I envy all you Bruins who made the Oregon trip (hello Brandon). Even on TV one could feel the expectation in the stadium, appreciate the typical northwest images, the clear, grey, threatening sky, the contrasting colors of the uniforms (the good guys in classic design, the bad guys in those contempo, famously butt-ugly Nike abortions), the autumn colored crowd packing Autzen Stadium. I'm going to enjoy watching this tape in tranquility… at least through December 4th.
Almost everything about this game felt familiar. Only the ending was different. I mean, this was the first turn-around chance in a while that finally came right (unlike last year's Colorado opener, or the Stanford game up north, or this year's opener, or the games in Berkeley and Tempe). These were all highly anticipated contests which could have provided the Bruins with some real momentum, not to mention legitimate reasons to feel a collective confidence, something every good football team enjoys. And confidence breeds aggression, which leads to winning. Call Bruin football a "rollercoaster," call it the whiplash effect, but it's certainly not short of drama (I could use a lot less of this stuff. Like most hardcore fans, I enjoy nothing so much as a free and easy blowout. All you guys should have been around in '52 – '56. It's the closest UCLA football has ever come to that Wooden feeling).
This game, like so many others this year, saw the opposition score yet another first round knockdown, going 77 yards in 5 plays in about 90 seconds ("nothing to it but to do it"). The Bruin defense, as usual, came out split wider than the Grand Canyon. You could run, you could pass, you had time to think, you could even convert 3rd and 21. Down 7-0, the Bruin offense came out passing; Chris Markey slipped on his first carry; the drive stalled; then Justin Medlock came up short (always an embarrassment for a kicker) on a 50-yard field goal (he would, of course, more than make up for that miss). Not an auspicious start… and nothing new.
But then the Bruin D tightened their alignment and began to occasionally bring Larry Kerr's favorite zone blitz (a five-man pass rush is about as wild as Larry ever gets). Finally, Trey Brown turned the momentum when he stepped in front of a Clemens pass and took it straight to the house. This guy has a positively Havner-like knack for picks. After Jarrad Page, Wesley Walker and Justin London stuffed Oregon on a third and one, Markey set up Manuel White's first short touchdown with a 29-yard burst (his running styledoes resemble Terrell Davis).
The Bruins really stuck the spurs in early in the second quarter when, starting at their own six-yard line, they drove the length of the field, highlighted, first, by Drew Olson rolling around end for a nice gain (shades of Gary Beban!), then Markey taking a beautifully executed screen and tripping down the sideline behind Shannon Tevaga and Steve Vieira for 50 yards. Manny again blew into the end zone behind a nice line surge. At this point the Bruins had hogged possession for 15 of the first 21 minutes of play and Duck fans must have been experiencing the same sort of sinking feeling we felt last week. Hey, they're the Bruins, you just never know. When they held the Ducks to a field goal on the following drive, thanks to nice plays from Ben Emanuel and Spencer Havner, the rollercoaster was still on the rise. Just before the half, Kris Kluwe found himself punting from deep in the endzone, Oregon got a short field to work with, but Page made a pick off of a tipped ball, and the Bruins found themselves with the ball and 1 minute, 28 seconds left in the half.
Then it happened.
You can spin it any way you want, but the fact of the matter is that Karl Dorrell decided on safety over aggression. Twice, penalties against the Ducks "bailed out" the Bruins and gave them another chance to go for it. They were near midfield with one timeout and plenty of time left to throw the ball, go for the jugular with their strongest unit instead of leaving the game on the table with the possibility of their weaker unit deciding the game. So they let the clock run. There is no question as to what KD's intentions were because he told us: Since the Bruins would receive the second half kickoff he didn't want to give Oregon any unwanted momentum (and those long desperation passes didn't threaten that strategy). Earlier in the drive Olson had thrown a dangerously bad pass in Bruin territory which, who knows, might have spooked the sidelines. We've seen this scenario played out many times around the country. A team has the last possession of the half and sort of feels its way up-field, using "safe plays," seeing if something develops (like, for instance, 20 yards in penalties). Even with those penalties the coaching staff stayed "safe." Their fear of a turnover that might have resulted in an Oregon scoring chance was greater than their expectation of a 14 or even 18 point halftime lead. This was a Terry Donahue, belt-and-suspenders moment if ever there was one, and your attitude toward TD's heritage will likely color your feelings about this decision.
When Oregon pulled within 24-20 late in the third quarter, the Bruins facing a third and nine inside their own twenty, the stadium rocking and rolling, Olson and Junior Taylor hooked up on the play of the season. Olson's pass was perfect and Junior wouldn't let himself be stopped short of the end zone, but watching those three sitting Duck DBs clowning up that play was just another example (as if we needed it) of the natural superiority of receivers over DBs. And these DBs weren't even handicapped by being put in a "prevent" straight jacket.
We're now well into the 21st century and the passing game has arrived. Woody is dead, Bo is long since out of the game, "Joe Pa" is being measured for his retirement suit as you read this, and all the best offensive minds are using the pass to punish defenses. Defending the pass is the most difficult challenge facing a college defense. As we all know, Drew Olson is an admirable kid who seems to be slowly improving his skills, but if KD and Tom Cable are fortunate enough to land Ben Olson (and Ben turns out to be all that), it will be truly interesting to see how they use him, as opposed to how they're using Drew. We can only hope Ben was as thrilled by that Olson-to-Taylor pass as the rest of us were.
In any case, I'm looking forward to kicking back the next couple of Saturdays and watching everyone else sweat. It's hard work being a Bruin fan, and we've certainly earned an extended bye, too.