Chiccoa: Dazed and Wrung Out

Our columnist Charles Chiccoa gets a little dizzy after the ASU game, disoriented by the Drew Olson heroics, the defense's deficiencies and the possibility of that game looming on December 3rd...

Leaving the Rose Bowl last Saturday night, making my way back to the "Derf/Mood" tailgate, I was actually woozy, enervated, vaguely unwell, not quite dizzy but something close to it. I was well over the flu… I'd had nothing to drink… probably just my sinuses acting up. Later on I wondered if it wasn't perhaps something like a wimpy fan's post-traumatic-stress brought on by prolonged, emotional exhaustion, the product of that October rollercoaster ride followed immediately by the shocking collapse in Tucson, and now another "shootout." I don't like "shootouts" (though, of course, I'd love to see one vs. SC). I like wipeouts, which we haven't seen a lot of for a very long time. That'll be another sign that "the corner" is in our rear-view mirror.

I didn't begin to relax until Dirk Koetter failed to use his remaining time-outs as the Bruins were trying to punch it in while the clock was running down, ultimately settling for Justin Medlock's clutch field goal and a two-score lead. (If we all can understand that it's easier to control the clock when you have possession; and if we can further understand how much damage can be inflicted on a college style "prevent defense" in the last minutes and/or seconds of the second and fourth quarters, why do so many college coaches not stop the clock and act on this knowledge?)

Throughout the game, a lot of us in the stadium became aware of the Looney-Tunes numbers Drew Olson was putting up (300 yards in the first quarter!). When his passing yardage began approaching 500, I couldn't help recalling Cade McNown and Miami - not a happy thought. Fortunately, Dirk eased me back down. Thanks, Dirk.

The ASU game begins and ends with Olson. After playing his first poor game of the season last week, he then presents us with this incredible beauty. You can easily make the case that it was the greatest single game performance in Bruin history. I mean the only thing close was Cade in Miami. But Drew was only three yards short of Cade on nine less attempts, same number of touchdowns with no picks. You think he might have done something with those nine additional passes? Miami and ASU were also comparable opponents (That was an ordinary Miami team, which, if I remember correctly, had just given up sixty odd points to Syracuse and Donovan McNabb). And, of course, this one was a win, at home, before almost 85,000.

The huge crowd was surprising, at least to me. After the disappointing attendance for Oklahoma, then the "hiccup" in Tucson, you might have reasonably expected something under 60,000. It's further evidence of the importance of perception. Even coming off a very bad loss, there are enough Bruin fans, and enough buzz in SoCal, that a fresh, feel-good, 8-1 Bruin team can fill the Rose Bowl for a non-SC game. Never condescend, never be rude toward band-wagoners… especially in this laid-back town.

What more can be said about Olson. A lot of us noticed some improvement in pre-season practices. But this! I mean "nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition." Other than not being a running threat, what hasn't he done?

He's now sitting at number one, nationally, in passing efficiency. His numbers are more impressive than Matt Leinart's, and Leinart has a superior O line protecting him. You might want to add a Trojan advantage in supporting firepower, too, but it would only be a slight, if that: I yield to no man in my admiration for Maurice Drew, Marcedes Lewis, Chris Markey, Marcus Everett, Joe Cowan, Bandon Breazell and Gavin Ketchum. With the exceptions of Mo and Marc, each was underrated going into this year. As it turns out, all they needed was to see the field.

My friend, Cynical Dan, has taken to referring to Olson as "Joe Hardy," a character that dates back to the pre-Beatles era. He was the hero of "Damn Yankees," the guy who sold his soul to the devil in order to lead the old Washington Senators to victory over the hated Yankees… or something like that. Olson is fast becoming one of the great athletic makeovers of all time. It's simply amazing, week after week, to watch how fluid he is, how relaxed in the pocket, how accurate and on time are his throws, how sound is his understanding of where the ball should go. We all know where he's come from. Another couple of good performances and he's right up there with Gary Beban and Cade. Hell, he's probably there now; but he was awfully late arriving. So why this extraordinary transformation now? Was it Jim Svoboda? Was it all the rehabbing, conditioning and weight loss; the familiarity with the offense; his own singular perseverance? Probably some, or all, of the above. Maybe it's like the best art: something mysterious.

