The Return of the Malaise

Our columnist Charles Chiccoa captures the general emotional state of the typical Bruin football fan after four straight losses, that ol' familiar feeling of malaise, or maybe you're actually coming down with something...

We seem to be at a point where talking about the games in any detail becomes an exercise in futility – inevitably one more variation on the ways of losing: poor quarterbacking and a second half collapse; poor quarterbacking, out-quicked up front, and a second half collapse; massive failure of nerve, and a last minute collapse; complete secondary breakdown, and a second half collapse; complete defensive meltdown and a second half collapse. In all these losses the crucial quarterback position has ranged from "better," to erratic, to poor. Depending on your nature as a fan, these losses are either like a bad TV series you're too lazy to quit watching, or something "real horrorshow" you can't keep from looking at… on the one hand, Jeff Bridges' classic L.A. "Dude," on the other, Malcolm McDowell's "Little Alex," strapped down in "the chair of torture, oh my BROthers," lid-locks clamped firmly in place.

 

Some of you have already surrendered… have quit making the trip to Pasadena… are staying home, watching the games on TV… or as much as you can stand before switching off and getting out of the house, back to something enjoyable. None but the heartiest can still take notes while actually watching a replay. But most of us locals still make the gameday trip, be it out of hope, curiosity, a sense of loyalty, or merely a seasonal ritual. Only the Bluest of optimists get up Saturday mornings without that familiar feeling of trepidation… that something's surely going to go wrong.

 

For me, this repetitive losing has become… boring, tiresome, enervating. Sunday afternoon, I painted just two walls of one small bedroom and felt exhausted… fell asleep before 11:00. Could this thing be making me ill?

 

We've had our fill of "death spirals." So far, I've stuck it out, kept making the trip from the West Valley to Pasadena, courtesy of my Blue BROther friends (need to buy a new motorcycle at year end). But I'm not sure about this week, about Oregon State. Maybe I'll invite some stay-at-home Cranks over for barbecue in the back yard and a full day's comfortable football viewing. I'm not "a bad fan," like Cynical Dan, but I'm not a real good one either, like Jeffrey. This stuff is getting old faster than it used to.

 

At the very least, three things still engage all of us: the quarterback/offense question, DeWayne Walker's fading defense and, of course, KD's future.

 

The game in Berkeley was a pretty good demonstration of the relative disadvantage KD's offense carries into a big game vs. a good offensive coach like Jeff Tedford. Put aside the relative merits of each quarterback coming out of high school. Nate Longshore was obviously more highly rated, but Patrick Cowan has demonstrated he's more than your average two star throw-in. Both are young, and both came into this game as basically first-year starters, though Longshore had the job from the opener. Now, it could be that Longshore is simply more talented, but it's even likelier that he's in a much easier offense in which to succeed (which is only partly due to having Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson, Justin Forsett and a DB like Daymeion Huges on his side). But the way Cal attacks individual weaknesses in a defense, particularly with their slot receivers on the safeties, and the way they complete passes from max protection, and the fact that they consider deception and misdirection important elements in their offensive design… all these things make Longshore's day an easier ride than Cowan's.    

 

We're all agreed Pat played his best game of the year: 329 yards in 40 attempts is not bad, though the two picks were very bad, as was that goal-line botch when he got anxious and couldn't wait on Brandon Breazell coming wide open in the endzone (a "quick release" is sometimes a mixed blessing). And I'm still not crazy about those mortar shots he throws up on long passses, though Marcus Everett could have caught that perfectly thrown ball in the endzone on which he was closely covered by Hughes.

 

I've never been a big fan of Chris Markey, but you had to admire his toughness in finishing his runs, then, when the Bears brought their safeties up on fourth down, finally breaking a long one to the house. He made one nice cut and was gone. Good for him. It must have been gratifying after it looked like Derrick Williams was going to eat into his carries. Poor Derrick got just two carries (besides taking a hellacious shot on a kickoff return) as KD decided to ride Markey. This guy can't catch a break.

 

If the somewhat improved play-calling and game-planning was due in part to KD's input, then fine, and good for him, too. Oregon State won't present an overwhelming defensive presence, so we'll see if the Bruins continue moving the ball, with perhaps even some effectiveness in the redzone.

 

This was the third straight game (fourth if you count Oregon's first quarter) that DeWayne Walker's D has gotten abused. 20 for 24? Every time Cal needed a completion, they got it. One only hopes those early season performances were not entirely the result of ugly opposition. If not for the surprising fact that UCLA ran off 17 more plays than the Bears, Cal would've certainly approached 500 yards. As it was, they punted just once. Of course Lynch ran through the Bruins like a young Marshall Faulk and is certainly the best back in the conference. On the little screen he took in for a touchdown, one Bruin player missed him twice, once coming and once going.

 

Oregon, Notre Dame, Washington St., and Cal all have potent passing attacks led by quality QBs, and the Irish and Cal each have a legitimate All-American receiver who badly overmatched anyone in the Bruin secondary. It's beginning to look as if Walker is pulling in his horns when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Coming with no more than five has proved ineffective. Give any decent passer a little time, and the Bruin secondary is a poor bet to knock down a pass. As has been the custom, Bruin DBs either play too far off the receivers, or, if they're even or behind them, fail to look for the ball. Bad technique? Who's responsible for that? Oddly enough, this perverse style seems to recreate itself down the years, no matter the coach. It's also curious how Walker continues to rigidly stay with his starters until injury forces a move… or one of them yanks himself off the field. Rodney Van's hip pointer may open the way for Alterraun Verner, though Verner's extreme youth has shown up on the field. But Verner seems a more natural talent. Dennis Keyes' continued presence as a starter is a mystery to a lot of us. He's poor in both zone and man-to-man coverage, still takes bad angles, and still overruns plays. What this says about Aaron Ware and Brett Lockett, I don't know. And nobody's asking any questions.

 

The second go-around with Matt Moore and the Beavers may not bring out a lot of Cranks, but it's sure high stakes for KD, even considering the rumors that he's likely returning no matter what. Of course, we heard similar talk last January, just before winter practices, regarding Larry Kerr. But when it came time to face the reality of one more Kerr defense, somebody thankfully got the trigger pulled. I doubt the Bruins finish 4-8, but it is a reasonable possibility. They're slight ‘dogs at home this week, and failing an impressive showing, should be ‘dogs next week in Tempe (right now we don't even need to think about SC).

 

"Sure, seven straight down the drain, 26-23 overall… sure, bring him back! Sounds like a plan. So, uh… how do you want to handle the routine rollover? Could we maybe not announce it? Or just hope he refuses it again. Wow, twice in four years… I don't know about that. Jeeze, T.J. will have fun with that one. I mean, we might have to set up a barbed wire perimeter around the Morgan Center. And what about our slogan for next season?" 

 

If the very worst happens, I assume we'll hear endless talk about how next year is what it's all been building toward, how UCLA "owes it to the guy" for 10-2 last season. Must have meant something, right? Actually it did: consider that strange season in the context of 4-8 or 5-7 the following year. Shouldn't we, by now, be aware of the dreaded roller coaster effect and what it signifies? And, finally, don't you just love all this righteous, complacent talk about "he's not going anywhere. Just face it." As if the coach is like a big, steaming plate of broccoli or spinach, and we're all little kids again: Junior, you're not going anywhere until you eat it! It's good for you.          

 


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