"Craaack"

Our resident columnist is Cranky, and it ain't pretty. <b>Charles Chiccoa</b> looks back painfully at the Washington State loss, agonizing over what could have been...

That sound you hear is the Bruin Nation splitting apart once again.  And if the worst happens in the next two games, this time it may just be definitive.  Certainly the odds-makers (and your intuition) leads you to believe there will be little relief for the Bruins' congenital late season woes.  There have been warning shocks all along the way ever since Black Saturday in Miami: all the SC losses, the two home-field, one-point losses to Oregon, the disaster at Cal and the 27-48 home field whipping by Washington State in '02, then the hiring of a "sleeper" head coach, the Silicon Valley loss to Fresno St., the fourth quarter choke in Tempe and now this, the fourth straight loss to Wazzu.  This last crack was plain to see just as soon as Drew Olson's three-yard Hail Mary fell to the ground on Saturday.  Imagine how different things would've been had the Bruins converted that play, then won in overtime. (The Wazzu guys on the telecast wondered why the Bruins didn't line up on the left hash if they were going to roll Olson right, thereby giving him more field to work with.  Makes sense to me.)  And how many of you had faith that Olson would lead his team to the touchdown, then convert the two-pointer?  One maybe… but both?  And even the touchdown was a fluke, as the pass was obviously intended for Joe Cowan until Manuel White stole it with his one handed "pick."

Look, the criticism of Olson is not entirely due to his poor to mediocre play; it's the sad fact that this kid, due to circumstances, has started three years in a row and will likely turn into a four-year starter.  And that's following hard on the heels of the Cory Paus era.  That's six consecutive years (with the possibility of a seventh) of the quarterback blues.  That's a lot to endure.  No wonder the natives are restless and a bit unruly.  I'm sorry but this whole business about the etiquette of booing is beside the point.  A certain amount of fans, in any stadium, are merely human, and when a team craters like the Bruins appear to be doing, they can't help themselves.   You and I, of course, are above such thoughtless vulgarity.  You and I, of course, are aware that booing the coaching staff, and/or particular players, could be misunderstood by other innocent parties, could perhaps even affect prospective "program-saving" recruits in attendance.  But some people can no more help themselves from letting out a good, lung-splitting, primal boo than my ol' Dad could keep from passing wind in his dotage.  For some it's a reflex, pure and simple, and lecturing them about bad form is as futile as spitting in a hurricane.  The same principle holds true for fan message boards (including BRO) which are the heart and soul of every college sports website.                               

And, anyway, Olson isn't the heart of the problem; it's the defense and we all know it.  You may say the players really are that bad; I don't think so, but you may say it… and you may be right.  But if you can't find an adequate unit for your front four, why run four (or more) other guys onto the field whom you believe aren't even as good as your starters?  In other words, why those infernal hockey line changes?  If you're worried about poor conditioning, give this or that guy a blow when necessary… but yanking off the first string at the beginning of the second quarter, then running these line changes and other substitutions in and out, almost randomly, has certainly not proved helpful.  Kevin Brown and C.J. Niusulu are certainly your best defensive tackles; Brigham Harwell, Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis are probably your best defensive ends.  Why not find another tackle, rotate him into the D line and keep the rest of your subs for hot weather and desperation time?  Why so many minutes for such small production?  And has Kyle Morgan made a tackle lately?

Something else I don't understand is all this talk about quitting.  "And we acted like we didn't care.  I've never seen that before."  That was Tom Cable speaking, probably the most influential coach on the staff.  He also spoke of "the lack of effort and lack of focus."  Sounds like a lot of euphemisms for quitting, and, worse yet, a somewhat unfair accusation.  All the papers, naturally, ran with that dramatic analysis, particularly Bill Plaschke, L.A.'s very own professional conscience when it comes to questions of character and morality.  No, what I saw was Tab Perry fumbling the opening kickoff (again), the Cougars rushing onto the field and snapping the ball before the Bruins seemed set, then a quick, talented back, Jerome Harrison, getting the right corner for a shock touchdown 18 seconds into the game.  But when Harwell fell on C.J.'s strip in the endzone, the game was even, the Bruins and Karl Dorrell were ecstatic, breathing fire, and were then able to force more than a few punts (nine to be exact, surely a curious stat when you consider Wazzu gained over 500 yards).

Olson started in good field position nearly all day, primarily because of the great punting (again) of Kris Kluwe.  But once Maurice Drew and Marcedes Lewis, two of the three best players on the team, went down, he seemed helpless to sustain drives.  Other than Harwell's fumble recovery in the endzone, the Bruins only other touchdowns came on a pretty 47-yard pass to Perry and the strange Manny "pick."  The Bruins' 308 yards of total offense were comparable to Stanford's puny production the previous week.

Harrison shredded the Bruin front, then the secondary, all afternoon.  When they weren't getting knocked off the line of scrimmage, the front four and linebackers were biting on misdirection.  Harrison is a nice running back, certainly too quick for the Bruin defense. The safeties (particularly you know who) were late getting outside, late coming up, late in coverage, and often whiffing on tackles because they were taking bad angles.  The corners, however, had a pretty good day.  Matt Clark was again exceptional and Trey Brown was no liability.  Wazzu's offensive line, much better than Stanford's, even enabled Harrison's caddy to dominate one drive, and even he averaged 5.4 yards on 9 carries.  Wazzu kept milking Harrison all day rather than try to spread the offense around in the name of balance and team morale (you know, the "feel good," Little League ethic that says you've got to let everyone play).  When Alex Brink, Wazzu's young, second string quarterback was completing 17 of 27 for 185, his receivers were usually open, thanks to their offense's superior design.  And his throws were crisp and usually on time.  Bruin receivers, on the other hand, were blanketed as usual, even on completions, while the Bruin running attack, without Mo, wasn't a factor.  The Cougs, in other words, knew where the Bruins were going and the Bruins didn't know where the Cougs were going, thus resulting in lots of long yardage plays due to the Cougs' superior speed, quickness and execution.     

Kerr seems bound and determined to spread his defense thin, all over the field, rather than in any sort of concentration (this same, almost pathological balance, which the entire coaching staff subscribes to, reminds me of the strange way Terry Donahue used to approach his whippings at Oklahoma and Nebraska.  Rather than try to contest them at the line of scrimmage, his defensive philosophy was to try to contain them all over the field, including even fear of their tiny passing threats).  So far, we've seen relatively little blitzing, resulting in the front four dancing with the O line while the quarterback either surveys the field in a rocking chair or hands off to a running back who's often immediately on the linebackers and into the secondary.  It hasn't worked, and it shows no signs of working, except against Stanford.  This is so similar to the situation with last year's Axman/KD offense that it's spooky. 

This week, as usual, I'll be hoping (likely in vain) to see less of that depressing base alignment, with the linebackers five or six yards off the ball, the corners a bit deeper and the safeties deep, deep, so far back, in fact, the TV cameras can seldom pick them up.  I see the Ducks opened up 5 ½ point favorites (hope they know something good about Mo and Marc).  You think that line might move?  Thank goodness a network picked up the game because I can't imagine spending the afternoon tuned to "the Bruin flagship radio station."  I'd rather watch more tape of the Washington St. and Arizona St. games.


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