Chiccoa: Soft, Conservative, Exposed

Our columnist, Charles Chiccoa, pulls no punches in looking at the USC game. He wonders what just about every UCLA fan has been since Saturday: How can the defense be this bad?

Unfortunately, perception and reality came together last Saturday, and with a vengeance. Let me begin with a few words of appreciation over the broken body. It would be remiss not to mention, up front, how much fun October was. From the first day through the 29th, we got to watch four out of five thrillers, all with happy endings, any one of which would have been memorable as the comeback game of the year. Wonderful days, BROs, especially at Stanford. And the incredible rags to riches ascent of Drew Olson was nothing less than inspiring, and should be a lesson in humility to us all: sometimes bad juniors do become great seniors and sometimes our most complacent assumptions turn into so much confetti. It would be nice to think we learned this lesson… but I doubt we will. Certainly the performances of Maurice Drew and Marcedes Lewis were all that we might have hoped for. Marc has more than fulfilled his potential, becoming the greatest tight end in Bruin history. Mo, of course, has another year and a fair shot at becoming the greatest running back in Bruin history.

But having said all this, uh… can we talk?

Call me delusional (again), but I don't think that even with these personnel deficiencies it's realistic or rational for UCLA to go down 59-6 after three quarters and change, even to this SC team. To repeat: this defense is undermanned, but it shouldn't play this badly. Remember, the conventional wisdom, before meltdown, was three touchdowns worse, not seven touchdowns plus. And that's with Matt Leinart suffering yet another emotional breakdown - all the pressure of the winning streak on top of his tough social life and that famous academic load - and considering "Pete the Impaler" was forced to run in the subs with almost an entire quarter remaining. This easily could have been a 70-point game. You almost have to admire the guy's chutzpah when he admits, "It couldn't have been sweeter. There's no question about what's going on. This is what we're all about." What could be plainer? As we've said before, nothing less than a stake through the heart will get the job done.

Look, there's no way any honest discussion of Bruin football can go ahead without considering the question of Larry Kerr. It's hardly going out on a limb to declare this Bruin defense right there with the very worst defenses in Bruin history, and, counting last year, that's two of the worst, all time, with Kerr's signature on them. Even the mainstream media is talking of his possible uncoupling. And what, indeed, is the justification for keeping him? Is he a recruiting magnet? Does his name excite you? Will his presence help expand the season ticket base… or shrink it? You think the presence of Kevin Brown and next year's incoming freshmen will change his style? Talk about delusional. Today, a lot of us are suffering buyer's remorse, since the guy was originally sold as a "pressure defense" coordinator, which he is not. All three of his Bruin defenses have had "contain and coverage" written all over them. And if T.J. Simers is to be believed (and there is the small problem of T.J. not being known for writing non-fiction), Kerr may also be… uh, disingenuous. T.J. quotes Kerr as saying, "We were begging them to throw it. We put eight guys [up front to stop the run], nine guys and played zero pass coverage and opened up the passing lanes for them. We knew the running back was the best player on their football team. We were inviting them to pass." Other than maybe the touchdown slant to Dwayne Jarrett in front of Trey Brown and that bit about "the best player," everything else is factually incorrect. Or maybe it's that Kerr has a somewhat eccentric idea of what constitutes a stacked front. Some of us don't count linebackers, six yards off the ball, as "begging them to throw it." This is almost Toledo-esque (don't look at me).

We've gone through this drill over and over, and, I realize, those who use lack of "material" as explanation for these awful defenses are still pinning their hopes on next year's players. Good luck to you, but a lot of us are not buying. Worst defensive talent in the nation? I don't think so. Next year better. How could it be worse? But why settle for so little upside? Consider third-and-ong situations, which are as good a yardstick as any for determining the most generic sort of conservative approach. We all remember the 3rd-and-10 when Reggie Bush popped that 65-yarder off the left side. Sure, Dennis Keyes took a bad angle (fast becoming a Bruin tradition with free safeties), but the play before, when the motion penalty was called, Kerr was obviously bringing heat, including the corner off the edge. Third and long, he changes the call, falls back in coverage… no heat, no great surprise… ballgame. That's Kerr, and it was just like this through the Aliotti/Field/Snow years. And we haven't even opened that can labeled fundamental techniques.

So it's back to tending our gardens - while avoiding the media and all the Bruin jokes -- until December 30th and Northwestern. (Too bad Phil Knight couldn't bribe the Fiesta Bowl into inviting his beloved Fighting Ducks. Maybe he'll consider doing Tom Hansen's job on his lunch hour.) Sun Bowl? Northwestern and UCLA? Call it the poor man's Ivy Bowl. At least we're all together in hoping Olson and Lewis go out with a bang. Drew's turnaround has been the long-play equivalent of "The John Barnes Story." I was hoping that he, at least, might show well last Saturday, but the O-line went flat and 32 attempts, for negligible yardage, in a Trojan rout were not nearly enough throws. But then the offense only got to run 65 plays (to SC's 95!) while the Bruin D was playing straight man to Reggie and LenDale.

So, yeah, "the sun came up" this morning, but, hey, the Bruins are a part of my life, and I don't feel the need to apologize for that. There are lots of expressions in the contemporary sports vernacular that set my teeth on edge. You know, stuff like "it is what it is" and so and so "is not going anywhere." Too smug, too complacent, too fatalistic. I'm also tuning out "we had a great week of practice" and "we've got a great game plan." The former just puts the lie to one more cherished sports cliché, i.e. "you play like you practice." As to the latter, you and I and the rest of us will be the judge of that. But the one that bugs me the most is some jerk, who doesn't know me, telling me to "get a life." I've got one, thanks, and I may even have more and varied interests than you do, my friend.

There's nothing wrong or "shallow" about identifying with a team, feeling passionate about them. Noam Chomsky once wondered why people get so emotional over sports. Noam, of course, does not, and likely doesn't know many people who do. It's not as if these teams are like family. This is what he believes. I think he's wrong.

Bruin Report Online Top Stories