Good News (And About Time)

<b>Charles Chiccoa</b> shows his true Blue colors of optimism after the Stanford game in his weekly Wednesday column...

Would you say the Bruin whiplash effect is still operational? I mean from the depths of last week's fourth quarter collapse in Tempe to the stunning, out-of-the-blue shutout of Stanford seven days later… Anyway, I would hope that some of the Boys of '54 - in attendance and being honored for homecoming - might have briefly flashed back to Sam Brown and 72-0 when Maurice Drew broke that 68-yard punt return for a touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter. In any case, this game was one more reminder of the importance of home-field advantage, particularly when it involves college kids. I know some Bruins were fully expecting the beginning of another meltdown such as we've become accustomed to. Stanford, no doubt, was a crucial test but the Bruins are still not out of that familiar neck of the woods. The team must absolutely take care of business this week vs. Washington State, but since this game is shaping up as a prospective home field walkover, the rest of us can't help but look forward to the final road test in Eugene the following week. Berkeley was strike one, Tempe strike two, and we're all aware of the importance of not striking out.

Before the opener, some of us were quite hopeful despite the potentially dangerous mix of Oklahoma State's ground game and the Bruins' green, debilitated run defense. A win there would have opened the road to a 5-0 start, and, playing in the Rose Bowl, together with the promise of a new offense, gave hope of a possible high-scoring, shootout victory (a BT special!). Turnovers, along with a complete collapse of the defensive front, put paid to that notion. Four wins vs. four stiffs followed, then of course the two recent losses as a road underdog. UCLA, while avoiding disaster, had merely fulfilled the much discussed lowered expectations. The Bruins were still "soft," still a defensive joke, the poster child for the supposedly No-D Pac-10 (except, of course, the otherworldly Trojans, who are, of course, perfect). The Bruins were, and are, running in place -- but they're picking up the pace. You won't find the little, pig-eyed, "Game Day" clown, and his two sidekicks, even mentioning UCLA on Saturday mornings unless it's in connection with the golden boys of SC and Cal. Other than Maurice Drew's extraordinary day in Seattle, UCLA still hasn't registered a blip on the national consciousness.

The Stanford game, as encouraging as it was, could have been an even unhappier birthday for Trent Edwards. Less that 70-yard pass in garbage time that Jarrad Page seemed to misjudge, the Bruins might have held Stanford to something like 230 yards total offense. As it was, Bruin coverages choked Stanford's receivers in the shallow zones and, since the Cardinal didn't have any appreciable deep threats, that spelled a frustrating day for Edwards. The entire back seven finally seemed to be playing as a unit for the first time this season. Matt Clark has miraculously gone from being a liability the last two years to being an All Pac-10 candidate this season. His newfound aggressiveness in coverage, and against the run, has been a revelation. Though he's still not as strong as Ricky Manning, his coverage skills are beginning to look as good (or better) than Ricky's. Both Page and Emanuel had some of the best moments in their entire careers Saturday. Trey Brown caught a lot of eyes this spring and during pre-season practices, so it was no real surprise to see him play as well as he did. He should have been competing with Marcus Cassel all along rather than backing up Clark (It would seem the coaching staff feared playing two small corners after having been spoiled with Matt Ware's unusual size for the position.)

The Bruins also lost a chance at an easy score when Ben Emanuel's steal and runback off a completed pass was nullified by a roughing the passer call. Also Maurice Drew's fumble in the redzone that should have gone out of bounds but didn't. Also Justin Medlock's two missed field goals (so much for "Mr. Automatic"). Stanford didn't even sniff the redzone until David Koral was warming up.

After reading Brian Dohn's despairing article on Justin London's bad ankle I was beginning to wonder if a mercy killing might not be in order. I don't know… Justin looked kind of frisky on Saturday. And with the increased effectiveness of the front four, Spencer Havner returned to form.

Although there was occasional blitzing, the Stanford game appeared to be a victory for "coverage" over "attack." I wish it wasn't so since I'll always believe the best chance for a defense to neutralize the natural mismatch of wide receivers over DBs is to attack the passer, especially a good passer (but that's just my personal problem). I loved Rocky Long's defense, loved their attitude, their attacking, aggressive approach. I hope Larry Kerr's new perch up in the press box promises better times for his defense. Perhaps he needed to squirm like the rest of us up in the stands to appreciate what we've been going through.

I should also admit I didn't foresee such a terrifying drop off for this year's front four, particularly before the injuries (especially Kevin Harbour's). And I still believe such personnel as C.J. Niusulu, Kevin Brown, Justin Hickman, Brigham Harwell, Bruce Davis and Harbour should be something more than adequate when backed up with a healthy linebacking corp and an effective secondary.

It was good to see Mo Drew break 100 yards again. I was getting tired of people falling off his bandwagon. Cynical Dan had been particularly hard on the pocket rocket the three weeks running up to Stanford. I couldn't see any problems other than a lack of daylight when he hit the line. Apparently even Eric Bieniemy was a bit dissatisfied with Mo… thought he perhaps needed to show "more patience," needed to "quit looking for the home run," if FSN's Barry Tompkins is to be credited. But then Eric is a notable perfectionist. (He was all in Manuel White's face on that memorable third and short when the Bruins came out in their "snuff us" formation, their bizarre variation of the wishbone wherein they invite the defense to send all 11 up the middle. By my reckoning that formation is now 0 for 3, and the only way I ever want to see it again is off play-action to Marcedes Lewis. The problem wasn't Manny, it was the formation). Mo isn't perfect (you know, like Reggie Bush) but let's see, he's fast, really fast – check. He packs a wallop in that 5'7" (or whatever) frame – check. He's improved his hands to the point he's the second most feared back in open field situations to Reggie Bush (who is of course perfect) – check. He has ankle-breaking moves, perhaps second only to Reggie Bush (who is of course perfect) – check.

I'm hoping for another pleasant afternoon this Saturday. The team should come in loose and confident. Hopefully the beautiful weather will hold for an extra week. Good seats should be readily available, dirt cheap. Haven't we all earned one more relaxing afternoon? I'm particularly hoping to see Wazzu's game opening onsides kick (straight out of bounds). Maybe the Cougs will be half as accommodating to the Bruins as they were to the Evil Empire. God, it feels good to condescend to another program.


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