Playing With Fire

<b>EDITORIAL</B>: There is quite a bit riding on the last four games of the regular season, perhaps the lasting perception of it. Charles Chiccoa examines the Bruins' chances, and how much depends on the offense...

"Here come those Santa Ana winds again," sang Steely Dan. But this season all they seem to be bringing is wildfires. A friend of mine, who lives close to Ventura County, called me Saturday morning and asked if the Arizona St. game was still on. It was, of course, and those of us who made it out to the Rose Bowl - those with homes still standing, or not threatened - enjoyed a beautiful evening. Cheap tickets were easily available, the crowd was alive, Matt Moore was back and starting, and everyone was hot to finally see a breakout performance from the offense. Unfortunately it turned out to be a on- man breakout, but the Maurice Drew show, even if it was only the last thirty minutes, was more than worth the price of admission. Otherwise, ASU was just another in a string of unnecessarily close and ugly wins. Afterwards, BROther Huffman, while taking down his tailgate, summed it up for a lot of Bruin fans when he said, "Hey, I don't care anymore. For me, it's all about the wins." I wish I could agree, but my skeptical nature tells me UCLA is balancing on the razor's edge. No team can keep this act up indefinitely.

At least the offense has bought itself another week, and the prospect of The Cardinal isn't exactly intimidating. The "road," however, is, and I'm sure we all remember the Bruins last unhappy visit to The Farm: Chris Lewis played the game of his life, and UCLA's high hopes went up in smoke. Last year's trip to the Bay Area was no walk in the park either (though it did signal the well-deserved beginning-of-the-end for Bob Toledo). If this Bruin offense keeps teasing the opposition, not putting games away as they should, even pathetic Stanford could jump up and bite them. And if this happens there'll be hell to pay.

For those who hoped Matt Moore might "jump-start" the offense, those hopes were in vain; Drew Olson could have put 20 on ASU. The ever-conservative Axman/Dorrell command seemed to lose confidence in the passing game (again) soon after Moore's second pick (while being hit again), and, since Little Mo, the jet propelled pinball, was bouncing off and sprinting through the Sun Devil's defense, they decided to grind out the second half. Though the Bruins obviously wanted to ice it with at least an extra field goal, the seven-point margin easily held up through most of the fourth quarter (ASU's true freshman, Sam Keller, was no match for the Bruin D). Andrew Walter looked as if he could have toughed out his ankle injury, but the ASU coaching staff may have thought they could luck out a score and take it into overtime. Silly Devils.

The Bruins, today, are still among the nation's worst offenses, statistically, aesthetically, and every other way. One would think Moore will improve with game experience, since he's only seen the field in the equivalent of what, three games? This, however, is not a given. Olson has played the equivalent of a full season, and his last appearance was one of his least impressive. Moore didn't look as quick as some of us had hoped, though undoubtedly that leg brace had something to do with it. His release also seemed slow, though he showed nice touch on a few downfield passes. Mostly his deliveries were high, a tip off he may have been a little tight, which, given the circumstances, was understandable.

The continuing conservative approach to the offense is harder to understand. This business of "trying very hard with this young group to stay out of trouble... staying out of long yardage situations" is not working, and it certainly will not work against SC. The more you ask of your players, the more they just might respond. I doubt Axman & Dorrell are saving any great surprises for SC. It certainly would be going against their grain, and even if they are it's just another of those wretched "gutty little" ploys I had hoped never to see again. No, these guys seem to be comfortable grinding it out, game to game, quickly losing confidence in the passing game, gambling on their limited game plans and their faith in the players to "execute" just enough to eke out a win. And, except for Colorado, one must admit it's far (Oklahoma was just too good). Personally, I wish they would quit worrying, quit playing Terry Donahue ball. John McKay, in his second year, I believe, and as a heavy underdog, played a highly ranked Iowa team at the Coliseum, and chose to go for a two-point conversion, and the win, in the final seconds. The play failed and he lost the game - but he won the town. That sort of fearless, aggressive, almost arrogant style became a characteristic of his future championship teams, and the same, to a subtler degree, could be said of Red Sanders' teams, only Red was less fortunate than lucky John.

If the Bruins continue this ugly, grind-it-out style, it could be very tough to get a win in Pullman and they run the risk of another humiliation in the Coliseum. The running game is improving, the offensive line seems more effective in their run blocking, and Tyler Ebell is bound to break one soon (without a flag falling) and join Drew as a double breakaway threat. But Moore must begin to burn the opposition through the air. The Bruins must start seriously exploiting Marcedes Lewis. Manuel White is a huge loss, as is Rodney Leisle and, of course, Matt Ware. Hopefully, the latter two will make it back for the big games, but regardless of injuries, there's still enough talent left to beat Stanford and Oregon. Washington St. is more problematical, and SC, right now, is extremely problematical. But, of course, college football is a funny game, and Matt Leinart hasn't seen a lot of pressure yet.

Just as the Colorado game set the tone for this season, so might this season set the tone for KD at UCLA. The jury is still out. A minority of cranks (who knows how big) is waiting to pounce. KD hasn't proven a lot yet, and he needs to finish respectably in the last four games. He's positioned to land something bigger than the Sun Bowl. Most of all, KD needs to exploit the good luck of these last five wins and begin to ease off the brake... and step on the gas. How else can the Bruins go?

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