Other than someone like Leinart, who has hours to "survey the field," most passers decide, pre-snap, where to go. Other than "looking off" a defender (which is also pre-arranged), I don't see a lot of college quarterbacks dropping back with their "head on a swivel." Where Drew used to be consistently off target rolling out, now he's flinging sidearm strikes on the run, with a defender in his face. All the little mechanical flaws we used to note (which now seem irrelevant), like tap, tapping the ball before release, like his extended (rather than compact) throwing motion, are now becoming trademarks instead of faults. Forget Joe Hardy, this is shades of Joe Montana (less the wheels) at Notre Dame. If he plays well in his last two games (especially SC) why shouldn't he have a legitimate shot at "the next level," let alone all the post-season awards?

I've given up arguing over the merits of Larry Kerr. Everything's been said; we've all staked out our positions. It's enough to know that something must change. Either the Bruin defense will cease being a national subject of derision, or critical mass will finally force the issue. Everyone from Dan Guerrero to the bitterest Crank will have been driven crazy with a few more such hapless performances as we've been witnessing, week in and week out. I haven't run the numbers, and I don't even want to imagine how low they might go, but this season's D must be on a par with last season's, not to mention the three previous regimes. For me, it's not encouraging to hear a defensive coordinator say stuff like, "Any time one of the teams stopped the other it was like, ‘Wow.' Or "Once we got ahead we were able to play more zone and keep the ball in front of us. Early on we gave them opportunities to make big plays because we were playing man-to-man and that's tough on a cornerback, who is stuck out there on an island" (this after a four-year starter at safety asked him to play more man-to-man since the secondary feels less comfortable in zone). Somehow I can't picture a truly aggressive D coordinators talking like this.

So, how ‘bout those zebras? Ever see a game like this? And let's hear it for the heroic Dan Hill, up in the booth, Dan the Man who declined to cover his colleagues' well-padded backsides. I mean when was the last time you remember celebrating a touchdown five minutes after the fact? Not once, but twice! God knows we've endured some atrocious, backbreaking calls over the years, but nothing like this in terms of quantity. It's only a shame some of their other calls were outside of Dan's jurisdiction. They could have flipped a coin after each key call and done a better job. They ought to go straight in to The Hall of Silly Buggers. Anyone who still wants his team's fate left to the tender mercies of these boys can only be an unconscious masochist. Breazell's foot was stuck like a flag in the north endzone, the offending zebra was staring right at it, he did not indicate a bobble, and still got it wrong. Marc, on his clutch reception on the four-yard line, was well in bounds, he took it cleanly away from the defender, the offending zebra was looking right at it, and he got it wrong. It cannot be repeated often enough: this game moves too fast for these old guys. You can only conclude they make calls based on "feel." Mr. Magoo could do that. The game has outgrown such innocent notions as poor old Claude, down at the bank, blowing yet another call before 100,000 people and an outraged nation. Today, millions of dollars hang on the outcome of games, the teams are coached by a new class of academic plutocrats, fans pay through the nose for season tickets, TV networks spend millions for the rights to sell advertising to billion dollar corporations, the nation hangs on the outcome of each succeeding Saturday… and old Claude, down at the bank, may be deciding the outcome. And have you noticed how the same people who never wanted instant replay are also against even the most modest playoff system. The human factor? More like the human comedy.

So… three weeks for the BROs to marinate in all the possibilities of December 3rd, bowl opportunities, the football polls and the general unfairness of it all. I don't know, but a victory over the Trojans, in the present circumstances of each program, would make the other stuff somewhat beside the point. I understand – the more you win the more you want… and the more you deserve. And yes, Virginia, there is east coast bias, but it's not strictly provincialism. Appearances on Fox Sports Net 2 are not conducive to national exposure. Only win on a consistent basis and you'll appear more frequently on a wider network. And all these night games don't register much in the east and southeast time zones. But finish 10-2, or even a surreal 11-1, and watch the familiarity quotient skyrocket. And if you can't get it done on December 3rd, at least go down competitively. Don't get carried out on a Trojan shield. Make the suckers work. But then in a world where Drew Olson is becoming (or should become) a legitimate Heisman candidate, how far-fetched is a win over SC?


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