Hope, Doubt and the Jokers

<b>Charles Chiccoa</b> has the final word in his last column of the season. With a bit of Crankiness, Chiccoa at his core is pessimistic but does recognize that there are some elements to Karl Dorrell's program that give him a chance. Namely, now, a quarterback...

Well that was certainly an unwonted Christmas gift (a sort of football equivalent of Grandma's fruitcake, you know the one with stale maraschino cherries and bits of inedible dried fruit). Not since last year's Oregon debacle at the Rose Bowl have we seen such an inept Bruin performance. The Wyoming experience in Vegas will likely prove as hard to swallow as the Fresno St. thing in San Jose. But that's life in this, our latest dark age. The SC game was pretty obviously a false spring, a strange anomaly, and Bruin football is back in the briar patch where Bob Toledo left it and Karl Dorrell found it (lucky Karl). At least "spring practice" (and our first look at Ben Olson) will be coming early, though this is small consolation for the Cranks, many of whom will be taking a sabbatical from Bruin football on doctor's orders. This is understandable; a man has to do what's in his own best interests. We all have our breaking point and, God knows, Bruin football is a heavy load to bear.

I'm becoming inured to this routine. After living through the Billy Barnes era, the blessedly short reign of Pepper Rodgers, the Toledo era and the first six years and last seven years of the Terry Donahue era, I've naturally developed coping mechanisms, which isn't to say things like a Las Vegas Bowl defeat rolls off my back, but… I'm okay the next day. I read and digest the board, ignore the L.A. Times, take my wife out to breakfast, perhaps take in a good movie, enjoy a good dinner, watch a bit of TV or have a good read (currently Tom Wolfe's new big book). Unless we can shake "the curse" in the near future, younger Bruin fans will, in time, also develop a harder shell, which should enable them to find ways of miraculously looking forward to spring despite whatever horrors were visited upon us poor Bruin fans in the fall.

KD is back in the soup, on the "hot seat," call it what you will. Wyoming more than cancelled out the good feeling coming out of December 4th. Of course he'll be back next year, and, worry not, Ben Olson is probably the Bruins' most solid commit. (Imagine the kind of sincerity it takes to go about in a foreign country, knock on stranger's doors and talk to them about your religion.) And anyone who doesn't think Ben has a great chance to start next year is deluded. If he's all that, he will start.

The Wyoming game was the season in miniature. The Bruins came out vanilla, offensively and defensively. Tom Cable complacently forced the run, and the Cowboys were ready for it. Their coach worried to the media about his gutty little buckaroos getting run over by the big bad Bruins, all the while likely hoping UCLA would take the bait in order that his defense could anticipate what was coming. And defending the run is easier, strategically, than defending the pass, particularly in college ball. The Bruins, of course, obliged. We all saw it. Too many runs, too early… no misdirection, no counters, no deception to speak of… no drives… and not enough Maurice Drew. This might be a good place to spit out something that's been bothering me all year, i.e.: Why hasn't Manuel White been playing more fullback? It became clear very early on that Chris Markey was going to be a nice surprise. He was talented enough, big enough, mature enough to step right in and play important minutes. No team, especially a running team with little confidence in its quarterback, needs a three-man rotation at tailback, especially a team with something to prove. And Manny was the Bruins' third best tailback, who, if lined up at fullback, would've forced defenses to actually account for the fullback, not to mention forcing the coaching staff to employ him as an offensive weapon, primarily a receiver coming out of the backfield rather than the single wing blocking back the position has unfortunately morphed into. Mo Drew was always the Bruins greatest weapon, the player the opposition feared most. The coaching staff knew it, yet he was denied carries, thereby cutting the Bruins' chances to break open games. This was a mistake any progressive offensive coordinator wouldn't have made (Mo's ankle sprain occurred early in the game he was knocked out of and had nothing to do with fatigue). Once again Marcedes Lewis was not exploited, nor was the opposite-side tight end who's become a full-time extra blocker. Whether this is the play calling or Drew Olson's problem finding receivers in the middle of coverages, who knows?

Defensively, again, no surprises (deception seems to be regarded as unmanly in Westwood). Larry Kerr called his usual predictable game with the usual number of four-man rushes, a few predictable blitzes to no effect, resulting, as usual, in no real pressure on the passer, early success and confidence for the opposition's offense, and a needless first-quarter deficit. Matt Clark is the only consistently reliable cover guy in the secondary and, without pressure from the defensive front, any competent quarterback, which Corey Bramlet is, can throw for 300 yards… which he did.

