Chiccoa: Sisyphus 1, Big Rock 0

Columnist Charles Chiccoa takes us back through the Cal game, reliving the emotional moments, and fittingly compares the biggest Bruin victory in the 21st century to a Greek myth...

As someone suggested, the Greek myth of Sisyphus was the perfect metaphor for the biggest Bruin win of the new century.  Only this, of course, was the corny, Ron Howard, Hollywood version: Sisyphus triumphant, with Maurice Drew disguised as the sweating Greek.  Since Cal fratboys are always going "Get your own song," and wondering "What's a Bruin," I was thinking about a possible new UCLA nickname: The Fighting Sisyphisians.  But then "The Boz" would probably yank his nephews off the team.  Anyway the series now stands at 48-27-1.  Chew on that... 

Because of the tragic nature of Bruin football, I've gotten in the habit of not buying season tickets.  The last time I had them was during the Tommy Prothro years (even Cynical Dan and The Arch Crank have retained their premium seats over the years).  I'm a man of little faith, however, always prepared for the worst, and even though the Bruins have been second only to my wife lo' these many years, I like to remain week to week.  I never miss a game, but I'm occasionally not present.  And when I am, I've spent more than a few Rose Bowl Saturdays watching from high up in the south endzone "cage."  You'd be surprised who you might run into up there (Bob Enger and Sam "first down" Brown, class of '55, to name just two).  Last Saturday I was present and, after moving away from a loud Bruin tourist, I made my way to the top of the Bowl where I found myself next to a nice, old Cal "Blue."  We chatted a little during time-outs in the second half, and I noticed how he became progressively more terrified of Mo Drew, along with his team's penchant for collecting field goals instead of touchdowns ("This time no field goal"). 

On the TBS replay, did you catch the shot of a Bruin fan (after Mo's go-ahead touchdown) with his hands cupped over his mouth in shocked, heavenly disbelief?  That expression said it all for me.  Pure deliverance…Then Trey Brown's pick… and deliverance validated.  Mo's fifth touchdown, as the clock ran out, put the cherry on top.  Because of this extended Dark Age we've been enduring ever since Miami, I think only 20-16 (Beban to Altenburg) was comparable to the feel of this win… at least for me.

                                                ***  

The Bruins got off to their typical big game start.  After Marcus Everett takes away a pass from Daymeion Hughes, Chris Joseph goes down with a knee injury, Drew Olson throws to a couple of tightly covered receivers, and the Bruins do nothing with the opening drive.  Cal, on the other hand, breaks Justin Forsett for 57 yards on their second play from scrimmage.  Then a surprise reverse to DeSean Jackson, which the Bruins naturally over-pursue, results in another fiasco from the officials. 

Apparently last week's crew wasn't taken to the woodshed over their idiotic replay decision on Washington's goal line fumble.  This time, the official at the goal line is indecisive; he huddles with his brethren, then calls Jackson down before crossing the plane on an ill-advised dive and one handed stick, which he fumbles.  Then the two old birds up in the replay booth ponder it for an eternity, can't seem to figure it out, then simply let the play stand as called.  Almost the same crazy deal as last week: If the player is not down before he fumbles, and the call on the field is that he didn't cross the plane, the play must be a fumble, in this case out of the endzone, a touchback for the Bruins.  Forrest Gump could've figured it out… both weeks.  (It cannot be repeated often enough: Football officials need to be younger, more professional.  The game is too fast, too complex for these geezers.  There must be enough PE majors, or recent, physically fit graduates with an interest in sports, who could be lured into a training program, given a decent wage, then quickly moved up to replace these clowns.  I expect this to happen about the same time as the NCAA institutes a sensible football playoff system, sending the archaic bowls the way of the NIT).

After Chris Markey fumbles the kickoff and Cal makes it 14-0, less than two and half minutes in, I'm having flashbacks to that SC nightmare at the Rose Bowl, 2002.  But Mo makes his first statement of the day on his first big punt return, the Bruins convert from the four, Olson to Joe Cowan, and they're back in the game.  Soon after, Olson and Brandon Breazell set the table on a 24-yard pass play, then Mo knocks over Harrison Smith at the goal line.  The blow echoes through the north end of the stadium.  The crowd awards him both ears and the tail. 

