Chiccoa: Ad Nauseam

Our columnist Charles Chiccoa talks about the state of being a UCLA football fan, in the aftermath of the disheartening loss to Florida State. After the big win over USC, the program is, once again, true to its history, in a state of seemingly never-ending "labyrinthitis"...

Boy was that a tough one to swallow. "Only the Bruins… only the Bruins," I kept muttering to myself after I'd calmed down and quit shouting expletives.

 

Aren't we all getting a bit tired of this routine: the questions and hair splitting over yet another Bruin autopsy investigation?  Was it the players or the coaches? The offense or the defense? Go for it or kick the field goal? Bring heat or fall back in coverage? Ben or Patrick? Chris or Derrick? (Why not Chris and Derrick?) Why Dennis Keyes, and what's up with Aaron Ware? Every year, it goes on and on. I mean how many more "corners" will the Bruins balk at before they finally make the turn? It's as if Bruin Nation has come down with a case of chronic, collective labyrinthitis ("characterized by dizziness, nausea and visual disturbances"). How to make it stop? I understand it will stop… in time, but when?

 

So it's one more painful morning after… and you couldn't pay me enough to carefully review a replay of this thing. It would be too close to reliving the nightmares of South Bend or Miami, or 19-66, 21-52 and 0-27, or the stampedes in Oklahoma, or the Tucson trouncing, or the Silicon Valley mud bowl, or the Wyoming fiasco, etc., etc. These things seem to bleed, one into another, and there's seemingly no end to them. I truly believe it's harder on us, up in the stands or in front of the TVs, than it is on the players and coaches - and certainly the administration - all of whom are at least repaid in something of value.   

 

Just when you thought DeWayne Walker had it figured out, he reverts again to faith in "coverage," and his defense makes one of the worst starting quarterbacks of the Bowden era actually look competent, not to mention making Lo Booker look like LaDainian Tomlinson. Finally, there's another moon faced Bowden, Jeff, dead coach walking, winking into the camera ("I may not cut it with daddy, but I sure handled these chumps… didn't I now"). It's stuff like this that keeps one from investing too much in Bruin football.

 

                                                               ***

 

After the usual initial jitters, the offense settled in and played as effectively as it has all season… in the first half. The ‘Noles have a respectable defense, and here's Cowan throwing that beautiful rope to Brandon Breazell for a 78 yard score, then hitting Junior Taylor with a very nice touch pass between two defenders. Markey is running through huge holes, and, incredibly, it's beginning to look like shades of Northwestern. Two and a half minutes until half (never a good time for Karl Dorrell) and after three conservative play calls - and with a long yard for a first and goal at the Noles' one-yard line - KD reflexively reaches for his security blanket, Justin Medlock, instead of trying for a momentum building 24-10 halftime lead. "It was too many yards," KD said. Oh well. FSU, of course, answers with a quick, Booker-fueled drive which the now slack Bruin defense is lucky to hold to a field goal. After a good kickoff return out to the 40, Cowan comes charging onto the field with sixteen seconds remaining and at least one (two?) timeouts in his pocket. Patrick looks excited (but then he always looks that way). Nah, false alarm. As usual, KD decides to run out the clock. Why take a chance, put it in the air, try to set up for a field goal? (You know what old Woody used to say about the dangers of the forward pass: only three things can happen and two of them are bad.) Let's not push it, men. Let's get safely back to the locker room.

 

The second half, with the exception of a single Bruin drive, and a very few other passes, is a disaster, and the fourth quarter almost a comedy. Booker running loose, Cowan scattering incomplete passes, a blocked punt for a 'Noles score after a penalty nullified what would have been a first down, a huge Logan Paulsen drop, big cushions on the corners, confusion in the secondary, Rodney Van apparently slipping on the biggest play of the game, backbreaking third-and-long, fourth-and-long conversions by the 'Noles, Derrick Williams' inexplicable "touch," and the coup de grace in the form of an 86-yard interception return by 'Noles' cornerback, Tony Carter. Ole!

 

                                                         ***

 

A few random observations:

 

Thank God the season is over, and the other one, the good season, is heating up.

 

Why is it that loyalists, defenders of the coach, believe that mistakes by the players, made on a consistent basis, year in and year out, are not a reflection on the coach? I thought we all agreed that bad teams will find ways to lose. 

 

Why doesn't KD ever give meaningful reps to his alternate QB, even when his starter is obviously floundering? My guess is that he's more terrified of a "quarterback controversy," of "hurting his leader's confidence," than he is of losing the game. Relieving his starter might appear to light a match to the controversy (it's hard enough to get him to remove any starter from the lineup). Of course, all it does is just piss off people, including the alternate quarterback (or do you think either Ben Olson or Matt Moore looked content, arms folded sedately on the sidelines?). And, of course, it rarely defuses the situation.  

 

Does the Florida St. loss cancel out the SC victory? No, but it sure devalues it… maybe not in the eyes of some Blues but certainly in the eyes of the national media and its "perception" of Bruin football. Don't even ask about the Cranks.

 

Ben or Patrick? No disrespect to Patrick, but I'm a Ben man. Cowan isn't that great a runner, either, and since the Bruins don't play option football and I'm not yet convinced Ben's pocket presence is as bad as Cowan's champions contend, I'll go with the more skillful, accurate passer, and the one who didn't say, after going 7 for 23 in the second half, "I guess the football gods didn't want me to make a good pass." Too bad Patrick got more than twice as much experience as Ben this season. Oh, and Ben doesn't seem to be the luckiest guy in the world. Since I'm a bit superstitious, this also worries me. KD has a very delicate situation here; hopefully he can finesse it. 

 

What is the Bruins' problem at free safety? When was the last time they had a good one.

 

Let's be honest. Without Matt Willis and Andrew Baumgartner clogging the depth chart, the wide receiver position should be more effective next year. Feel-good stories tend to feel good only to the objects of those stories.          

 

So Chad Henne and Mike Hart are coming back to Michigan, and Shannon Tevaga is considering leaving UCLA. Hmmm…

 

What are KD's long range prospects? We'll know something about the immediate future after next season, which should, in turn, influence the foreseeable future. Yeah, we all know he's not Lav, but the SC win was certainly Lavinesque. With the increasing number of games being played today, you can best judge a coach by the number of losses, and KD, even considering all the circumstances we've beaten to death here has, by any rational measurement, lost too many games. Forget SC… how about the other 18 losses? Is he "growing in the job"? Well, he's hiring better assistants. On the other hand, he's doing many of the same things today as when he started. He's as conservative and maddeningly methodical as ever, just as determined to grind his offense into being, no matter the obvious difficulties of executing a system without significant deception, counters, or misdirection, without significant additions to the playbook, including the shotgun, or any broadly imaginative game plans. It's also hell on inexperienced passers and receivers. As to being "a nice guy," I don't know him other than as a celebrity in the media, and neither do most of you. I do know he doesn't always talk straight, which is no small thing. I also know that being nice is irrelevant to being a good football coach, which, at the moment, he is not. But then UCLA has always been something of a "boy scout" school. Niceness and the perception of doing the right thing will take you a long way in Westwood. But if things don't radically improve, the question will become how far that good will can be stretched until it becomes unbearable. I'm betting not much further.             


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