Chiccoa: Stuck In Holding Pattern

Our resident columnist, Charles Chiccoa, puts the Stanford game into the context of the season, puts Ben Olson in perspective, talks about how size does matter, especially in college football, and other salient issues about UCLA's football team this week...

Stanford, it turns out, was not what the doctor ordered, and Bruin Nation's fever just went up another couple of degrees. Yeah, the natives are indeed getting restless. Another week of this, or God forbid, an actual loss to an underdog, and we might just see full scale civil war. I begin to fear for some of the Cranks… fear for their health. The most obsessive among them begin to remind me of Monty Python's "Mr. Creosote" (fear the wafer!). Talk about being fed up.  <p>

The Bruin offense needs some sort of… uh, consummation before we're all driven crazy. So many "if onlys" in this game, but then that's the Bruin way, isn't it? If only Chris Joseph hadn't held (or got caught holding) on the "touchdown" throw to Kahlil Bell. If only Ben Olson hadn't "aimed" that shocking overthrow to Brandon Breazell; if only Ben hadn't overthrown an open Matt Willis in the endzone; if only the Stanford DB hadn't made that nice tip on the pass to Marcus Everett (hard to tell if it was on target to Marcus, but it did look as if it might have been); if only they hadn't made such an arrogant call on the fourth-down sweep near the end of the half. And all this over a 31-0 win. Is there perhaps an unwarranted sense of entitlement working here? On further review, I don't think so. Bruin football should be special, certainly more special than it is. All this drama and tension, unpleasant though it may be, is understandable.

Things were not helped any by Petros and Tompkins coming up with that apparently bogus stat about Stanford not having forced a single punt all year… something which served to pour even more gasoline on the fire of Bruin discontent. (You know, reading the message board after this game, I couldn't help tripping out on the idea of a video featuring Cranks going off on camera: call it "Cranks on Fire," something like "Girls Gone Wild." Well not exactly, but you get the idea.).

Still in all, the schedule continues to work in the Bruins' favor. Those lovable Arizona 'Cats come to town Saturday, along with the great zany, Mike Stoops (or Stoops Minor as I like to think of him). Mikey brings along his usual "all D, no O" style of play (but then that's what we thought last year before the rape in Tucson). Even if Karl Dorrell denies the Bruins are out for payback - and I don't believe him for a minute - I'm sure the players are. 

Some people are even suggesting Ben may not be the man: I doubt this, though, I confess I have entertained the thought that he may not be "the savior." But this came at a weak moment, and it occurred during the hour of the wolf (3:00 am) so I expect to be forgiven. In any case Ben's put together three disappointing performances in a row, and he needs to get it together… or at least more together. Against Stanford, he was marginally better than Rice, and certainly better than Washington. He threw more nice balls in this one than probably those two games combined. But his "management" was still poor and is undoubtedly the product of inexperience and some diminished confidence. 

No one disputes that Ben has great potential, but maybe, just maybe, Norm Chow had a point when he questioned the virtues of a quarterback going on "a mission." Call it rust, or inexperience, or lack of competitive edge; call it what you will, but being away so long from such a difficult job as quarterbacking a major college team can't be easy and certainly isn't normal, especially when weighed down with all the expectations we've piled on this kid. Perhaps the long layoff is not the reason for these recent performances, but if it were you or me, I'm sure we would've been more comfortable going straight from the preps directly to the college playing fields.

I do think Ben's "athleticism" has been over stated. Trent Edwards is only slightly smaller than Ben, but his speed, quickness and instincts with the ball seemed easily superior. I'd still rather have Ben, but I don't think he's real nimble or instinctive carrying the ball. Unlike Stoops, Ben's no dancer. In time he'll likely become smoother, and he's certainly no statue, but he does seem to be a "pure pocket passer," and we shouldn't expect much in the way of scrambling. He is strong, however, and the way he avoided that big lineman, ducking under him, then advancing downfield for a nice little gain… that was encouraging.

Speaking of strength and size, that may be the problem with players like Brandon Breazell, Rodney Van and Matt Willis. Size, especially in a receiver, does matter. Which is why guys like Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett are so valuable. They can run stuff like dig routes and post-up undersized corners, or else swallow them whole on long passes and shots in the endzone. Breazell, particularly, has a lot to overcome with such a slight frame, and it's probably the reason he's had problems, over the seasons, holding onto long passes when he's had to fight off the DB. Bulk counts for something, even in little guys. Trey Brown's pick was a great example of that, even though he's 3 inches shorter than "The Blade" but 30-some pounds heavier. Mo Drew's current success in the NFL is no great surprise either, considering his strength (he was destined to be more than a "third down back"). Height is nice, but steely bulk is even nicer. I think Rodney Van's problem is similar. Hopefully he and Breazell will be able to put on significant muscle next year, but it does make you appreciate all over again the accomplishments of people like Jim McElroy and Weldon Forde.

Along with a lot of others, I also wish there was less rotation in offensive personnel, the wide receivers particularly. Anyway, I'd like to see more of Marcus Everett, Junior Taylor (if he's okay) and Gavin Ketchum (now that he's well). Breazell needs to put some fear into corners. It's obvious that Chane Moline is going to get on the field more often, and that's a good thing, though his two touchdowns came behind huge line surges, which he admitted. It's also curious why the Bruins don't ride Chris Markey more in second halves. He's off to a nice start. Could it have something to do with fumbling?     

I don't think we can blame this offensive performance on Jim Svoboda. He was in an awkward situation coming off all the justified criticism from the Washington loss… and I'm not sure his public "confession" before God and all the cameras was such a good idea. It was nice and all, him being so honest and straightforward about his conservative play calling, but he might have been better off (considering the ruthlessness of his critics) not being quite so candid. But then, given the media environment and the firestorm over the Washington disaster, I suppose that's unreasonable. Anyway, Svoboda called more first-down passes, more consecutive passes, and the offense did convert 8 of 17 third downs, most of them passes. Also, I wish Ben would quit "taking responsibility" and just start playing faster. 

Nothing more needs be said about the defense. It's been a dream, and I don't think it's some temporary aberration due to weak opponents. I expect they'll hold up their end of the deal through the rest of the season. Not shutouts, but respectable, perhaps even outstanding performances (taking into consideration the increasing quality of opposition). Kevin Brown and Brigham Harwell are holding up the middle; Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman are beginning to terrify opposing tackles; Aaron Whittington is becoming a sort of Bruin "Groots" (though he shouldn't expect to be named All American); Christian Taylor is thriving in this defense; and how about Chris Horton growing some hands? If this scene continues, the sky's the limit for DeWayne Walker. You can be sure he'll never wind up at Duke (Pray they don't wake up on "The Farm" and offer him Walt Harris's job).

The crowd last Saturday was somewhat surprising. It seemed as if the estimate of 60,000 was optimistic. Whatever happened (free tickets to first year students or whatever), it worked. The game was almost unworthy of the crowd. But it is an indication of the potential of the program. Imagine the Rose Bowl each Saturday if UCLA could ever break out of this malaise it's been in ever since Cade left.

Arizona, of course, has now become yet another "must win." The pressure is higher now than in the opener or the game in Seattle. If Ben can relax, and the offense begins to click, it would serve as a much needed springboard for those upcoming flights to Eugene and South Bend that we've all been dreading. A loss doesn't bear thinking about.   

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