Chiccoa: Reset...Hut-Hut, Hut-Hut

Our football columnist, Charles Chiccoa, re-evaluates after the sobering performance against BYU last week, but also appreciates the fourth-quarter wherewithal the team -- and Ben Olson -- showed to preserve the win...

I should have known something was up when I got hit late Friday night with another attack of vertigo; second time that's happened. Didn't fully recover until well into Saturday morning and thus missed out on the BYU experience. I had to watch it on Versus and listen to the two Mountain West guys, who turned out to be quite good, though Ted Robinson is a bit creepy to look at. The color was also truer. Since I've used nausea and dizziness as a cheap metaphor once before, let me just say there are worse things than sitting through yet another bad Bruin offensive show. You'd think we'd be used to them by now.

I know each of us has our own set of whipping boys for what we saw on Saturday. I mean, someone's got to pay, right? The finger variously points at Jay Norvell, Chris Markey, the receivers, the secondary, the defensive front… even the offensive line. But all those who were most outraged over this ten-point win never fail to mention Ben Olson in their indictment. And who can argue with that? Thank goodness the Bruins held on in winning time. But we all know it was a closely run thing (so much for my ideal start of three straight blowouts to open the season).

Last week someone chided me for being a Blue in Crank's clothing; but if you can't be optimistic with a boatload of returning starters, including a defense that legitimately handled John David Booty and Pete's "legendary" Trojans, then where's the fun? Events, however, dictate reality, and since college football is preeminently a week-to-week proposition, it may be time to call an audible. Today Cal would definitely be favored over the Bruins, and even with Nick Aliotti still employed in Eugene, Oregon might be favored, too. And since Alex Brink just threw for well over 400 yards again (even though it was "just" San Diego State), Wazzu, in Wazzuland, would probably be a tossup. But if some things don't get fixed, it could conceivably get worse than even the most terrifying Crank scenario. 

We all knew, going in, that Ben (not Chris Joseph) was the key to the season and that hasn't changed. For the last ten years, the consistent bane of Bruin football has been the quarterbacking, the offensive schemes, and the curse of dull conservatism on both sides of the ball (which goes back to you know who). DeWayne Walker has obviously stabilized the defense, but we've had to live through Bennett, Paus, McCann, Drew Olson, Matt Moore, Patrick Cowan and now Ben… and none of it, save Drew's senior year, has been pretty (Let's give McEwan a pass, since he was the least talented and, along with Drew, the most improved of them all.)

Ben has now started seven games and five of those haven't been pretty. Of course there's the developmental curve to consider, and things <i>could</i> change, that famous light <i>could</i> still switch on, and he <i>could</i> suddenly sustain some real pocket presence, begin to see the field better, look off his primaries, find open receivers, and deliver the ball more accurately and on time. After the revelation of Drew Olson, nothing would surprise me. But Ben's BYU performance was on a par with the Rice game last year, although he did gut it out and did finish the game with his best throws of the day. If you weren't too busy howling and banging your head in frustration, watching him struggle, you almost had to feel for the guy. At times he looked so mechanical you could almost hear the squeaks. Perhaps some of the BYU "traitor" business blurred his focus. Who knows? But unless Ben comes back strong next week and begins playing "faster," there's going to be a controversy when Patrick Cowan gets well.

Patrick hasn't been the answer either, but at least he's mobile, which Ben is not. And at least he plays confidently, even if the results don't always match the attitude. If Ben can't complete passes downfield, can't drive the team, what's the point of starting him? And forget "rustiness" and "the Mission." BYU's Max Hall was just one more example, as if we needed it, that Norm Chow isn't always right. 

Of course this ten-point "moral loss" wasn't all on Ben, and it would appear that some of us Pac-10 snobs probably had a hard time taking the Cougars seriously because of their unfashionable, not very sexy, conference affiliation. Our bad. This BYU team could be a return to the days of yesteryear and a hearty "hi-yo Lavell!" The stoic, inexpressive, anti-Pete, Bronco Mendenhall, may be the football prophet the Mormons have been waiting for.

Ben did suffer a bad drop by Joe Cowan, early, and then the flagrant no-call on the Cougar pick when Cowan was obviously mugged (but that sort of thing is guaranteed to happen at least once a game). Logan Paulsen, wide open for good gains on at least a couple of plays, was visibly upset with Ben's tendency to lock on to his primary.

So what's up with Kahlil Bell, and why hasn't he been named the starter, and why isn't he getting the lion's share of the carries? KD, Norvell and Dino Babers seem to regard the competition as even, which makes them the only ones that do. Either that or they're trying to keep Markey's head up, which is more Chris's job than theirs. Bell is bigger, hits the openings quicker and harder, and makes better, more decisive moves. He's not getting the notorious Derrick Williams treatment, but then he's bigger and running even better than Williams ever did. You can talk about "development" all you want, but Bell has always been underrated. Now that he's around 220, and with his drive and instincts running inside, he shouldn't be sharing the position with anyone. It was nice to see Markey come alive on the last touchdown drive, but not nice enough for him to get equal carries… not at this point.

                                                              *****

As bad as many Bruin fans felt after this game, it's selling this team short not to take note of the character they showed after the BYU explosion during those three straight drives from the end of the half (naturally) and extending into the third quarter. At that point BYU had seized all the momentum and had the huge Cougar contingent counting this one as #12 in their winning streak and salivating over yet another high-profile upset of a Pac-10 victim. Though some untimely penalties absolutely aided the Bruin cause, both DeWayne Walker's defense and Ben and Norvell's awakened offense stalled the momentum and turned what looked like disaster into a win and a chance to forget this 236-yard offensive performance.  

Defensively, Walker turned the pressure up, sometimes loading the box with eight, even nine men. Hall still handled it brilliantly at times but ultimately couldn't even get the tying field goal. And Bruce Davis's game-saving sack at the 13 put the cherry on top of an All-American day. And yes, as he said, he had lots of help. This guy literally breathes charisma, and he summed it up pretty well afterwards. "I like to call this kind of game an eye opener… I think [we] needed that because teams are not going to be like Stanford every week… we still have a lot of work to do."

Anyone wanting to take something good from this game may want to rewind to the middle of the last quarter. After Ben showed some life and completed three big first down passes on the previous drive, Brian Abraham was beaten by his man and gave up a sack. Ben then missed seeing a wide open Paulsen (and Markey all alone for a check-down) and instead threw incomplete to a well-covered Cowan. The Bruins were forced to punt, and BYU started from their own 19, with six minutes left and a chance to win or send it to overtime. They didn't come close. Kevin Brown got a coverage sack off a four-man rush; then Walker came with pressure and forced an incompletion; then Trey Brown had good coverage on a long pass to Austin Collie (Brown may have been beaten twice by Collie for scores, but he still had another good game). And for those in an uproar over the opponent's passing yardage, Walker's comment may be worth noting. "If teams are going to throw the ball 55-60 times, all I care about is the score. I don't care about anything else," he said. Then of course Ben and the offense finished off the game with their best drive of the day.                                            

After this reprieve in the Rose Bowl, it's imperative UCLA doesn't stumble at Utah like they did last year vs. an inferior Florida State The Utes aren't BYU, and losing there would be something like a train wreck. Hopefully Washington plays Ohio State well in Seattle, and we all convene in the Rose Bowl September 22nd for a little payback; you know, something to buck up even the Cranks.
                  


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