Chiccoa: In Defense of 45-17

Our football columnist Charles Chiccoa gives in to his more optimistic, Blue early-season tendencies in analyzing UCLA's win over Stanford last Saturday, even though it was "Just Stanford"...

Agendas color perception. It's a truism almost not worth repeating. I've always thought of the term "Crank" as something other than a pejorative. Cranks are fine; I'm one of them after all (though I may occasionally sound strangely Blue, particularly early in the season). It's something like the feeling you get from "Flashman" novels. "Flashy" is not a likable guy, but at least he's leveling with you, and he's not dull. The problem would be if he were working some agenda, some prejudice or other which might call into question his reliability as a narrator. These thoughts came to mind while listening to, and reading, some of the more hysterical Crank reactions to the Stanford opener. You'd have thought it was the Rice game all over again, something that ugly, instead of the 45-17, 624-yard romp that it was. Man, some of us are really tense, and the Karl Dorrell and Ben Olson "hatahs" (non-believers, to be fair) are going to be really hard to turn around.

Sure, Ben started a bit tight after Trey Brown and Bruce Davis had set up the Bruins for an early kill. But if Chris Markey hadn't slipped trying to cut back into a nice hole, UCLA might not have had to wait until the end of the third quarter - when Joe Cowan turned a little dump pass into a pretty 77-yard catch and run - to put this roadie to sleep. Not bad for a "possession" receiver.

We keep reading the Bruins have no "playmakers." I prefer to wait on that question… because in this game, they certainly had some, though it was "just Stanford." Then again what assurance do we have that this year's Cardinal will be just as futile as last year's Cardinal. Maybe they will, maybe not.

Another notorious "non-playmaker," Kahlil Bell, set up scores all day, running for nearly 200 yards on just 19 carries. (When his workday was finished, he found himself stuck at 195. You think Pete Carroll might've gotten him to 200? No matter since Kahlil attributes some of his past difficulties to not being a good teammate. A Bay Area kid, his post game celebration with his family must have been sweet after the abuse he's taken, particularly from BROs… not that he likely pays much attention to that sort of thing.) Not to get too carried away, but his third-quarter, third-and-one, 22-yard effort, when he got smacked in the backfield, was something even DeShaun Foster wouldn't have thrown back (please note I'm not comparing Kahlil to DeShaun). It was one of those classic pin-ball runs, and it was the biggest play of the game. You think maybe we've found the starter?

Speaking of tailbacks - and, again, not to get too carried away – but Christian Ramirez reminded me of another combo safety/tailback of the past, namely Shaun Williams (only in the sense that he's tall and fluid). It does look as if he's found a home, though it's too bad he wasted a season running down the field on special teams that could have been a redshirt year. Next year we may find ourselves looking at a quintet of tailbacks (Bell, Ramirez, Raymond Carter, Aundre Dean and Milton Knox) to rival the bizarre double quintet across town. Afraid to compete, my ass.

Markey, in the Stanford game, looked as if he was falling back into bad habits, trying to break everything to the outside rather than attacking the line of scrimmage. At the end of last season, it looked as if he'd shaken the habit and was hitting in there quicker, taking what he could get, then making his move. At Stanford, he was hesitating again, that stop/start style. The competition now for carries should serve him well as a splash of cold water in the face.

It seems some of us believe that throwing a good fade is just a matter of routine. Toss it up and rely on the receiver to make a great catch. Not so fast, my friends. There's a certain amount of touch involved, and not all fades are equally effective. The one to Gavin Ketchum and that little touch lob to Joe Cowan for the first score were both well placed. The one to Cowan may have been slightly under thrown, but it was placed well enough for the significantly taller Bruin to reach back and pick it off the little cornerback's head (To repeat: When was that corner beaten? At birth!)

