Chiccoa: Rhythm and the Blues

Our football columnist Charles Chiccoa shook off some old, unpleasant feelings at the beginning of the Nebraska game as the Bruins found their rhythm...

Immediately after Taylor Martinez' perfectly-thrown, lofted prayer to Kenny Bell for a touchdown, you must have been thinking, "Oh well, here we go again, straight back to Others Receiving Votes." (You couldn't even properly appreciate Eddie Vanderdose planting Martinez in the turf like "Chief Oceola" planting that spear for Florida State.) This game would surely join that vast litany of Big Games in which UCLA comes out tight, and by the second quarter you want nothing more than to go out to your car for a beer and a shot. But you stay seated, anyway, in hopes the Bruins can at least escape with some dignity. This sort of thing can ruin your whole week. It can even put "the black dog" on you for however many days or weeks it takes to wash away that foul taste in your mouth. Times like this you might even wish you were born of a more hopeful nature, "Bluer," mellower, less skeptical, dare I say less Cranky. You know, the fatherly type who urges patience; let's see what happens next. "It's only three scores. It's only the second quarter. There's still time, son."

"Good luck with that, Dad." And yet, miraculous things do happen.

*****

So, the Nick Pasquale story is pretty straight-forward: Nick was a hugely popular, "invited" walk-on receiver with the kind of competitive streak his teammates couldn't help but admire. His tragic death inevitably lent a profound new dimension to UCLA's mindset. And that, combined with the presence of a record 91,000 Nebraskans, along with the importance of this particular game for a program on the rise, seemingly became a bit heavy, until the Bruins were finally able to take that famous "deep breath" and focus on the task at hand. Which is to say, let it flow, play like you know how to play and damn the consequences. It's a huge occasion, and you can only give your best. And it's evidently the kind of big game atmosphere Nick Pasquale would've relished. Time enough to grieve some more after the game.

*****

As we all know, Nebraska couldn't put away the Bruins when they had the chance. And so the four-touchdown, seven-minute landslide descended, and when the Huskers dug out from under and looked around, this game was well and truly done… a clear case of premature ejection.

Funny how a series like this has turned so decisively. Seems odd after absorbing all those early whippings at the hands of Nebraska, Huskers fans now feel the same sense of dread at the sight of UCLA on their schedule as we used to feel at the sight of Nebraska on our schedule.

After last season's beating at the Rose Bowl, the Huskers were talking about how fast, how skilled the Bruins were and how shoddy their own tackling was (as if Johnathan Franklin didn't run over them or otherwise cause them to miss). A year later, here was the great Tommie Frazier, just hours after being honored at halftime, now angrily calling for "Change" in the name of Huskers Nation… while hard-assed Bo Pelini, obviously smelling smoke and feeling the heat, invoked the oft-repeated coaching standby, "lack of execution," and how many tackles his defense missed once again (as if Brett Hundley, Jordon James & Co. didn't cause them to miss). If Bo took some measure of responsibility for those 38 straight points, I'm unaware of it.

Soon enough the fraternal battle is joined as Frazier is heard to "tweet" that the entire defensive coaching staff should be fired, to which Bo foolishly replies that the program can do without Frazier's support (bad choice of opponent, Bo). Finally, the infamous, two-year-old, expletive-laced, secretly-recorded tape surfaces, no doubt from one of those ‘effin fans Bo advised to… well, you know. This thing has now descended to the level of tabloid fodder, almost pushing Johnny Football off the front pages. Puts me somewhat in mind of "Route 66." Meanwhile the Bruins go about their quiet, classy business, awaiting the arrival of 42-point underdog New Mexico State. Ah, a pleasant afternoon in the Arroyo Seco followed by a not-too-trying contest with a modestly armed opponent.

*****

Watching the tape of the game, the last touchdown of the first half was obviously the turning point of the game, and Brett Hundley's escape on 3rd and 12 was the single biggest play. In addition to making the score sound better, you could now see the Bruins sideline coming to life. Jocks, particularly football players, are a confident lot, more confident than your average dude walking around campus. (Intense physical training, quality coaching from a very young age, and/or outrageous size can be an amazing thing.) I should have been more relieved the Bruins weren't down even more, but such is the power of BBS. I still believe if Nebraska had gotten the last touchdown of the half, this game would've gone down to the nub.

Let's see if I can run through the 28-point third quarter drives as quickly as the Bruins did:

After three first downs, one by penalty, the Huskers must punt. Jordon James immediately breaks off a 39-yarder, faking out two defenders. (Jordan possesses moves that he can't help making.) Paul Perkins advances a screen pass for a 1st down. Hundley completes a clutch 3rd and 15 to Darius Bell and James knocks on the goal line, finally finding an opening between a crowd of white shirts. Where the hell are the Black Shirts!? 21-17

The Huskers go 3-and-out courtesy of Keenan Graham and a rejuvenated defense. Hundley on another good run precedes the picture perfect 28-yard throw to no-longer-taken-for-granted Shaquelle Evans. Shaq is clearly UCLA's #1 receiver. 24-21. "They're doing what they want to do to Nebraska's defense." (Wasn't that what Tommie was saying?)

Martinez has a 3rd-and-long, 1st-down pass dropped by his receiver. Huskers get off a poor punt into the wind. "Now it is all Bruins." These guys are out of control! Another good run by Brett, a pass to Jordan Payton for a 1st, then a needless personal foul on Nebraska that should have resulted in a Bruins field goal try, which now turns into a touchdown, Hundley to Phillip Ruhl on a swing pass into the right goal line pylon. The Huskers are obviously unprepared for the delicate subtleties of Pac-12 officiating. 31-21.

Bo is now desperate and tries hiding a 300-pound lineman to carry the ball on a fake punt play, the possibility of which the Bruins had spied out earlier. They're ready, and Randall Goforth cuts the legs out from under the big ol' Husker inches short of the 1st. Soon it's Brett to Shaq for 37 yards, then Brett to Nate Iese for the wide-open TD. 38-21. "They're making it look easy. Outstanding play-calling by Noel Mazzone." All that's left is for Anthony Barr to force his third fumble of the day and Anthony Jefferson to sprint into the arms of his head coach with the recovered football. Brett and Jim Mora seem overcome with emotion at what the Bruins have accomplished and the manner in which they've "honored" Nick Pasquale.

*****

How exactly do you define rhythm in football? Quick tempo? Sharp execution? Little or no mistakes? I see it something like catching well-defined waves, one after another, and riding them all to shore. I see it as confidence in repeating success, play after play, week after week, season after season. Alabama's got rhythm, Oregon's got it, Johnny Mansiel certainly has it, though in a particularly flamboyant way. (If a northeastern team signs him, be prepared for the biggest media blitz since the days of "Broadway Joe.") Rhythm in sports is the opposite of herky-jerky, the opposite of a roller-coaster ride. Rhythm seems a first cousin to momentum, which the Bruins can now ride on a straight line to Stanford and the next Big Game in a conference full of them. Wonder if GameDay will show up more than once. Probably not.


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