The only realistically worse scenario for the beginning of this season would have been if Keith Short had missed tipping that ball in the right corner of the end zone on Illinois' final drive (or if Short had drawn a pass interference in the end zone on the previous play). In that case the Bruins would've been forced to march the length of the field for the win in a little over a minute. How's that for terrifying?
For whatever its worth, I'm still not convinced this team can't succeed. Not that even success would change the minds of many of those Bruins who opposed Karl Dorrell's hire from the beginning, based on his slim resume and the apparent, meager coaching search. For them, Dan Guerrero can‘t win. If KD fails it was because he had no track record, either as a "star" assistant or as a head coach. If he succeeds it was only dumb luck that Dan stumbled over a diamond in the rough. Ultimately neither side will let the other forget where they stood on this contentious question. And like Swift's Lilliputian "big enders" and "little enders," it won't matter a whit to anyone outside our warring little camps.
Nobody on either side of the divide can deny that the pass receivers have been the most shocking disappointment. When someone like Craig Bragg drops so many key passes, you know the curse of Bruin football is still hovering over the program. Bragg must have dropped as many of these things in two games as he had in his previous two years. Junior Taylor and Marcedes Lewis, though not without experience, are still "young" and therefore subject to the inconsistencies of youth, no matter how talented they may be. A Gary Beban, or Jerry Robinson, or Kenny Easley, or Freddie Mitchell (playmakers who spring full blown from the first time they step onto the field) are rare exceptions. The receivers dropped at least a hundred yards worth of passes in the Illinois game, and, God knows, Drew Olson needs some help in moving the team.
In the ground game, we've yet to see much, if any, deception or misdirection. And I'm not holding my breath for any revelations come Saturday. Everything seems to go between the tackles - "here we come, try and stop us." Thus a small, special back like Tyler Ebell becomes the forgotten man (not to mention a subtle scapegoat) in the eyes of many Bruin fans simply because he lacks the size and concentrated power of Manuel White (or even Maurice Drew). Forget his moves and dazzling cuts, forget last year. But then there's no arguing that this one-dimensional, power running game suits Manny's talents, as he demonstrated in the second half vs. the Illini. Maybe he would have put up a hundred yards in the Colorado game. But teams down the road, certainly Oklahoma, are going to be stacking the box tighter than a Tokyo bullet train, and so some adjustments in the offense would seem to be in order unless you believe you can win today on "execution" and fundamentals alone. It was at least a welcome relief the Bruins threw so much in the first half. They just couldn't catch.
Does UCLA stand any chance against Oklahoma? Do they even have to win this game in order to raise our spirits? I'd vote yes on the first and no on the second. Oklahoma may be a super team, and the Bruins may become the springboard that propels them to super-status in such a high-profile, ABC game, but they didn't look super at Alabama. Only Bob Stoops' incredibly gutsy fourth down fake punt from his own 31, followed immediately by a 47 yard touchdown bomb, prevented what could have easily been a huge upset. But then Stoops is state of the art in college football. He noticed Alabama was in an all out rush, and "If they were going to be that reckless, we were going to do it." But from his own 31! And in the second half, on the road, with 83,000 ‘Tide faithful going crazy! Talk about balls of steel.
A lot of us remember those horrifying experiences in Norman and Lincoln, where the gutty little Bruins would get steamrollered like Wiley Coyote, and then the Bruin coach would complain about the size of those "gweat big Huskers," or some ‘roided out freak like "the Boz" would infer the Bruins were more pink than blue. Those were some bad days, BROs, almost as bad as sitting through last year's Trojan party at the Rose Bowl. If anything like that goes down this Saturday in Norman, Blues are going to have to find themselves a hobby, or purchase a set of "The Story of Civilization," because the weekdays between game days are going to get nastier before they get better.
The media, both national and local, have more or less tagged UCLA as a laughing stock. The jokes about player suspensions and the offense have become almost automatic, and the fact that SC hype is in full cry after rolling over three such "national powers" as Auburn, BYU and Hawaii (!) makes it that much tougher to pick up the papers and turn on the radio. Since the media thrives on conventional wisdom, the only way it changes is if the Bruins begin to win impressively. They've played themselves into this rut and they're going to have to play themselves out of it. The one thing UCLA absolutely must avoid in Norman is a blowout, one of those deals where they come out tentative, nervous, make turnovers, blow coverages and fall behind early by 17 or 21. Kind of like last November 23rd. If the Bruins play respectably, and have a shot at the end, then the jokes should recede, and they can get on with Pac-10 business. These players are big enough and talented enough not to be intimated (they ought to be mad as Hell), and this game should be decided on the field, not in the tunnel, which isn‘t to say the worst can't happen (or the best). The defense will have to be at least as good as we've seen thus far. Happily, Justin London joined the party last week with an eye-opening game and a big improvement from Colorado (I don‘t remember seeing a Bruin middle backer fly back in coverage as effectively as Justin). And the offense will absolutely have to generate a passing game. It can't hurt that two Oklahoma defenders are down for this game, but the likelihood of another 6-3, agony stalemate is a decided long shot. All three tailbacks will need help from Olson and the receivers. Justin Medlock looked promising with that effortless 48 yard field goal, but Chris Kluwe really needs to start booming his punts like he does in practice.
It will be interesting to see how much KD adjusts for this game, or, alternatively, if his offensive staff has finally been able to get their machine to run on something like all cylinders and, dare I say, make it begin to hum. Seems a bit unlikely today, but stranger things have happened with Bruin football. Matt Moore is definitely missed, and things can only get easier once he returns. But Olson is the caretaker for now. We all would have felt better about this trip if all those dropped passes had been caught, if UCLA was going into Norman 2-0, but, despite it all, who believes this team has no chance to put up a decent game? If the Bruins don't, I think I'll sleep very, very late Sunday morning.