Of course the Bruins can't stand prosperity and promptly give up ten straight points on a field goal and a 35-yard scoring pass, Jackson beating Dennis Keyes, who never sees the ball.  After Cal hits a 30-yard pass on Marcus Cassel, the Bruins catch a break when the H-back goes in motion, but turns upfield before the snap on an otherwise perfect play, costing the Bears a 17-point lead.  They settle for another field goal.

UCLA gets the last drive of the half and makes it pay off, even after Mo has another long play mostly nullified by a holding call.  Markey has several nice runs up the middle and Mo finishes off the drive with a short run.  Bruin fans know they're lucky to be down only six.

After Joe Ayoob opens the second half badly missing Jackson, wide open, for a first down, the Bruins blow a scoring chance when Joe Cowan times his leap perfectly on a long ball (slightly underthrown) but can't come down with it.  Olson scrambles for what would've been a first down at the Cal 28, but a holding penalty kills the drive.

The Bruins force a punt and Mo brings down the house again with an 81-yard punt return.  This now has all the signs of an instant classic.  Incredibly, Bruins lead.

Keyes then saves a touchdown when he catches Forsett on another long run.  The Bruins again tighten up in the red zone and Cal has to settle for another field goal: 30-28.

UCLA can't convert a 3rd-and-4, then Marshawn Lynch converts a 3rd-and-10 on a screen pass.  Forsett then breaks another long run, and Lynch comes back to finish off the drive with two more power runs, and the Bruins are back in the soup.  A holding penalty and an Olson sack put the Bruins in a hole near their own endzone, then Perez gets off a poor punt and the Bears are in position to put the Bruins away… if they can put it in the endzone.  The tension is ratcheting up as Trey Brown can't hold onto a tipped ball, and the Bruin crowd reacts as if it's been shot.  After Havner crashes down from the edge, Ayoob connects with Jackson on another third and long.  Finally Keyes makes a couple of more good plays and Cal has to settle for another field goal; twelve down, thirteen minutes to go… but still viable.  Time to drive.  

The Bruins convert a third and five, then Olson throws one his worst passes of the night, off his back foot, under a rush, and luckily avoids a pick which could have spelled lights out.  Bruin fans are once again crushed when Olson hooks up with Cowan on a huge 40-yard pass play… but holding again.  Olson and Ryan Moya are two yards short of a first on a third down completion, and Karl Dorrell quickly runs in the punt team.  Too quickly, perhaps?  The boos descend, just like last week.  Cal bites, even though this is a perfect spot for a fake kick.  They haven't a clue.  The fake works like a charm.  Michael Pitre takes a short snap to the overloaded side and hands off to Jarrad Page, reversing left.  Jarrad has the first down, then eludes one tackler and he's off for 38 yards, plus a personal foul (thank you very much).  From the ten, Mo takes it to the one in two rushes; then Olson burrows in on a sneak.  Down by 5, the pressure is on the Bears, plenty of time for the Bruins.  More hysteria in the stands as Rodney Van blows up the return at the ten-yard line.  But Lynch goes for 20 and the air goes out of 74,000 or so Bruin fans: advantage Cal.  Lynch breaks a 50-yarder, which would've ended things, but an obvious hold on Justin London made it possible, and, praise be, an official caught it immediately.  Ayoob then jukes London (shades of San Diego St.), then Lynch makes the first down when he squirms out of Havner's tackle for loss.  One more first down and it could be over.  But the Bruins hold, Trey Brown breaking up a huge third down attempt.  Cal must punt, and the Bruins have 2:30 to go 75 yards for the win.  84,000 wrung out fans are standing, yelling, praying.