As to the infamous re-kick on the punt, as Tracy said… if you like playing aggressively, you can't complain. I do, and so I can't complain. Craig Bragg butchered it, he had a lot of running room and I feel bad for him. He's always been an admirable talent, but bad teams find ways to lose and Craig drew the short straw this time.

David Koral's early success surprised many of us who witnessed his frustrations on the practice field. His touchdown pass to Bragg, just in bounds, was a beauty. His failure to find receivers, later on, was not a surprise. It would've been nice to see him help win this one, it would've made a great story, but it was always a long shot, and Koral is no John Barnes. His numbers, since he threw two touchdowns, were slightly better than Olson's, but his performance was far superior considering his game experience was virtually nil.


After last year's season-ending disaster we all speculated as to what KD needed in order to succeed.  He obviously wasn't getting the job done and I believe he still isn't.  Cable improved the offense, particularly the O-line, but the Bruins are still the most conservative team in the conference (not a good thing).  The question is not really when KD might get uncoupled, but rather can and will he succeed?  If he ultimately fails, it's just a matter of time (no small detail) which events and critical mass should dictate.  Three strikes, four, five?  Like our politics, most of us have an agenda, which roughly corresponds to the Blue/Crank paradigm.  Blues remain hopeful, finding silver linings (real and imagined), indulging in rationalizations (it's the players, it's the officials, it's buzzard's luck, it's the last of the underbelly).  Cranks are skeptical, or they've grown cynical from too much disappointment.  They see… nothing at all, same ol' same ol'.  BT with worse numbers.  For them hope is the opium of the Blues.  I'm more Crank than Blue but I always allow for the unknown, for the joker, the fly in the ointment, as Homer Smith used to say. 

Who are the jokers?  Ben Olson, first and foremost.  If we haven't learned the true value of a talented, playmaking quarterback after having suffered through the seasons of Brett Johnson, Wayne Cook, Cory Paus and Drew Olson then we're incorrigibly stupid.  Almost any defense, if they sell out at the line of scrimmage (no respect for the quarterback) can disrupt a running game.  If Wyoming can, almost anybody can.  The days of Woody and Bo are dead.  The Green Bay sweep is as dormant as the single wing, sweep right.  Offenses succeed or fail based on who's under center and how well he's exploited.  It should be clear by now that barring some kind of magical transformation, Drew Olson isn't the Bruins' ticket to success.  He's had his shot and, in reality, he's a fall-back option if Ben has serious problems or (always a possibility with the Bruins) suffers a high-ankle sprain.

Larry Kerr is another joker: "Larry, you're killing me" (couldn't resist… again).  KD promised an attacking defense when he came in and this is something Kerr cannot deliver.  He seems to set in his ways to change and it's apparently not in him.  His defense last year, considering the personnel, was nothing special, and this year's edition can stand comparison with any of the legendary stiffs produced by Nick Aliotti, Bob Field and Phil Snow.  Kerr was also ultimately responsible for the continuing presence of Ben Emanuel on the field when better options were available.  And his (or Don Johnson's) infatuation with Kyle Morgan will always be a mystery.  Justin Hickman and Brigham Harwell needed to bookend the defensive line, with Bruce Davis backing up Hickman.  Morgan couldn't make plays, couldn't contain, and got tons of minutes.  Basically, he took up space; he was the Michael Fey of the football team. 

The return of Marcedes Lewis and Spencer Havner is also a joker.  I'll believe they're in the fold when they remove all doubts to the contrary.

Will KD stand pat after the Wyoming game?  I've never understood why a head coach will relentlessly retain members of his coaching staff that jeopardize his professional future and his "dream job."  This is where we expect coaches to earn their money, to step up, to make hard decisions for the good of the program.  Based strictly on his public declarations, you'd have to suspect there won't be any changes in his coaching staff.

It's excruciating and/or maddening to watch KD -- silent, motionless, expressionless on the sidelines while a game is slipping away.  Cheerleading and leaving your fate (and your team's fate) in the hands of coordinators on game day is a hard way to go.  From a fan's perspective (which is admittedly limited), it seems that KD needs to be more involved in the playcalling, more hands-on with the offense.  If Ben Olson looks like the answer this spring practice, KD and Cable need to redesign things with a view to further expanding the offense and finally putting an end to those infernal stacked boxes once and for all.  The worst thing KD can do is to stand pat, to bind himself to declarations he may have made prematurely, before he went bust in Vegas.  Hey, we can take a little misdirection.   

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