It's not a very congenial place, here in the ever-shrinking Bruin Nation, which is to say among those Bruin fans that still care, who still attend games or make time to watch them on TV. And those of us still engaged are beginning to resemble our fragmented American electorate. One more game like "the Shootout in the Desert" and Blues and Cranks, like Democrats and Republicans, won't need to shout at each other because they won't even be on speaking terms. One more loss like last Saturday and the BRO message board is liable to consist of a dozen or so hysterical zealots (of a certain age) challenging each other's manhood, hurling empty, anonymous threats into cyberspace (if I trusted myself to post, I might be one of them). And of course since this is the internet, there would have to be the inevitable house "intellectuals" who would merely type condescending "LOLs" or "ROFLs", thus registering their amusement over our absurd, Lilliputian mock battles. Man, it's getting ugly here.
None of us, today, not even those who have "strapped it on" (the technical advisors, endlessly re-running and slow-motioning their depressing tapes and Tivos and whatnots, while dazzling us with lectures on blocking schemes and D-line techniques and demonstrating their mastery of the latest coaching jargon) has any real idea how the Bruins are going to finish this season. And none of us, today, no matter our "sources," has any real idea what's going to go down after the season (or after next season) in the offices of the "powers that be" because "the powers that be" can't see the future either. I always have to smile and shake my head after reading the oft-repeated phrase: "He's not going anywhere." If Dan Guerrero, or Albert Carnesale, or, indeed, Karl Dorrell, himself, can't say whether he's going anywhere or not, how can any of us? And make no mistake, the KD regime, today… let's just say it could be on more solid ground with a couple of more wins vs. respectable opponents like ASU. Only romantics and boy scouts still believe that individuals carry more weight than events. I mean if Jeff Fisher hadn't tipped that ball into Freeman McNeil's hands, even the arch survivor, Terry Donahue, might not have gotten that fifteen-year extension on his twenty-year career as a head coach. It's all a matter of time (which, in itself, is no small issue). Yes, KD will survive 42-48. He'll live to fight another day, another season. But what happens from here on out, just like at other high-profile programs, will decide how long his Bruin coaching career lasts.
So what happened in Tempe?
The Bruins got off to their usual staggering start as ASU waltzed through their defense in a little over two minutes on their opening drive. At the end of the quarter, despite a few nice plays by Matt Clark, Jarrad Page and Wesley Walker, the Bruins, as usual, found themselves down, this time 14-3. The 'Devil's second touchdown was classically Bruin as Page and Spencer Havner collided, allowing Derek Hagan to jog 79 yards for a touchdown. Drew Olson, after getting off to a nice 8-for-8 start, didn't read underneath zone coverage and threw the first of his four picks, this one in the redzone, costing UCLA an easy chance to score.
The second quarter saw yet another blocked punt somehow turned into decent yardage for the opponent. But when Drew Olson and Tab Perry hooked up on a pretty 40-yard completion inside the five to set up the Bruins' first touchdown, the game was on. The defense forced three straight punts, but Olson threw two more picks in the quarter, one at the ASU 20, canceling a scoring chance, the other in Bruin territory and brought back 27 yards to the Bruin 12, resulting in an ASU touchdown. Both throws were obviously horrible reads. But they finish out the half with a nicely executed two-minute offense capped by Marcedes Lewis's spectacular one hand grab on a fade route. When Trey Brown picks off Andrew Walter, they aggressively go for the endzone on a rather long pass with just nine seconds left and no time outs. Brandon Breazell, again, just misses on another circus catch (this kid may be good but he's not very lucky). Fortunately for his team there's one second left, and Mr. Automatic, Justin Medlock, makes a 48-yard field goal with at least 10 yards to spare. 20-21 at half.
The Bruins take a 35-31 lead in the third quarter, highlighted by that Manuel-White-to-Junior-Taylor-to-Tab-Perry gadget (must have been one of Bob Toledo's old trick plays, which the Bruins, here, worked to perfection). When they make the two-point conversion and ASU is caught roughing Olson, Keith Jackson finally makes a useful contribution: "Perfect time for the old pooch kick," whereupon Medlock is ordered to kick it over the endzone, into the stands… which he does. Go figure.
After Chris Kluwe, in an extraordinary day of punting, pops one for 68 yards, Walter makes a horrible overthrow right into Page's hands, whereupon the Bruins grind out five and a half minutes on the drive that puts them up by 11with less than seven minutes to go in the game. Oh heavenly day.
But you know the rest…
Think what you want, but there's still a lot riding on the next three games, the first two at home. Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards will apparently play after getting planted head first in Stanford Stadium last Saturday. The following week, rapidly fading Washington State comes in; they're currently without their starting quarterback, Josh Swogger, and they have to face Pete Carroll and Norm Chow this Saturday. These are, of course, winnable games; for the Bruins, almost necessities. Then comes the last crucial road test, in Eugene, and the possibility, if all goes well, of 7-3 going into the three-week bye before SC. But with this defense, and an erratic Olson, you're also looking at the possibility of another meltdown (though I highly doubt it).
One hopes Larry Kerr and Don Johnson are starting to feel the heat generated by the spectacular failure of their respective units. Walter, like every other quarterback the Bruins have faced, was seldom pressured and there sure were a lot of four man rushes, with the object of attempting to contain through "coverage." The DBs haven't covered any better than the defensive front has penetrated or applied pressure. Running teams have run, passing teams have passed, and Cal was easily able to do both. Are these guys really that bad, or is the defensive staff failing them? A chicken or egg question? Sorry but I don't believe these players are that bad. And they're not all inexperienced. C.J. Niusulu and Kevin Brown have experience and they can play; Justin Hickman proved he could play before his injury; Brigham Harwell can play, despite his youth; We know Havner can play; London should begin coming around (though, since the injury, he's only a shadow of what he was last year); Walker isn't bad and Lorier is okay; Clark is solid; Page is still Page; even Ben Emanuel made some plays last week. Admittedly there are big problems at one defensive end and at the other corner. But Trey Brown, until recently, had been slotted behind Clark and therefore hadn't seen the field. Did the staff commit too strongly to Marcus Cassell, thereby depriving other personnel of a chance at valuable game minutes? And what's up with Rodney Van? And Jebiaus Brown? I don't know, I'm just asking.
Lots of programs have to deal with inexperience, injuries and holes which need to be plugged. This is what college coaches are paid so well to do. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but between people like Bruce Davis, William Snead, Aaron Whittington and some of the aforementioned, I can't believe this defense is as bad as the numbers indicate. I wish Kerr and Johnson would begin at least questioning their fundamental approach with this team. It's not too late to tweak, to change up, to do something different. Last week Kerr said something like he wasn't concerned with first downs, only with scores. Not an encouraging sign. I mean, we've been down that road for the last six years. It's a dead end.