Chiccoa: It's Undigestible

Warning: Our columnist Charles Chiccoa relives the sickening feeling of the big loss to Arizona on Saturday, but draws some interesting conclusions in doing so. If your stomach can take it...

Saturday night:

So much for that famous "corner." The Bruins still seem stuck there, right now with egg all over their face. The Blues and Cranks have retired to their respective bunkers, and the players and coaching staff will no doubt be retiring to theirs, tight-lipped and grumbling about "us against the world" and "playing for each other." We've seen this scene before.

After that unwonted feast in Tucson, we could all probably use a kind of mass-Heimlich maneuver. When you consider what a complete atrocity this thing was (offensive/defensive/special teams/coaching) you can only conclude it was in a class with Miami. All the rationalizations, and eight claps, and stiff upper lips completely pale next to this mastodon in the living room. Does anyone seriously think this feels like your ordinary 8-1? How you win or lose is always critical; this isn't the silly season of pre-season prognostications. This loss cannot be minimized; it was a horror-show, as bad as it gets. This wasn't SC; it was 2-6 Arizona! We all witnessed the spectacle of an 18-year old, true freshman force feeding the Bruins their lunch. Well, he didn't do it by himself; he had help. Unfortunately, the players across from him didn't have as much.

Just as surely as Nick Aliotti's name is attached to the Miami fiasco, so also will Larry Kerr's name be attached to this one in Tucson. I admit to not being Kerr's biggest fan. I've never liked what I can only describe as his rather orthodox approach to design and game planning. His defenses look to me as slack as those of his three most recent predecessors, each of whom produced the three worst defenses in Bruin history, while his competitive nature seems to me just a bit too professorial and abstract, closer to a simmer than a rolling boil (perhaps that's just a personal preference). And his seeming inability, or disinclination, to emphasize fundamentals has now become so pronounced that his players barely even need to be blocked – they'll run themselves out of the play with the merest twitch on an eyebrow… or engage the interference to little effect (with the object of containment), thereby passing the responsibility for stopping the ball to someone else. In any case, it looks like a very nervous defense, while at the same time being oddly mechanical. And the question of whether it's the players or the coaches has turned into another chicken or egg routine. For whatever it's worth, I'm with BROther Hitit… (The players may leave a lot to be desired, but they can't be this bad. And the Dave Ball unit, three seasons ago, did under-perform) .

Kerr seems solidly wedded to his "base" and his few blitz packages, all of which elevates balance, safety and predictability over aggressiveness, imagination, variety, intensity, surprise, or spontaneous individuality. His defenses, each Saturday, put me in mind of Claude and Maude and the grandkids out for a Sunday drive. And his subbing patterns seem to me at least questionable, especially when he occasionally pulls out his better players in what looks to be a fit of pique because they're not "executing," thus going from bad to worse. Is this really the best way to develop a sense of cohesion, responsibility or unit identity?

Arizona is no offensive power, even with such a good true freshman quarterback as Willie Tuitama. What we saw here was a clear case of an offensive coordinator out-scheming his counterpart. Barring the minimal possibility of yet another miracle comeback, this game was over before the half. On the Cats first four touchdowns, each player would have scored even had they been playing a game of "touch." One Arizona tailback said, "We didn't expect it to be this easy." The other one said, "It was a different feeling, a really cool feeling, not even getting touched." And so another pair of tailbacks go off for over a hundred yards each.

Sunday Morning:

No comments in the papers from the low-profile defensive coordinator. Indeed, not much at all from the coaching staff. Karl Dorrell had to say something and so fell back on coachspeak: "It was one of those humble butt-kickings that you're going to have to take." KD is becoming notable for the terse reply. And have you noticed how he doesn't even make the obligatory one-liner, on the run, comments to the sideline reporters any more?

