Still No Respect

<b>EDITORIAL</B>: Our resident columnist <b>Charles Chiccoa</b>, in what will be a weekly Wednesday column, tells us what he saw in the Oklahoma State game, and how UCLA will not get any respect as long as they live up to the "gutty, little" label...

The opener was not pretty, so why not start with a funny story? I'm told that sometime in the third quarter, with the sun still beating down on the Bruin faithful, and the defense continuing to get worked, there came this plaintive cry from section three: "Laarrrry… you're killing me." We were on the press box side so we couldn't hear it; too bad because, like the rest of you baking away, we were also in need of a good laugh.

Considering all the injuries in the defensive front, one hoped defensive coordinator Larry Kerr might have come out in a gimmick defense, sell out at the line of scrimmage, press the wideouts and dare Oklahoma St. to beat his defense over the top. But Kerr doesn't do gimmicks; it's not his style. And so UCLA proceeded to get embarrassed on ABC. Again. Still searching… still hoping… still "soft." Alas, the "gutty little Bruins"… we know you well.

Vernand Morency can now take his rightful place alongside Eggerin James, Ron Dayne and those three Colorado tailbacks, all of whom steamrolled the Bruins. Does anyone else remember the title of that hippie tome of the sixties by Richard Farina, I believe? Great title and exactly to the point: "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me." I mean, a surprising number of Bruin fans were actually encouraged by an 11- point home defeat at the hands of an unranked team (I guess it could be worse; we could be Husky fans). Anyway, the good news is that Oklahoma State now figures to be ranked, and good luck to them. I don't care if Donovan Woods couldn't pass, he managed his team well, he'll likely improve, and who knows what kind of damage this team might do in the Big 12. They sure looked better than the last time the Bruins saw them.

UCLA, on the other hand, can't be as bad as they looked. Sure, they turned the ball over four times and OSU didn't come close to dropping it. I mean, it's not unusual the Bruins didn't get any breaks (or make any). It's not only the lack of brute strength that signifies softness in a program; it's also making the crucial mistake, not converting in the clutch. Softness is also mental. Strong teams have a calm swagger about them; they don't get overly anxious; they don't beat themselves. Bad teams, as we all know, find ways to lose. So now it's six losses and counting, and UCLA is in desperate need of a win, and, not only a win, but an impressive win. The fact that the offense is no longer as bad as last year is not grounds for rejoicing. Of course it isn't as bad. How could it be? That thing last year had to have been a one-off. And considering that Tom Cable felt obligated to stay at Idaho one more year in order to fulfill what was thought to be a fait accompli (getting fired) - and was thus one year late - isn't this further proof that The Curse lives?

Drew Olson didn't have a good game. He looked overly amped all day (which isn't to say he wasn't improved). He wasn't sharp throwing downfield, he still threw into coverage too much, and he still doesn't throw well on the run, which is bad news for rolling him out. He appeared tight, which is understandable considering the little success he's known in games. More than anything, he needs something like a 300 yard passing day with 2, 3, 4 touchdown passes. He needs to recapture the feeling of being in control.

At times, OSU's offensive surge looked like a huge white tide overwhelming a calm, blue sea. The injured defensive talent up front is going to have to be able to practice full speed. They're going to have to return relatively healthy to ensure against this sort of hammering the next time the Bruins meet a smash-mouth team. For Illinois and Washington, which shouldn't provide the same kind of challenge as OSU, this means the return to form of Kyle Morgan, Brigham Harwell and possibly even Justin London (I noticed him madly pogoing in the pre-game rave). Then, in time, when C.J. Niusulu, Kevin Harbour, and even an experienced fifth-year player like Tim Warfield returns, there's no reason this defensive front can't become adequate, possibly even respectable. Put these guys together with Kevin Brown, Justin Hickman, Bruce Davis, Wesley Walker, Aaron Whittington and maybe another player who might emerge over the next couple of games and you might have a unit that can hold together. It might also help if Karl Dorrell leans on Larry Kerr to perhaps goose his schemes just a little to provide more pressure. The defensive backfield is yet another issue. There are problems back there, too, and they are not new. I'm not sure that Matt Clark, Marcus Cassel and particularly Ben Emanuel haven't had enough time to prove themselves. It might be time to consider other options (and I wouldn't worry much about upperclassmen being lost to pouting). Let's see what some of the younger DBs have to offer, because there appears to be possibilities warming the bench. And how much worse can they be in run support, coverage, and taking better angles so as not to give up so many backbreaking, breakaway runs?

Anyone who believes the Bruins aren't talent rich and deep at running back and wide receiver may be responding hysterically to a disappointing loss. Manuel White had his best game ever. With his quick feet, his runner's instincts combined with his walloping mass, Manny is not only a load, but a load with some finesse. It was too bad Maurice Drew had a mediocre game, but it was just one game (maybe he needs to keep his head up more, look more for the cut back, not seek contact quite so much). He's a mini load himself but he's giving up a lot of weight when he smacks into the defensive front, which might have something to do with his fumbles. Anyway, his pass receiving skills were noticeably improved and I'm sure he'll be delivering a lot more 100+ yard games. It might also be time to trust him returning punts.

Craig Bragg is a huge threat to any defense, and I'd like to see Joe Cowan get more plays. I'm not yet convinced he should be getting less plays than Tab Perry or Junior Taylor. Between these three at least one needs to emerge to take pressure off Bragg; the Bruins need to find their Keary Colbert. And if not any of these three, then let's see something of the two freshmen, Brandon Breazell and Marcus Everett. And Marcedes Lewis is still being underused. Whether it was the play calling, or Olson not finding him enough, we'll never know. Everyone agrees Marcedes needs to get more looks, yet he seldom does.

Now that the offense has a rational, purposeful design, it's up to Olson to kick it into life, to put it in the end zone. Considering the dire straits, defensively, it's needed now more than ever. The road is always a challenge for a "gutty little" team, which is where this program is stuck at the moment. Who knows what to expect at Champaign and Seattle. But if respectability and shedding the infernal "gutty little" label is the goal, failure is out of the question. The next two games have become must wins.


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