Chiccoa: How Does It Feel?

Our columnist, Charles Chiccoa, contemplates the loss at Oregon, where it rates in the pantheon of disappointing losses, the struggling offense, what he feels is the still-stalwart defense, and a rollercoaster season that could be a pivotal one for Karl Dorrell...

We're now in the eighth straight year of irrelevancy and things are not exactly looking up for Bruin football. It's only the middle of October, with the prospect of daunting trips to South Bend and Berkeley upcoming, also the SC game, and Bruin fans are already into "wait-'til-next-year" mode. There have been no "good" game plans, not a lot of "good" performances, and though I can't be sure, I doubt there have been many "good" practices. Karl Dorrell really does need to purge that word from his vocabulary. Other than as a source of humor, it's become meaningless.

UCLA football now seems to have settled into something very close to a middle-aged, social function… a chance to get together with friends and family in lot H, or invite them over for one more round of barbecue and drinks. And hopefully our beloved Bruins come on late… just in case they throw a damper on the occasion and deliver another performance like Washington and Oregon this year, Arizona last year, Oklahoma St., Cal, Arizona St., Washington St. and Wyoming the year before that, and Colorado, Oklahoma, Stanford, Washington St., Oregon and Fresno St. the year before that. And not to make this too depressing a bill, we won't even touch on the many stinkers of the golden Bob Toledo era, or Terry Donahue's long, long goodbye… or even that embarrassingly extended skid mark to the football institution across town. And people wonder why Bruin fans are so bad-tempered?

This latest example of bad Bruin football was chock full of bad "execution," bad scheming, and - always a hallmark of road mishaps - loss of poise. Throw in the usual Pac-10 zebra act (particularly in Eugene) and it was just another Saturday away from home. So what exactly was the problem this time? Start with the fact that one team is hard to prepare for, throws in "stuff that they had not shown before," takes advantage of defensive weaknesses (over-aggressiveness in this case) by employing such proven strategies as misdirection, counters and deception… and the other team is the easiest team in the conference to prepare for, since their offense isn't based on much beyond "execution" and is therefore without most of those "proven strategies" which make moving the ball so much easier. KD's version of the WCO may be hard to learn but it's certainly not that hard to defend. At this rate, the Bruins might as well resurrect Red's old single wing. At least those plays unfolded beautifully.

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The game in Eugene had barely begun when that familiar sinking feeling set in. The Ducks took the opening kickoff and promptly took apart DeWayne Walker's defense, highlighted by a gross mismatch on Kory Bosworth by a wide receiver good for 40 yards, closely followed by a beautiful delay and cross-field throw to the tight end which found him open by ten yards on a play from the eleven! The Bruins countered with a three and out, highlighted by Ryan Moya going down with a broken leg on a short incompletion. After the Ducks put together their second straight touchdown drive (kept alive by a 3rd-and-3 interference call on Rodney Van), the Bruins did managed a short field goal. The Ducks then closed out this dream first quarter with their most beautiful play of the day, a fake bubble screen, on which Dennis Keyes bit hard, then a perfect pass over the top for a 26-yard TD.        

After getting rolled so badly in the opening quarter, the Bruins were actually still breathing near halftime (14 down as we've come to know isn't completely hopeless). Drive the second half kickoff for a touchdown and you're back in the game, you've put some pressure on the opponent and who knows what might happen? But with a minute still left in the half, the Bruins had apparently forced a punt from around midfield. Always anxious to get to the dressing room in order to "regroup," KD was letting the clock run down again when Mike Bellotti, noticing the Bruins would have almost no time left, chose to go for it. Luckily, Dixon couldn't complete a downfield pass or this would have been one more question KD wouldn't have liked answering.

After botching the opening second-half drive, Aaron Perez gets off his best punt of the year and the Ducks are backed up inside their 10. Just hold them and force a punt, right? Not so fast, my friend. Dixon now freezes the entire defense with a great play fake and takes off up the middle of the field to his own 40, then goes out for a couple of plays with a slight injury (Dixon's a nice college quarterback, but he's also the biggest drama queen in the conference). Brady Leaf replaces him, snuffs out the drive, and the rest of the game is pretty much forgettable save that absurd spot by the zebras and KD seemingly throwing in the towel near the end: Down 30-13, the offense fails to go into a hurry-up then, incredibly, KD chooses to punt, 4th-and-7 from his own 36 with about four minutes left. Other than Dirk Koetter's incredible punt at the end of the SC game, this is the biggest headscratcher of the weekend.  

                           ***


Even operating this troubling offense, Cowan did not play okay. 16 for 31 for only 112 yards, with a pick and no touchdowns, is in no sense okay. The offense gained only 216 yards (only 64 in the second half) vs. only a slightly above average defense. Pat was every bit as disappointing as Ben Olson was in his three poor starts.

Brandon Breazell still has problems fighting off bigger defenders on long passes, and Andrew Baumgartner is still seeing the field too much. Between Breazell, Marcus Everett, Junior Taylor, Matt Willis and Gavin Ketchum, they've got enough other better choices. And now the tight end situation is officially dire with only Logan Paulsen and not much else behind him. At least we should see fewer two tight-end sets.

I could be wrong but I still like the defense, and expect them to play better than most Bruin fans anticipate, even despite the jump up in competition. Walker should have learned a lot from this game (one thing being that 11 people running to the ball isn't always a good thing). I would hope he's contemplating some personnel changes, i.e. more Alterraun Verner and perhaps even Aaron Ware (I think Keyes has been living off that Oklahoma game about as much as Baumgartner).

If this season tanks there's going to be some serious heat on KD. Conservative coaches are not popular these days, and KD is nothing if not conservative and methodical.  Although there's no chance he'd be uncoupled, half the fans do seem ready to mutiny, and one or two big wins in the second half might do something to repair his image.

We've seen KD up close for a while now, and I don't think I've ever seen a coach more rigid in his beliefs, which is fine if you can make them work. So far, you'd have to say he hasn't. The pressure is rising and, say what you will, the rest of the season will certainly not lack for drama. If this team ever gets some consistent quarterbacking, I still believe it could surprise. Of course this rollercoaster effect is not a lot of fun either, and KD definitely has his work cut out for him. Too bad the Bruins' only remaining post-season rewards are possible trips to El Paso or Vegas, and most Cranks would give you long odds on that even happening. My own research into the Crank underbelly shows them looking for 6 and 6, or worse. And, yes, despite outraged denials, some are rooting against the Bruins. Bad luck to you guys.
 

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