Chiccoa on Rice: Offensive Interruptus

Our columnist, Charles Chiccoa, sticks a final fork in the Rice game, providing his take on what happened to UCLA's offense, the constant of the first two games -- DeWayne Walker's new defense -- and the rollercoaster ride...

Guess we can call a brief timeout on all the "one-and-done" talk (at least for a couple of weeks). As mature and poised as Ben Olson looked in his debut, he now did an almost complete 180 in his green, follow-up performance. One Saturday he's Uncle Ben, the next one he's Young Ben. Ah, youth (maybe 23 is the new 18). What? After Utah you thought this was going to be easy? This is Bruin football we're talking here; nothing comes easy for this everlasting darkhorse… We should have seen it coming. 

Rice was the obverse, mirror-writing image of the opener. If Utah was murder, Rice was "redrum." The Utah game was all passing, no rushing and all sorts of time for Ben to scan the field and deliver the perfect throw: Ben yes! Chris Markey and Kahlil Bell… boo. Pass blocking, yes. Run blocking… boo. And the Rice game, of course, was all rushing, no passing, no time for Ben… and, this being Bruin football, only scattered appreciation for Chris Markey and Kahlil Bell. Why no appreciation? For the sin of only delivering 20 and 40 yard runs, instead of 60 and 80 yard touchdowns (not to mention the sin of not being Maurice Drew or DeShaun Foster), and because Ben, and the passing game, couldn't help to finish off those drives which should have been touchdowns instead of field goals. In the world of serious college football, we're all critics.

It does seem as if we're still dealing with the rollercoaster routine, producing the old bipolar effect on Bruin fans. But it could have been worse. If not for DeWayne Walker's defense, it might have been the upset of the week…month… year.  Try to imagine Rice sticking it in the endzone after Marcus Everett's fumbled punt. You think Larry Kerr's outfit could have produced that goal line stand? Imagine the fun Kirk Herbstreit, and the poisonous gang at ESPN, could have had with a Rice upset (or even overtime). Now there's a definition of hell for you, one to rival 19 - 66. And imagine the Rice coach, Todd Graham, and his Texas "high school" staff turning flips and going berserk on the sidelines; they might have spontaneously combusted. You almost couldn't take your eyes off Graham; he was more fun than a barrel of Mike Stoopses. 

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The one happy constant (admittedly after only two games) has been Walker's defense. It's quick, it's hugely aggressive, and I begin to suspect it won't be pushed around up front. A lot of you will disagree, but I think they'll be even better vs. the run than the pass (at which they're not at all bad). Though Kevin Brown and Brigham Harwell are occasionally on the field at the same time, I wish they were both operating on the first team. Right now they're mostly stacked at the same position, something like Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis last year. The linebackers have yet to become the problem most had anticipated, and I'm not sure I don't have more confidence in the front seven than in the back four (or five or six). Trey Brown seems to have played well, while Rodney Van, being the least experienced in the starting secondary, has had the most passes thrown his way. Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes still seem better in run support than in coverage, though none of them looked good on Quinton Smith's nice, 48-yard TD sprint on that speed option. Keyes took a bad angle, almost a circle route, while Horton and Brown were both handled by wide receivers. Though neither Utah nor Rice is considered a "power," both presented UCLA with gimmicky styles, which must be a pain in the ass to prepare for. I'm curious to see the Bruins play a more conventional team.

No, UCLA won't be getting any respect off of this thing. They should thank God it was only shown on "Prime Ticket." If any of the sort of respect this team is looking for is to be forthcoming, it'll have to wait until Oregon, provided they go into Eugene unbeaten, and provided they come out a winner. So what's wrong with ambition?

As we like to say, there are certainly issues that need to be addressed (better yet corrected). The special teams are bad again, and not just because Mo moved on to the pros. We're starting to see the same alleys open up on kickoff coverage, and Justin Medlock, in the heavier evening air, never reached the endzone once on any kickoff (It should be added that his field goal kicking looks better than ever.) The punt returns have been a joke; can't anybody here catch the ball and move it up field? The coaches seem to be conducting open calls every week. Someone needs to take this job by the throat (I'm thinking one of the freshmen, Jeremy McGee, Terrence Austin or Alterraun Verner). All the candidates, thus far, have shown nothing more than an inclination to run away from the ball… if they don't drop it.

Despite the quality of opposition, I continue to be impressed by the defense. Rather than worry about who they're beating up on, I see them getting tighter and more cohesive as we move into the conference season. Maybe I'm just giddy over Karl Dorrell trading up for Walker.   

Ben certainly won't be the last quarterback to fail to read underneath coverage, but he really does need to quit dropping the damn ball. And as poorly as he played, he still made those two beautiful throws for scores. Sorry, but he was the story vs. Utah, and he continued to be the story vs. Rice. If he does a repeat of Rice in Seattle, then it's time to worry.

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It's early Sunday night and I still haven't heard any quotes from Walker or Jim Svoboda. I'm particularly curious to hear what Svoboda has to say. He didn't seem to offer Ben a lot of help in the way of game planning (beyond running the ball down the Owl's throat) or in adjustments during the game. Looked like a bad case of vanilla to me. Maybe the nearly insane intensity of the "angry Owls" took the whole offense, players and coaches, as much by surprise as it did the rest of us. But these issues all seem fixable, though the punt returns are getting to be a problem. UCLA, as we all know, hasn't been the only program to receive an unwonted early season surprise. But then we're not concerned with other teams, are we? We'll leave them to the tender mercies of their own BROthers.  Fortunately, you can flush these ugly games from memory if the team gets back on track… and if they were at least wins.

The Bruins were not the only ones to leave their A game home Saturday night. During much of the game I kept wondering out loud why Andrew Baumgartner was constantly on the field. Not until the fourth quarter did I catch on to the fact that I was awarding Baumgartner an additional number. I was reading #15 and #18, both, as the famous walk-on. Was it my eyes or a brain cramp? My friends must have been wondering what I was going on about. They didn't respond, and when I finally admitted my blunder they didn't even boo me. What kind of Bruins are they?


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