Chiccoa: A Gimlet-Eyed View

The BRO football columnist captures the Bruin fan mindset after the demoralizing loss to Cal last week...

The "honeymoon" was nice while it lasted. You know, waiting for the new polls to come out, watching the Bruins become nationally relevant again, advancing upward, little by little… then the hiccup vs. Oregon State, a brief recovery at Colorado, and now, THUD (!), the morning after in the form of that complete fiasco in Berkeley… out of the polls, lost again beneath "others-receiving-votes," looking upward at the likes of Western Kentucky, Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Monroe, Toledo and Tulsa. Even Penn State, for god sakes, got a single mercy vote. Put your ear to the ground and you can almost hear the chuckling across town and, indeed, all through college football: "They are who we thought they were." If this sort of thing doesn't fire up the Bruins, I can't imagine what would. On the other hand, there may just be a more dire possibility, i.e., these guys might actually be a .500 team… or worse. All bets are off.

Football teams are often better (or worse) than their previous game, but the chances of a team being significantly better (or worse) than they've shown over their last six games is considerably less likely. At some point, to coin a cliché, "you are what you are." However, six games into the regular season can serve as a useful midpoint evaluator for fans, a baseline from which your team either improves or tanks (or remains about the same). UCLA has now arrived at that point.

In addition to wins and losses, we need to consider quality of performance with respect to the strength of the opposition. We know Rice, Houston and Colorado were exactly who we thought they were, which is to say stiffs, while the "impressive" Nebraska win must be lowered a notch or two since the Huskers got badly shucked at Ohio State last Saturday. In that game two Buckeye running backs combined for a whopping 326 yards rushing and, presumably, a cloud of dust. (Wherever he is now, Woody Hayes must be air-punching and dancing up a storm.) Oregon State, rated #10 in the A.P. poll, seems to have replaced UCLA as this season's surprise program. 43-17 has - only temporarily we hope - relegated the Bruins back to the mosh-pit. Over the remainder of the season, we're going to find answers to a lot of important questions.

*****

I watched the Cal game at a dive bar in Reseda… and got into it, hot and heavy, with this bizarre acquaintance of mine (and we were not drinking). He's the sort of un-self-conscious soul who can't help narrating games out loud as they unfold before his uncomprehending gaze… which is to say he's a world-class bore who never shuts up. It was bad enough, what with the sounds of two competing TVs along with crap music blaring from a Jukebox, but to have to listen to his unrelenting, mindless barking finally became too much. (Once he even rose off his stool and took several menacing steps toward the big screen TV as though to punch its lights out.) So… after getting a few things off my chest, I split late in the third quarter, thus saving myself more aggravation by missing the butt end of this truly wretched game.

*****

Is there any doubt the Bruins have very serious problems in the secondary, and that these problems are at least as crippling as those in the offensive line? Who in the secondary, other than Andrew Abbott, is a known, quality defensive back? Even for talented, experienced DBs, this job is hard enough, but Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price have been pretty much brutalized for going on four seasons. Zone, man-to-man, or some combination of both… pick your poison then cover your eyes. And Tevin McDonald hasn't helped matters much. Together, they made Zach Maynard and the talented Keenan Allen look like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, with Richard Rogers - the football player not the composer - playing the Dwight Clark role. It was harder to watch than the Oregon State air assault.

We here, we band of BROs, have become connoisseurs of bad DB play. From the hard luck Danny Graham call, to Teddy Lawrence, Dion Lambert, "Gentle Ben" Emanuel, Joe Hunter, Ryan Roques, Joey Strycula, Jason Zdenek, on and on it goes with apparently no relief in sight. Where have you gone Ron Carver, Kenny Easley, Don Rogers, Eric Turner… our Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

What else?

The stupid penalties just keep on coming; 12 for 99 yards was only the latest bill in Berkeley. You'd like to think this falls mainly on the coaches for tolerating this sort of play except for the fact this team is not deep, and the injured seem awfully slow to return. Who are you going to replace the guilty party with if you're short on reliable subs.

The Bruins are still without a reliable field goal kicker from beyond forty yards, and it's up to Jim Mora to try someone (or something) different because the Bruins, right now, can ill afford to lose a game to something that at least might present them with a chance for a long, game winning kick. Patience is not always a virtue, and even a young, true freshman like Ka'imi Fairbairn should be tough enough to handle what would only be a partial demotion.

*****

This may sound blasphemous, but it has recently crossed my mind that we may be overrating Brett Hundley a bit. Despite Mora's words to the contrary, we all knew Brett, the chosen one, would be named the starting quarterback. Deny it if you will, but didn't you think of him - don't you still think of him - as being the guy who would finally break the mold of all those dismal quarterbacks since the days of Cade McNown?

Yes, Hundley's got a strong arm, and before the ankle injury he was a serious threat to hurt you badly with his legs. (Who knows how that ankle really is?) He does have good pocket presence, and he still scrambles for valuable yardage. Noel Mazzone's offense is pass heavy which, in my opinion, is a desirable thing. And we all understand Hundley's still a freshman, though a redshirt freshman is different from a true freshman. Like most young quarterbacks, Hundley has problems rushing his throws, throwing late, or finding alternate receivers. He's also been notably inconsistent throwing downfield. As we've said before, his completion percentage has been inflated by all the relatively short swing passes and hitch passes in Mazzone's offense. Here are Hundley's yards per attempt and yards per completions compared to Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. Granted, Hundley's numbers are only those of a redshirt freshman, whereas those for the other two are career numbers up ‘till now. On the other hand, fully half of Hundley's games came against very poor opposition:

Hundley's yards per attempt: 7.5/yards per completion: 11.4

Prince's yards per attempt: 6.7/yards per completion: 12.5

Brehaut's yards per attempt: 6.9/yards per completion: 12.3

The point here is not that Hundley isn't the superior quarterback; we pretty much know he is, particularly in terms of upside. It's only that his relative superiority isn't as wide as we might have thought… going strictly by the numbers. And, of course, Hundley's ratio of touchdowns to interceptions is much better. It must also be said that Hundley's had the advantage of playing in a better offensive system. But, to repeat, no one is suggesting Hundley shouldn't be starting. He'd have to turn the ball over a lot more for that to change.

So what's the single most terrifying thought for Bruins fans? That's easy: the thought that Mora may not ultimately be the answer for delivering "The Turning." That fear hadn't seriously entered my consciousness until the Cal game. And, of course, there are those remaining six games for the program to regain some respectability. This, naturally, makes for great drama, but it still gets your stomach churning on Saturday mornings. But haven't we had enough of that the last twelve years? Oh well, high anxiety remains a permanent feature around here. If you can't handle it, I don't know what to tell you.


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