Chiccoa: A Necessary Win

BRO columnist Charles Chiccoa reviews the Arizona State victory, giving credit to the defense and expressing the general frustration with the UCLA offense, while also talking about the game that looms in UCLA's future...

Yeah, it was pretty ugly, certainly on the offensive side: two nice passes by Patrick Cowan; two great "playmaker" receptions by Brandon Breazell. This is the first time I remember the ever-so-slight "Blade" being able to go up in the endzone and fight off a bigger DB for the score. Anyway, nice to have him back in top form and right on time. But other than DeWayne Walker's pressure defense, there wasn't much else to get excited about in Sun Devil Stadium. And, yes, Rudy Carpenter was made to look even worse than Matt Moore the week before, another classic example of how not to run an offense. Talk about misleading stats: how about Rudy leading the nation last year in quarterback efficiency?

 

Where have you gone Sam Keller,

Their nation turns its lonely eyes to you,

Boo, hoo, hoo.

 

You knew right away this wasn't going to be Michigan/Ohio State, and not just by all the vacant seats and the laid-back, sun-drenched crowd. Down on the field, the Bruins got off to their usual start, a couple of little dump-offs, a fumble and the first of many punts. The ‘Devils, for their part, simply went backwards. If this was going to be a "defensive struggle," advantage Bruins. ASU defense? Not lately. It soon became obvious neither team could rush the ball, although ASU, on their second drive, looked as if they'd found something soft in the middle when Christian Taylor seemed to be over-pursuing. Whether his adrenalin was late kicking in, or he just needed to warm up those injuries, Christian, along with his teammates, played considerably better the rest of the way.

 

The defensive backfield had their best game of the year. The DBs got their hands on more balls, seemed to have more "passes defensed" than the rest of the season combined. It would appear there's been some renewed emphasis on technique, especially seeing the ball (one wonders what took so long). Hopefully, this will carry over to the pressure cooker two weeks hence. And special mention must be made of Chris Horton. This guy's beginning to flirt with that famous "magical level." If he has a good game vs. SC, you have to think he's got a shot at all conference honors, not to mention "the next level." The consistent Trey Brown continues to do as much with limited size and speed as any Bruin DB within memory. He's all heart and brains. And Rodney Van seems to have come out of his bad start to the season, and that particularly bad night in the Rose Bowl.

 

Does anyone still not believe the front four is outstanding? There may be doubters still, but none, I would guess, among offensive coordinators (SC, maybe, but then they doubt everyone but themselves). Brigham Harwell and Kevin Brown are quick, penetrating tackles with enough strength to hold the center, and Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis are a hard day's work for any opposing tackle, especially big sloppy types. With a little time now for Taylor and Aaron Whittington to get healthy, and with Reggie Carter playing solid and John Hale improving while getting much needed PT, the defense is playing better now than at the beginning of the year. Because of this nightmare of mediocrity we've been stuck in (contrasted with SC's ascendancy), some of us here have become so cynical we automatically discount even those rare instances of superior Bruin play, rationalizing it away as the opponent's ineptness. And we've all been guilty of using comparative scores to advance our own little agendas, rather than attempt to throw light on any discussions. Sure Moore and Carpenter looked bad, but the Bruins' D had a lot to do with it. How much exactly, we'll know by December 2nd.

 

The offense is something else again. Never mind touchdowns in the red zone, this unit struggles just to drive the ball, just to string together a few first downs. If someone doesn't break a big play, the chances of seeing Justin Medlock (good as he is) are depressingly likely. Maybe Karl Dorrell should just damn the critics and concentrate on scoring by threes instead of sixes (little ball?), while praying for the occasional home run (I'm joking). But watching the Bruins try and drive the ball is very much like holding your breath while an infant, just learning to walk, totters from one side of the room to the other. I know there are lots of theories as to why this is so but I'll offer the most obvious one… poor quarterbacking. Analysts on TV, a lot of them ex-QBs themselves, like to blame the receivers for "running the wrong route," or "stopping," or "not fighting for the ball," much like the QBs, down on the field, waving their arms, making faces, playing "the leader" they imagine themselves to be. I'm not saying either Cowan or Ben Olson have been guilty of this, but it's not uncommon throughout college ball and the NFL, so why wouldn't they occasionally conform?

 

Everyone is always at pains to protect the passer, turn down the pressure, including, of course, coaches and fans. Your QB is the key to success and winning, after all, so please dog someone else. My guess is that the overwhelming number of bad pass plays are the result of the QB either getting anxious and throwing too soon, getting squirrely and bolting the pocket instead of waiting one more beat for someone to come open, or just throwing another God-awful pass. (usually hard and overthrown in case people may want to question his "arm strength." Quarterbacks can get very touchy about that sort of thing.)

 

With each succeeding game, it's becoming more and more curious why Chris Markey keeps getting all the carries. It's not as if he's some kind of one off game-breaker, or even an all-conference back. With Kahlil Bell out so long, why hasn't a veteran, talented back like Derrick Williams (particularly since he'll be returning next year) gotten a fair shot to see if he can contribute… or Chane Moline a shot to see if he's something more than a goal-line power back? I'd love to hear KD or Dino Babers address this topic.

 

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The workman-like win in Tempe, though necessary to keep despair at bay for at least another couple of weeks, was probably not enough to make Pete Carroll think twice about the Bruins (we know what his first thought is), or to make some radical Crank feel good about a Bruin win (Not that that's in any way important. Why'd I even bring it up?). If Cowan could have kicked the passing game into life, or Markey could have broken off an impressive run or two, got in the endzone, put up some impressive numbers… that might have generated something like a genuine, heartfelt rush of expectation (at least a mini-rush). As it is, not many Bruin fans are expecting a season salvaging upset. Which is too bad since SC is actually beatable this year, especially away from the Coliseum. Maybe Notre Dame will put a dent in that Trojan arrogance, plant some small seed of insecurity in their seemingly shock-proof swagger. And it couldn't hurt the righteous cause if they knocked some people out either. UCLA needs all the help it can get. So come on Charlie… Brady… Jeff. Play as if you're back home in South Bend. I assume you'll have your usual mob of transplant fans. Keep putting the ball up. Show us how it's done. I'd much rather play an hysterical, insane collection of Trojans than that smooth, well-oiled machine the Bruins have been banging their heads against lo these many years. Go Irish! Make Pete stutter.    


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