Forget the Corner; Here's the Crossroads

Bruin Report Online's columnist, Charles Chiccoa, ponders the ramifications of the UCLA-USC game, what it may mean for the program and for Head Coach Karl Dorrell. While many UCLA fans have jumped ship, Chiccoa is still on board, hanging on...

The game on Saturday has the chance (and I stress that word) of becoming a watershed moment for Bruin football…certainly for the fans. I realize that those of the radical Crank persuasion believe this Dark Age will last indefinitely, but that's just the self-pitying, hysterical side of their natures speaking. I mean it goes against human nature that prolonged pain of this sort will be endured without recourse to remedies and painkillers. Things do change.  <p>

 

When we talk about critical mass, here, we're talking about change… which can occur one of two ways. Either UCLA football pulls itself out of this slough of mediocrity it's been stuck in since Miami, or Dan Guerrero is all but forced to come with the inevitable recommendation for change. I really don't see DG as a prematurely old Pete Dalis, completely insulated against "the fringe element" and all common sense. <p>

 

Barring some kind of "Cumberland" fiasco, we all know Karl Dorrell is the coach next year; the Oregon St. and ASU wins further insured that happening. But this game, this Saturday, should determine the level of pressure, the temperature on his seat, going into next season. A respectable showing at the Rose Bowl will at least relieve the pressure; another humiliation will up the pressure to the max. In the rather unlikely event the Bruins finish the season with an earth shattering upset, make Pete howl, follow it with a Florida St. win (yeah, I know, I know), KD can write himself a 20-year ticket - the ultimate Crank nightmare!

 

No one but the softest, most agenda-driven Blues can honestly believe KD's 28-20 record is acceptable. Even throwing in all the business about academic restrictions, Trojan abuse, on the job training, institutional indifference, Axman, Kerr, and whatever else you want to toss in this unsavory stew… even then 28-20 (and it could get worse) is still indigestible. Given a bad outcome Saturday, anything less than a truly satisfying next year and Bruin fans can finally decide whether their commitment is worth the investment, never mind the administration's attitude. A lot of us know fans that have already checked out, mentally and emotionally, from Bruin football. These people have decided they have better things to do on a Saturday…that rooting for this program has become an exercise in masochism. And who can blame them. I would guess some of this lot could be found at Pauley, Tuesday night, or happily monitoring the BRO basketball board.

 

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Have you noticed how so many BROs, and Bruin fans in general, are more doubtful of even a decent Bruin performance in this game than in the nation at large? For these people, the betting line might as well have been set by Kirk Herbstreit instead of Las Vegas. Myself, I can imagine anything from a Bruin upset to a respectable loss, to a last-second, heartbreak loss, to a Pete Carroll, run-it-up special. As always this season, the offense and the quarterback question is front and center. As I'm writing this on Tuesday night, KD seems honestly undecided on a starter. He's conceded that Ben Olson is physically ready, but unsure whether he'll be able to handle the speed and pressure of this game. Ben for his part (no surprise) is chomping at the bit. This guy will never lack for confidence, and I'm still a believer. But the inactivity is a concern. Patrick Cowan, on the other hand, has experienced a big game atmosphere in South Bend, along with the pressure of staunching a four-game losing streak. What worries me most is that KD gives the impression that once he decides on the starter, he's determined to leave him in no matter what. Worrisome, but no surprise. This is perfectly in line with his methodical nature. The guy who gets the most reps on Thursday gets his ticket punched; the other guy gets to wear a baseball cap. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe if and when it comes down to it, and things begin to unravel early once again, maybe he'll surprise us and make a mid-game move.

 

As for SC, only Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith give me the willies. John David Booty strikes me as a kind of poor man's Pat Haden (which isn't bad). I don't see him as any great NFL prospect, and the fact that he's All Pac-10 says more about the rest of the conference QBs than it does about him. He seems heady enough (though, like most QBs, he'll throw it up for grabs rather than take a sack). He lacks a strong arm, though he is quite accurate, especially if given time to step up in the pocket, a luxury Pete's QBs have come to expect. This is the probable tipping point as to whether this game will get out of hand. If DeWayne Walker's defensive front either can't get to Booty, or Walker backs off in hopes of "covering," I think the chance of Herbstriet's prediction - "they'll blow the doors off UCLA" - becomes a scary possibility. Probably Walker will mix it up, hopefully effectively. In any case the Bruin DBs are going to be crucial so it's good they played well in Tempe. They should start the game with confidence. If SC starts gashing the Bruin front on running plays, avert your eyes… it's going to get ugly.

 

The wild card, of course, is the Bruin offense. Whether it's Olson or Cowan, one of them is going to have to produce under great pressure (and for the first time) because SC's defense is the usual quick, strong, aggressive unit we've become familiar with. Which, come to think of it, leaves open the possibility of big-play strikes. And given the Bruins' inability to sustain drives, this may be the likeliest way for them to score. Any significant yardage on the ground is unlikely, especially if Chris Markey gets all the carries. Expect Chane Moline to get a few short yardage opportunities, but Derrick Williams will probably get short changed again; I mean if KD was going to use him, why wouldn't we have seen more of him ‘til now?

 

I'm something of a materialist (with existentialist leanings), but absolutely not a fatalist. Anyway, I have to see it to believe it. However, I'm quite attached to the notion of the unknowable… or at least the unknown. I'm forever going on about not being categorical; not believing any of us knows the end of the story. Sports fans, males in particular, seem especially prone to the big statement, intellectual trash talking if you will. Mulling over all kinds of possible outcomes for the Dorrell era, something surprising popped into my head, something I hadn't seriously considered. You know how we're always hoping KD will show us something different, some modification, just a tweak here and there in his offense… some little change in his overall conservative approach. Other than two shocking fake punts, I can't remember many instances of being surprised. The man's got a style and he's sticking to it (some call it stubbornness). I'm sure we'd all be happier if he wasn't this way, but what if he can actually make it work, what if he can grind this thing into something formidable. Laugh if you will, we'll just have to wait for this Saturday, then next season, to see if this improbable trick ever comes off.       

 


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