out there (and the number of cupcakes they inhale). For our purposes, we'll have to wait and see if Oregon State is as impressive as they seemed last Saturday. They certainly looked good and were at least as impressive as Nebraska.

From the opening kickoff, OSU took it to the Bruins defensively. UCLA came out throwing downfield, which was their intent after watching film, and were initially unsuccessful; the Beavers forced three punts in the first quarter alone, and UCLA's offense throughout most of the game found themselves playing an ultimately futile game of catch-up.

Oregon State's defensive staff was equally intent on making UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, and the passing game, beat them. They stuffed the run and snuffed out the previously devastating swing pass, "little ball," open-field game. And on this particular day the man with the plan was long-time "good guy" Mike Riley, and his players were good enough to execute that plan pretty well.

As impressive as Hundley‘s numbers were, Sean Mannion was the more effective quarterback for the day. And that's saying something considering Hundley accounted for 404 of the Bruins 444 total yards. (As only a redshirt sophomore, Mannion is a year more experienced than Hundley and was voted a team captain. He's also the son of a coach, and in no way resembles the Mannion the Bruins saw last year.)

Beavers' receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks had their way with the Bruin secondary, Wheaton averaging 16 yards on 9 receptions and the lightning-fast Cooks averaging almost 30 yards(!) on 6 receptions. These two scored a technical knockout in their personal duel with Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester and Tevin McDonald. This is the fourth year of watching the two Bruin corners start, and I think we're safe in saying Hester remains extremely poor in coverage and is an overrated tackler, while Price is overrated as a cover guy and remains poor in run support. In one-on-one press coverage both seldom turn to find the ball. McDonald, for his part, seems a little antsy to make the big play and might be well-advised to "wrap up" a bit more, rather than favor the more crowd-pleasing body blocks and submarine take downs.

OSU running back Storm Woods got nearly 100 yards rushing, most of it attacking the Bruins soft defensive middle. Johnathan Franklin, Damien Thigpen and Jordon James could gain only 51 yards combined, while getting very little help from the Bruins inexperienced, patchwork O line. We all know there'll be serious consequences if Jeff Baca and Greg Cappella continue to be sidelined, Brett Downey and Alberto Cid never having been solid starting material. Even promising true freshman, Simon Goines, looked a bit slow to react. Being the least athletic unit on any football field, O linemen inevitably take more injuries than most other units, which is why you need to recruit them in force.

After holding Wisconsin to one touchdown, and holding the Bruins to two TDs and two field goals, we now know why the Beavers have great confidence in their defense. They crowded the box without having to call many blitzes and often flooded the secondary with eight men, looking to confuse Hundley while not giving up the long ball. Of course Hundley and the Bruin receivers are not without talent and were able to make the Beavers pay on a few occasions, mostly in their inability to keep up with Shaquelle Evans who had an inspired, breakout game and seemed particularly crushed when the outcome was no longer in doubt. (Also, Devin Lucien needs to see the field much, much more.) Evans and the extraordinary Anthony Barr were easily UCLA's players of the game. Joseph Fauria continued channeling Logan Paulsen's senior year and was again a non-factor (but at least Paulsen could block). He may be losing more minutes to the smaller, more aggressive Darius Bell.

It's easy to overlook special teams each week (at least for me), but it should be said that Jeff Locke looks to finish his career as the most talented Bruins punter since Kirk Wilson averaged 49.3 yards per kick more than 50 years ago. Add in his extraordinary hang time and that wonderful reverse, end-over-end wedge shot he uses to pin opponents inside their ten-yard line, and you have a seemingly sure-fire NFL prospect. And his kickoffs, like nearly every other D1 kicker, have been unreturnable.

Right now, Kai'imi Fairbairn is a different story. The freshman's field goal accuracy must improve to somewhere beyond 40 yards. His leg seems strong enough, but his longer kicks are too inconsistent. If there are worries letting Locke compete for the job due to fear of tiring his valuable kicking leg, then the Bruins may have to consider either "going for it" or pooch kicking from beyond the forty, neither option particularly inviting. Mora says he's confident in his field goal kicker, but then he hasn't yet cost the Bruins a game. Perhaps the answer lies with Locke taking the longer attempts.

We all knew UCLA wasn't going to keep piling up those outrageous yardage figures of the first three games, although they might've stolen even this game had Hundley not overthrown a wide open Kenny Walker, or on the next play, Steven Manfro had been able to hold onto Hundley's catchable throw. (Manfro's biggest liability, in my opinion, is his height, about 5'8" or so, which makes him a very small target on longer downfield throws. I'd be curious to see what he might show getting a few more carries from scrimmage.) Anyway, we'll have to see whether or not those hard fought 444 total yards vs. the enraged Beavers wasn't so bad after all. Remember these guys are also on a redemptive mission, they do not play scared, and they came into the Rose Bowl on a huge emotional high ever since their fans rushed the field in their opener. Their #18 A.P. ranking is well deserved.

The calculus of any football game makes it hard to find anything like definitive answers. Penalties on the Beavers wiped out a couple of scores; dropped passes and overthrows did the same for the Bruins. The momentum was with UCLA immediately after the long touchdown before the half, followed by the Beavers two turnovers early in the third quarter. But we know how that golden opportunity ended. Looking back, those two futile drives doomed the Bruins chances for a come from behind win.

*****

We've all seen enough to know the Bruins have some serious holes in terms of personnel. The corners are unreliable and have been for three previous seasons. Hester needs to sit, and contingent on having better options, perhaps Price, too. Certainly Randall Goforth should compete for a job, and there's always the option of Andrew Abbott moving to corner with either Dalton Hilliard or Stan McKay moving to safety. Whatever the mix, Hester and Price can't be the two best answers.

Defensive ends Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa look to be playing well, but after watching the middle of the Bruins' defense get repeatedly gashed by the Oregon State rushing attack, you have to wonder about the defensive line. (Brandon Willis has apparently dieted himself out of the nose guard position.) And then there's the hole opposite Eric Kendricks at inside linebacker in the form of Damien Holmes, who seems to be more a physical specimen than either a defensive end or inside linebacker. He plays a bit stiff with little instinct, something a middle linebacker, in particular, can ill afford. Are there available options? That's for the coaches to discover.

*****

In such a populist, social-networking age such as ours, everybody's a critic, including you and me. We love places like BRO where we can gather, be heard, recognized, praised or even be damned. In short, we love having our say. If BRO is any indication, Bruin Nation has taken this upset surprisingly well. More than a few have conceded Oregon State is a better team, at least for now. There are a few, of course, who were always opposed to the Mora hiring, longing for someone with a more successful track record, experience at the college level, experienced in the cutthroat game of recruiting. They seem to me a bit like "chalk players," methodical, distrustful of instinct, always looking backwards. Lose to Colorado this Saturday and heaven help us… the honeymoon is absolutely over. And who's to argue the fact.

I like best the calm, reasoned approach taken by Hilliard, who said after the game, "We're competitive. The coaches always preach competition. I know we're gonna be hungry come Monday. I'm gonna focus on my run play… I'm a safety playing in the box." No much more needs to be said.


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