Chiccoa: Bruinfan in Wonderland

Our columnist Charles Chiccoa puts the 7-0 record in perspective, historically and emotionally, and keeps those visions of 10-0 sugar plums dancing in our heads...

What's a BROther to think? Alice, wondering what will happen next, comes immediately to mind. And what was it Dorothy said to her cute little mutt? …"Are we still in Kansas?"

Think of where the Bruins have come from… where you have come from. Forget the Dark Age; forget the contemptible "Banquet Bob" and his black armband, Miami conspiracy theories, along with the recruiting shambles he left; forget Karl Dorrell's rookie year, the Axman debacle and the offensive offense; forget the state of things last year from the Oklahoma St. stampede through the Wyoming downer in Vegas (which we had to live with all winter). Just remember where you were as recently as the Drake Stadium, pre-season scrimmage, the day Kevin Brown went down and Cranks were last heard in all their fearfulness, lighting us up with a hundred doomsday scenarios. If those Crank nightmares were a tad excessive, then how over the top Blue is this: 7-0, top ten, #6 in the BCS, Maurice Drew for the Heisman, Drew Olson for the Unitas, Karl Dorrell for Coach of the Year. Items one, two and four, I could've gotten my imagination around, but items three, five and six… no. And I was pretty optimistic in August.

Don't you love this game? We whine about limited practice time, limited scholies, self-limiting academic policies, bandwagoning fans, uncomfortable night games (60 degrees, brrrr!), eastern provincialism and a general lack of respect. But this stuff's either of no great importance or just part of the game. Most college players never make "the league," let alone become starters, impact players. Even Gary Beban and Cade McNown were flops in the NFL. Some of these kids are merely athletic… without the fine skills and instinct for the game that characterized such players as Beban and McNown, Craig Bragg, Danny Farmer, Dennis Dummit, Dick Wallen, Jim Decker and their like; and yet athletes can be coached up and made into players. Others are undersized and can't get a shot at "the next level," players such as Jim McElroy, Weldon Forde, Ron Carver, Alan Claman, Bill Leeka and their like; and yet they were exceptional college players, well remembered by anyone who saw them play. It's this sort of thing, along with the ever-mysterious coaching equation, that makes the college game so continuously fresh and surprising. Things change, everything is in motion, form becomes less and less clear: What's become of Michigan, Iowa, Kansas St., Nebraska… even Florida? (Urban Meyer crying through his press conference, internet rumors he may be headed for the hot seat). Satisfaction is fleeting, season to season, quarterback to quarterback, recruiting class to recruiting class, injury to injury, even week to week. No rest for the weary football fan, particularly Bruinfan.

Coaches live in a sort of psychological bunker, like the infantry during wartime, a worm's eye view of the world. Everything is filtered through a single ruling passion, their own team; if not their life, certainly their livelihood. It's why the Coaches Poll can be so eccentric, why coaches, themselves, seem so defensive, so on edge. It's easy for KD to say nothing about this team surprises him. Like all coaches, he had more primary knowledge than the rest of us, but then optimism has always come easily to the jock sensibility, not to mention being a major part of his job description (The days of the SEC style poor-mouther are long gone in such a hype-driven, dog-eat-dog, marketing jungle as today). And sitting here, as we are now, dazed and amazed… it's been a close run thing, after all. A fourth-down dropped pass, a fortuitous penalty, one less Mo Drew miracle, and it's 5-2, 4-3… just another routine start. But today, in the wake of an overpowering offensive show vs. Oregon State, a distinct national profile, the elusive "corner" finally, apparently, turned. There's now, suddenly, so much to lose. Who can't help wanting more, wanting it all? Two winnable road games, a winnable home game, then a clear shot at the big dog, something we've all been dreaming about but few have believed possible… at least, this early on.

The Bruin offense is now a legitimate three-headed monster. Two of which, Mo and Marc, are not surprising. But the third one, Drew Olson? How to explain? Easier, perhaps, to describe. In pre-season, it was obvious he was improved, that Ben Olson's presence had seemed to focus his efforts, sharpened his performance on the practice field. And, from appearances, his knee injury might as well not have happened. But all this! The great completion percentage, the touchdown to interception ratio, all his numbers; no one outside the Olson family could have expected this. Matt Leinart, I presume, is the All-American quarterback. And, thus far, Olson has been at least as effective. The Oregon State game seemed to tie it all together.

Early in the season we noted Olson's improved pocket presence, his calmness, the way he found his throwing lanes, stepped up in the pocket and got rid of the ball. But there were still questions about accuracy: was he hitting his receivers in stride, over the shoulder, between the numbers? And after we conceded his vastly improved accuracy, there was the matter of character; confidence, could he lead the team under pressure, come from behind, drive them to the winning score late in the fourth quarter? So, after having never done it once in three years, he does it three straight games! There still remained the question whether he could throw effectively downfield, throw long, something we knew his departed rival, Matt Moore, could do. Olson then proceeds to hit Mo down the sideline for a 43 yard touchdown, Ryan Moya for 48, and Brandon Breazell for 46, all of them tight spirals, perfectly on the mark, nice, high trajectory when the receiver was covered, less so when the receiver was wide open. Matt must have admired those throws. And how about throwing on the run? Previously, you weren't sure Drew could even sprint out without stumbling, let alone complete the pass. Now he's like some kind of combination ballroom dancer/dart thrower, and having the time of his life. You can see the new Drew in his body language, his facial expressions. When he checked down to Marc on a little outlet just before being hit by an Oregon State defender, did you notice his grin, as if he was "amazing his own self." Talk about going out and having fun.

The defense, of course, continues to keep us all… a little tense. But what would a Bruin fan be without a little tension? It's as natural to us as breathing. Last Saturday night I didn't begin to relax until Brandon Breazell caught Olson's sixth touchdown pass with less than ten minutes left on the clock. And the last time I felt remotely the same as most Trojan fans must feel today was 1957. And so we ponder whether it's the players or the schemes… or some combination of both. So many questions. Like where and when to blitz? To come with pressure or try to cover? Why such poor tackling, failure to wrap up, to secure the sack? Why so much over-pursuing, getting fooled on misdirection? Why does the secondary look good on Spaulding Field and less good in the Rose Bowl. Where is Chris Horton (now that we've recovered Eric McNeal and Wesley Walker)? Why no gimmick defense for someone like Mike Hass? (Didn't the Bruins learn their lesson with Mike Williams?) Are the slow starts, both ways, finally in the past? Is there any chance Kevin Brown will see the field this year and, if so, will KD allow it? Is it truly delusional to expect more out of this D? And can your classic, Bruin, high-ankle sprain be career threatening? Inquiring BROs want to know.

If the next two games were not on the road I'd feel a little less… tense, a bit more inclined to order a huge English breakfast on Saturday morning. On the other hand, maybe the D will begin finding itself. Maybe the Bruins can finally break serve in Palo Alto. There's no mistaking… things are beginning to feel different, feel right. After the UC Davis collapse, I had Stanford marked down as a sure road trip. Make a long, pleasant weekend of it. But now that Walt Harris, Trent Edwards and Mark Bradford seem to have it together… maybe I'll just catch Petros on the tube.


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