The Huskies were right on time. Just when we needed a shot of adrenalin straight through the chest, Washington shows up again. Who can forget 52-28, the great "Cade and Rocky Show", before 85,000 and a national TV audience. Had Rocky Long stayed a little longer (further evidence of "the curse"), the Bruins would have likely had another National Championship to put beside Red's one and only. And that '97 game should have put paid to the hateful "soft" image which has dogged the Bruins for all these many years. Hopefully, 46-16 will do the same, once and for all.
How bad, exactly, did you feel at halftime? How much hope, exactly, did you have after Washington closed out the half with that last second field goal? Were you depressed, angry... livid? Smokers, anxious to light up, were hustling out of the tunnels like rats leaving a sinking ship.
Remember that infamous Jimmy Carter word, malaise? That's how I felt before the game: Two losses, two "moral defeats." UCLA was nowhere on the radar, nationally; locally, they were treated as a joke. At halftime, malaise would have been a mild description of my mood. Drew Olson had come out looking tight, the offense wasn't moving (again), and it wasn't converting third downs (again). Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams, on the other hand, were making themselves comfortable on Matt Clark's cushion, and, though the second quarter picked up a little with Craig Bragg's classic lay-out reception and Tyler Ebell's nice little cutback touchdown behind Junior Taylor's block, that momentum was nullified by the Washington field goal. If Chris Kluwe hadn't leaped high to save a bad long snap UCLA would've fallen behind 17-0. Is it excessive to think that Karl Dorrell and the Bruins were on the brink?
Then, of course, all hell breaks loose. We all saw it, so it must have happened. On the second half kickoff, UDub's return man hesitates three yards deep in his end zone, then, uh... "makes a bad decision" and gets knocked down at the five. Then it comes - the play of the season: Dave Ball beats his man (again), "drops the hammer" on Pickett, Rodney Leisle falls on the ball in the end zone, the crowd goes wild, and the Bruins are immediately back in the game. From this point forward, only the zebra's comedy act can check the Bruins. After taking away one Bruin first down on an "inadvertent whistle," they give one to the Huskies on a very questionable third down interference call on Clark. A blizzard of flags (and swallowed flags) follows until Justin London breaks up a third and six pass, the Huskies punt, and the Bruins get called for the inevitable block in the back. They start at their nine. And proceed to show us their best drive of the year. On third and five, Olson delivers a perfect sideline dart to Bragg. Then Olson flings one off his back foot to Bragg for another first down, and follows that with a surprising little roll out swing pass to Manny White, after waiting for the defender to clear. These last two are nicely instinctive plays. (Up until now, I've considered Olson a bit mechanical and not real promising. This game was a revelation, and I think we can safely say "the DO" is something more than just "a good kid." As much as we all want to see Matt Moore, and I'm sure we will, I don't see him starting in Tucson.) The Bruins convert another third and long when Olson drops in a nice little 25-yard touch pass on Bragg's outside shoulder and Bragg turns in the air and makes another pretty sideline catch. Third and eight in the red zone? No sweat. Olson throws a perfect slant pass left, inside and low to the reliable Ryan Smith, and Manny bulldozes the right side for the score, then catches a two-point conversion. After Matt Ware grabs Reggie to save a touchdown, Pickett clanks a little delay off his fullback and Leisle gets his second gift of the day on a diving interception. At this point Reggie, taken out of the game by his hated rival, Matt Ware, is in full meltdown on the sidelines, howling and screaming and gesturing like Jack Nicholson coming down that hall in "The Shining," while his pear-shaped coach begins to act as if the sky is falling. And it is! Junior Taylor makes a great leaping catch of a forty-yard pass, coming back and over his smaller defender (eat your heart out Reggie). The drive stalls, Justin Medlock continues to look automatic on a 39-yard field goal, and a few seconds later Jarrad Page delivers the kill with his interception return.
