Chiccoa: Interesting Times

Our football columnist Charles Chiccoa recaps the Washington game and looks toward Oregon State, contemplates the quarterback issue, the running backs, and why UCLA struggles on the road...

I'm having a worse early season than Karl Dorrell. First the vertigo, then a bad case of flu. Couldn't make the game (again!), but BROther "E Pluribus" was kind enough to drop by on his way to the game with a can of Chunky Chicken Soup; ah, the little rewards of community. Speaking of which, the Bruin Nation seems to be unraveling apace. Now it's not just Blues and Cranks, but Patrick Cowan lovers and those who have yet to fall for "the people's quarterback." Ben Olson? The poor guy can't buy a friend. 

Had Patrick not thrown that pick and received that hard-luck knee injury in return, he would likely be starting Saturday in Corvallis… and for the same reason he kept the starting job at the end of last season, i.e., because the team was coming off a winner, not to mention that he was a significant part of the biggest win in his coach's career. KD is as conservative as they come, and conservative coaches are not known for yanking their starting quarterback coming off important wins. Now, I'm sure Ben was pleased with the Washington outcome, but I wonder if, after Patrick's misfortune, there wasn't just the tiniest sigh of relief… deep, deep down inside. No, no! I'm obviously projecting. Ben seems too nice a kid for this sort of common, human pettiness.

So how well did Patrick play? He was fine, but hardly at the level of top-tier, Pac-10 quarterbacks, and certainly not at the level his most fervent admirers have suggested. But then, of course, the same has gone for Ben in his starts, except that today he has about as many fervent admirers as Bret and Jemaine of "The Flight of the Conchords." 

Patrick was 17 of 30 for 147 yards, one TD (on a nicely-thrown fade to Dominique Johnson) and the pick. That's about 5 yards per attempt and a little over 8 per completion, both very average numbers. But then he did convert a good percentage of third downs, and he really did look better than the numbers indicated. As usual, he got rid of the ball quickly and showed good mobility in the pocket despite not having practiced much since the pulled hamstring and still not being 100% recovered. He threw several nice little outs, taking advantage of big cushions by the corners; he threw a particularly nice seam route to Logan Paulson which was unfortunately nullified by a holding call; another nice completion with a blitzing DB in his face; and a nice cross-field completion to Gavin Ketchum on the play Gavin sprained his ankle. But the long passes that I remember were each dead on delivery. And all this talk of "going through his progressions" seems to me as wrongheaded, applied to Patrick, as it has been to Ben. Both passers still lock on to their primaries; it's just that Patrick pulls the trigger quicker and with more assurance. A "gunslinger" indeed. That he can make things happen when the play breaks down - as he did again with that spontaneous backhand flip to Brandon Breazell - has been obvious for a long time and provides the Bruins with an extra athletic dimension only he possesses.

Now that Ben's got at least a two-game reprieve, he badly needs to relax and let the ball go, get into some kind of flow or "rhythm." Perhaps he needs a session on Dr. James Washington's couch.  

Speaking of quarterbacks, the biggest laugh of the night came when the clueless, FSN veteran, Barry Tompkins (who does this guy know?), quoted KD about having "confidence" in walk-on, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, to which "The P" replied, "but not enough to let him throw a pass." Keep those straight lines coming, Barry.

After the revolting performance in Utah, this was absolutely a pressure game, as much for the coaching staff as the players. You could see the Bruins were salty from the opening defensive plays. And facing a quarterback like Jake Locker didn't make the assignment any easier. Other than a quick release/pinpoint passer, nothing's worse than trying to contain a big, fast, athletic quarterback. And wide receiver, Anthony Russo, got the best of the Bruins' secondary all evening. The two of them accounted for virtually all of Udub's yards. Luckily Locker didn't loosen up on his throws until the fourth quarter when, twice, it appeared the Huskies were going to climb back into the game. But the Bruins counter-punched brilliantly with the two long runs by Chris Markey and Matthew Slater. Matt doesn't have a lot of shake but he certainly hits his returns straight up the field, fast and hard. His career here has been an exemplary study in perseverance, and it has to be gratifying to him and his dad to see him finally establish an identity on this team.

Defensively, DeWayne Walker went after Locker aggressively, and though the Bruins got only 2 sacks, they kept him from feeling comfortable, early, and did force some hurried pass attempts. Right around a 50% passer, Locker isn't the finished article yet; he's obviously less dangerous throwing than running. Dennis Keyes came up with that huge pick for a score on a badly thrown ball from Locker. But I don't look forward to seeing him next year in Seattle with a year's experience behind him.

The Huskies never came close to seriously mounting a rushing attack. Locker handed off only 17 times in the entire game. The Bruins offensive line and defensive front simply won the line of scrimmage all evening.   

It was certainly gratifying to see Markey finally have a good game. Yeah, he got caught from behind again on a long run but, just as with Tyler Ebell, it seems a little ungrateful to bitch about someone breaking a 50- or 60-yard run. Seems to me we should be focusing more on the redzone offense that can't finish the job properly. Still it's good to know Kahlil Bell finally starting, got the bulk of the carries and ran well once again. But credit Markey for responding to the challenge.

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The schedule continues to work in the Bruins' favor. If they must go on the road, better to Corvallis than Eugene, especially just now with the Bruins operating on such thin ice at the quarterback position. You have the feeling that Bethel-Thompson might be seeing the field again for important minutes, and it might be a good idea to get him ready to actually throw a pass.

Because, at the moment, Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl shapes up as something of a gimme, and because of the bye week following that game, the Oregon Stat trip assumes that much more importance. Road games have obviously been a huge problem for the Bruins (not limited to just the KD seasons). But then roadies are a problem for most college teams. It's hard to imagine huge, physically-mature 19 to 23 year olds losing their poise (nerve?) just because they haven't got their homies backing them up in the stands… yet that seems to be the case quite often. Perhaps a certain amount of this tightness may have something to do with preparation, which might be a bit more conservative than for the average home game; I don't really know. Some of the problem surely lies with uneven officiating. No one can convince me the zebras are immune to the atmosphere in the stadium, particularly when the home team gets on a roll, which, as professionals, should not happen. In any case, the best indicator of class in a football program is the ability to carry over performance away from home. If the bad calls beat you, so be it… just don't beat yourself.

The Beavers, of course, have been a different team, home and away, and I'm sure they view this game as very winnable, even though their first-year quarterback threw five picks last week in Tempe as the team blew a 19-point lead… not something a class program would do. So it'll be interesting, indeed, to see how aggressively Walker comes out; also, if Ben can break out of his slump, show us something to make us blink. Apparently even Vegas is mystified by these two teams. The game opened off the board.
  

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