I think we all can agree that Ben's performance wasn't as impressive as the numbers indicate. He made some outright bad throws, he still seems a bit stiff in the pocket, he'll never be nimble, and he still doesn't look off receivers. He's basically staying with his primaries. On the other hand, Jay Norvell chose to play a lot of two tight end sets with maximum protection, perhaps due, in part, to the absence of Michael Pitre and Chane Moline. In that formation there aren't a lot of receivers to choose from. On the other other hand, the two tight ends seemed to help the run game. But, still, Ben made some nice throws, including all five scoring passes (no matter the great support he got from his receivers). Off the top of my head, I also remember a cross field throw to Terrence Austin, a couple of passes to the tight ends, and the flea flicker to Brandon Breazell, all of them effective throws. I've found - and I'm sure some of you have, too - that a lot of these games look better once we kick back in comfort while watching the replay. Hardcore fans, like us, can get tighter than the players down on the field.

I'm not particularly surprised the pass defense gave up so much. I mean, Thomas Clinton Ostrander (as patrician a Bay Area name as McLeod Bethel-Thompson) did throw 59 passes, and defending the pass for four hours on a hot September day is a pain in the ass for any defense. As a fan, I hate facing passing teams… all those little dinks, dunks and check-downs, all those tight end drags, tight end up the seams, receivers splitting the safeties… then, boom!, the double-move, pump-fake, over-the-top TD bomb like the one Ostrander and Richard Sherman put on Alterraun Verner. And yet the corners got their hands on more passes than we've seen in a long time. Even though they dropped a couple of picks, it looked like they were having more fun playing than we were watching them. And did Ostrander strike you as a tad cocky? I mean for someone more used to carrying a clipboard than actually playing. And the Bruins did hold him to less than 50% completions. Of course, they'll be facing better QBs down the road.

Stanford's left tackle, Allen Smith, did a very creditable job on Bruce Davis most of the day. All in all, I wouldn't start worrying too much about the defense… or about Bruce. And the defense did force 10 punts; and, yes, even though it was "just Stanford."

Austin, not surprisingly, seemed passive fielding punts early in the game, but then loosened up as the game progressed. If his hands stay sound, he should break more than a couple of punt returns before the season is over.

Matt Slater looks like a huge threat returning kickoffs. He looks hard and compact and he hits the seams like he's been shot out of a cannon. He consistently brought it out over the 30, and missed by inches on a 100 yard return. He's easily the star of special teams.

Based on practices, and again in this game, Aaron Perez should have at the very least a decent year, though I wish he'd try more for the corners on those midfield, finesse punts, instead of those high straightaway kicks which he seems too strong for, and which usually end up as touchbacks.

Kai Forbath needs to seriously start compensating for that hook; otherwise we may have to start calling him "Wide-Left Forbath."

Considering the Bruins history on the road, I'll take something like 45-17 any day. Call me Blue, but secretly I've been harboring hopes of three blowouts to begin the season; so, one down, two Mountain West teams to go.

UCLA, off this game, still isn't big for misdirection, counters or significant deception. Perhaps we'll start seeing a little more as the season progresses (or perhaps not). Right now, they aren't even showing any running plays out of the shotgun, which seems to me extraordinary. I'd also love to see that little misdirection pitch that so many other teams use to such good effect.

It was also disappointing to see the Bruins give up the last score of the half again. They had the ball, first down at the Stanford 45 with 3:50 to go and still gave up the last score. You'd think they'd get tired of this. Then, at their own 30, with 40 seconds and two timeouts left, KD again chose to run out the half. They could've easily gotten off several plays. I know some of us are getting tired of watching that.

And how about Jim Harbaugh? He looks like a decent enough coach, certainly an improvement over the last two disasters. His offense looks pretty good, and he's obviously ambitious and fearless. With that jut jaw and those huge teeth, he reminds me of either Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas, I can't decide which. His sideline tantrums will surely terrify more than a few Pac-10 officials, which he seems to have done at least once on Saturday. Best of all, there's stuff like: "We need to rage off the ball." Priceless! Like Pete says, "You've got to love Jim, don't you?"


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