Just like last week, once again it's Olson to Everett, and this time Drew has to throw downfield.  It's a beauty as Everett goes up between two defenders and takes it away for a 38-yard gain.  Another Olson to Everett pass puts the ball just inside the 30 when we get the Tom Cable/KD call of the game… a kind of flat, speed screen to the right, a new set, and Mo naturally beats everyone to the right corner for the biggest touchdown of his career.  Raise the roof!

There's still 1:35 left, time enough to blow it after the two pointer fails.  All Cal needs is a field goal.  Medlock puts the kickoff in the endzone and, again, like the Washington game, the Bruin D refuses to put us through hell on some kind of last-minute drive.  After an offensive interference call, Ayoob faces a first and 20 from his own ten.  Ayoob can't win the game, or so the conventional wisdom said… and it proves correct.  Trey Brown, sitting back in his zone, reads the quarterback and flashes in front of the receiver for the pick.  The roof comes off again.  Game, set and match.  When was the last time you felt this good?                              

                                                      ***

Cal proved what Oklahoma didn't, which is to say the Bruins can beat a legitimate national power.  Ayoob may be no Aaron Rodgers, but he's no callow freshman either, he is improving, he never looked nervous, and I don't think he was fronting when he commented on the likelihood of a capacity crowd.  "I think it will be fun," he said.  "The more the merrier."  Some fun, dude.   

Cal figured they owned the 4th quarter this year (remember "Mooch," way back, and his cocky little 4-finger salute).  Well, they lost this one and it wasn't close.  The "gutty little" defense (God forgive me using that pejorative) didn't wear down, even after losing Brigham Harwell for over half the game.  The D was at their best during winning time.  Larry Kerr, considering his personnel and the loaded opponent he was facing, played it just about right with a lot of five-man fronts, while occasionally, judiciously loading up the box.  Cal fans thought the Bears didn't run enough because of their huge rushing numbers.  But this game was feast or famine the way the Bruins defended; they had a large number of tackles for loss and Cal had lots of big plays.  It was almost a Rocky Long approach.  But you can't run on 3rd and long, and you can't consistently run against eight, even nine in the box. 

Cal may just have a better O line than SC.  Their secondary is definitely better.  Lynch and Forsett are easily in a class with Reggie and Lendale.  I'll be surprised if the line on their game in Berkeley is more than eight points (and that's contingent on an SC win in South Bend, no guarantee).  If Cal's defensive front can force Leinart to win the game, the Bears have a shot.  If SC wins both those games impressively they are unreal.

With Harwell down, the Bruin D is still very iffy.  They seem to be doing it with mirrors, but the younger, smaller front is gaining experience and presumably some confidence.  There's certainly no questioning their heart.  Now if only Havner and London can play well at the same time.  And Wesley Walker's return is a plus.

The offense is for real.  Olson played fine against another legitimate defense.  I could be wrong, but as big a loss as Junior Taylor is, Everett seems even more talented (next year's passing game should be even better).  Believe it or not, this might be the best redzone offense in the conference.  As for Mo, no more needs be said.  He's "deuce fantastic," better than Freeman, Wendell, Gaston, Skip and DeShaun.  Also a new kind of Bruin legend, a new kind of football star.  I mean the humility is genuine.  Call him the anti-Reggie.  "I just run"?  Come on Mo.  No, it wasn't him when the running game went sour, and don't believe he doesn't run north and south when there's daylight to run to.

What a fabulous high… walking out of the Rose Bowl.  I watched the old "Blue" making his way down the stairs and called to him, "Great game.  Beat SC."  But it was obvious he was whipped… and I knew how he felt.  Hey, Bears, take it like a man.  Move on.  We've been doing it, here, ever since 12/5/98. 

I naturally got lost in the dark trying to find my way back to the BROthers Derf, Blue Mood, PacPal, Philco, Iniomy and the rest.  I found them eventually.  They weren't going anywhere… not for a while.  Sorry to say, but I don't much drink.  This was a special occasion, however, and I hit up Derf for one of his specialty beers.  I couldn't read the label in the dark, but I could tell it wasn't a Bud. 

I think we're all going to roll around in this one for at least a week, ride it as far as we can, see what happens in Pullman… but with a bit more faith… at least for me.   


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