So, I've decided to "suck it up" and slam in the video (before recording over it) just to make sure of what I saw. Right away, you have to wonder about Michael Pitre getting so much action, particularly in the one-back set. Did Tom Cable believe he could "grind" the Cats because of their sorry numbers vs. the run? The fact that Pitre went for thirteen yards, through a huge hole, on the fourth play of the game, might have reinforced that suspicion (if, in fact, he was thinking that). On the other hand, Cable did throw fairly often, early, so that he may have abandoned any such "grinding" notions before Arizona had run away with the game. The fact that the Bruins, so often, threw short of the first down, had perhaps more to do with Drew Olson and poor pass protection than play calling. Who knows? You make the call.

As so often in his career, Olson came out overthrowing early in the game. We've seen this scene before, too. And Ed Blanton and Brian Abraham were having problems with the smaller, quicker Arizona defensive ends, Copeland Bryan in particular. I always have to smile when pla- by-play and color guys start going on about defensive linemen giving up so much size to O linemen. Of course they do. D linemen have to actually be able to run fast and make athletic moves.

Cable's biggest problem would appear to be the predictable design of the offense. In this game, with the early defensive collapse, the Bruins were more or less forced to go away from the run. But Olson, partly because of Arizona's good pressure, still had his weakest game of the year. Cable's worst call (and it was huge) was Olson's fourth-down quarterback sneak. Drew has never been strong, particularly in the lower body (physically, he reminds me of Wayne Cook). In such a desperation situation, down 0-28, wouldn't it have been better to go with Mo Drew, who is exceptional running into goal line defenses? In any case, Olson never had a chance. Had the Bruins scored, then gotten that other touchdown before the half, they could possibly have left the field down only 14.

Opening the second half, Arizona obliged the Bruins with a quick mercy killing. Mike Thomas went for 20 on the first play, then, on 3rd and 7, Tuitama completed an easy pass downfield in front of Marcus Cassel in what looked like confused zone coverage. After Justin Hickman couldn't wrap up Tuitama on a sack (Bruce Davis knocked him off the quarterback), Hickman then hit Tuitama again, as he was throwing, resulting in a duck which the receiver was able to come back for and Cassel was too deep to make a play on. We've also seen this scene before. A couple of more runs, a crowd-pleasing flip into the endzone and the Bruins were in intensive care; then a couple of reckless mistakes by Rodney Van (bringing out the kickoff from seven yards deep in the endzone, quickly followed by a whiff on the punt returner, who proceeded to take it for another score) and the Bruins had flatlined. Now, with the outcome settled, UCLA finally forced a couple of punts, but the offense could do nothing of note other than the bad lateral pass to Chris Markey, which Arizona's Marcus Hollingsworth smelled out all the way, and, after much prompting from the crowd and his teammates, fell on it for a last humiliating touchdown, 7-52.

It then became obvious Drew Olson wasn't coming out until he drove the offense to a score. For the O it seemed like doing punishment rolls for failure to "execute," but it could've proved foolish if a playmaker would have gone down. Ben Olson got a few useless minutes at the end to no helpful effect.

Arizona does seem better than rated. Tuitama is yet another example of how a skilled freshman, even a true freshman, even a quarterback, can play in the college game. Burning his redshirt year was a brilliant move. Remember when Homer Smith was telling us how it took four or five years to learn his offense? Those days are gone. Another freshman, Mike Thomas, is already an exceptional receiver. And guys like Bryan, Syndric Steptoe and Mike Bell are players, too. And the Cat's secondary looks much better, much quicker than the Bruin secondary.

So where to go from here? A bounce-back win vs. ASU is all-important. A loss here would render the miracles of October pretty much irrelevant. And it's not as if the Sun Devils aren't beatable, especially in the Rose Bowl, even with this ball-and-chain defense. We're all Bruins here. We've seen this all before. We can eat humiliation for breakfast and come back for more. Last week we were outraged when people were calling the Bruins the weakest undefeated team. So let's face the truth and be grateful the team is now the weakest 8-1 team, instead of being 4-5, which could have easily been the case. They'll be time enough to pick at the scabs in the run up to SC. Hope to see you all at the Rose Bowl this Saturday… the biggest game before The Biggest Game.

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