The rest is anti-climax, but lots of fun just the same. Reggie continues making a spectacle of himself, while the Balls deliver three consecutive Ball sacs (sic) the last one on a three man rush. On the Huskies next series Page goes upside Reggie's head when he catches one over the middle, the Huskies can't convert the first down, then Manny breaks a third and one through a huge hole for 56 yards. Olson finishes off the drive with a joyous little bootleg (wow!, misdirection and everything). Even BRO cranks are dancing in their seats. Cory's little brother, Casey, comes in to mop up, throws a quick pick, and then Mo Drew carries a Husky into the end zone. Mercifully, Washington can now get off the field and find a brown paper bag for Reggie to breathe into. He's a great talent and I was worried he might pass out or pop a blood vessel.
We all know the deal. In football, winning "is the only thing." The alternatives are such things as "learning experiences," "character building," and other such sentimentalities We also understand the bandwagon effect. When you win they will come, fans and players alike. Considering this season's dismal start, I thought that crowd of 68,000 was a little surprising. Do you suppose those Bruin fans who've cut back on their involvement, who don't make it out to as many games as they use to, who still follow the Bruins, but without quite the fist pounding intensity they used to feel, do you suppose they might start attending again? My friend, Cynical Dan, gave up his season tickets a couple of years ago, much to the relief of some of those around him who had put up with his "cheering" for over a decade. (One frenzied woman actually laid hands on him and tried to strangle him. Fortunately she was of a certain age and Dan was able to successfully beat her off with the help of a few friends.) Another friend quit coming to the Rose Bowl from the beginning of the Toledo Era through 52-28. After tripping to Boulder for this year's opener, he then returned to quiet Saturdays in front of the TV. Depending on how well you handle adversity, you too may find yourself taking periodic inventory of your identification with the Bruins. Fans are powerless in everything save their devotion. But it's a hard love to pull back from. With apologies to the great P.T. Anderson, "You may think you are through with the Bruins, but the Bruins aren't through with you."
We're now apparently 40% into the playbook, and the players do seem more comfortable, and we did see more varied sets. Who knows, we may soon see a third running play? And maybe there's something, after all, to this "execution" business. Isn't it amazing what a few good catches and a few well-timed, accurate throws can do to open up an offense? Hopefully this begins loosening up that "stacked box" we've been seeing ever since Cade left.
I hate to indulge in cheap psycho-analyzing, but here's my low rent,
psychological profile of KD. I believe he's anything but weak-willed and
passive. He may have made mistakes, he may be naive regarding the patience
of Bruin fans, but he is not shy or recessive. That business about feeling
"in the way" on the sidelines was obviously an ill-considered joke, which the
media, particularly the humorless Bill Plaschke, chose to beat him with. I
would characterize KD as extremely confident, perhaps to the point of
hubris. The Steve Lavin analogies are absurd. "Lav" was playing a
role, and whether he was faking it or was so deeply into his "method" he
actually believed he was a major college coach, he had to have sensed he was
floundering, had to have had serious doubts about his fitness, which seemed to
manifest itself in his squirrelly, ever-changing disposition, along with his
loony, self-effacing jokes. KD, on the other hand, seems as fixed and
unyielding as a block wall. He's got "the vision thing" all right, and
he's pursuing it no matter what the rest of us think.
If KD is really as cool and as relatively unapproachable as he seems, he may not be piling up a lot of Brownie points, which always come in handy in case things go south. Not that any of this will matter if the Bruins put together that winning streak we're all hoping for right through November 8th in Pullman. Then the evaluation will seriously begin. I suspect KD is more Shanahanian than anything else, and "Dr. Shanahanian" seems ruthlessly single-minded every time I've seen him. Maybe the positively stoic KD just hides it better. Both men seem distrustful of the media, and no coach welcomes fan criticism. Like all coaches going through a less than impressive period, they see outsiders as obstacles, trifling know-nothings. And some of us are. But sometimes, some of us may have a point. In any case, Bruin football has become fun once more. At least until next Saturday.