Chiccoa: Merrily Bumbling Along

Our football columnist, Charles Chiccoa, has a go at the Oregon State game, with some differing perspectives from Cynical Dan and Excitable Tom, and has another go at the Ben Olson/Pat Cowan issue...

"They were loud and absolutely certain of their opinions… the thought never came to them that they could err, or that [disagreement] could lead to clarity. There was, therefore, no possibility of discussion with them… and whoever contradicted was the 'enemy.'" -- Peter Padfield

Ever since the Stanford game, the only thing tougher than watching a Bruin game is listening to the interviews, then joining the discussions afterwards (which, given the emotion-charged nature of the college game, is entirely understandable). In the last ten seasons, the hardcore fan base has been driven progressively, game by game, season by disappointing season, almost completely round the bend: Edggerin James, Nick Aliotti, black arm bands, 4-7, Poli-Dixon, "Gentle Ben," Cory Paus and DeShaun Foster behind the wheel, all the various losses to close out the various seasons, Bob Toledo cratering in '02 and now, of course, the disappointing Karl Dorrell experiment, which no one feels very good about. Why shouldn't there be bad, bad, bad… bad vibrations? So now comes this shockingly ugly exhibition of bad football in Corvallis, between no less than the last two men left standing for BT's old job. It's all getting to be too much.      

A Brief Consideration of 40-14

Oregon State starts out as if they're going to nail the Bruins' hide to the wall, finish off the KD era once and for all. On their way to a huge early knockout win, with Yvenson Bernard cutting the Bruins to pieces on his way to a prospective 200-yard day, and with the Bruin offense all but going backwards their first six (!) possessions... a funny thing happened: Their young, not-ready-for-prime-time quarterback, Sean Canfield, did it again, almost single handedly disabling his team, much as he'd done the previous week. And as if that wasn't enough, up popped Gerard Lawson (the "LawDog"?) to provide the coup de grace. After committing a dumb personal foul on Alexis Serna's only good punt of the day, Lawson went into one of the great concentrated slumps in the history of college football. I mean, has a single player ever fumbled three consecutive kickoff returns? This feat must have been as rare as Brandon Breazell's two consecutive on-side kick returns for touchdowns vs. Northwestern. Do they even keep such records? (And maybe Mike Riley really is "painfully nice." I mean he gave the poor "LawDog" three chances before he mercifully put him down. And not a discouraging word did there appear to be on the Oregon State sideline, which is just as well, considering the suicide rate among young Americans.) And for the Beavers' last trick, they allowed a punt to be blocked by a four-man rush! Have you ever seen that before?   

Breazell, of course, was again outstanding, single-handedly breaking the game open on the 69-yard slip screen with that DeSean Jackson-like move on the linebacker, then applying the exclamation point at the other end of Ben Olson's best throw of the season. (Think what Breazell could have done playing with Cade. Think of Jim McElroy.) Other than Breazell, what else to put on the credit side? Matt Slater and Trey Brown, of course… and the defense, though DeWayne Walker had to have known the Beaver O was fatally flawed with a quarterback as obviously awful as Canfield. And the entire Bruin team should be congratulated for hanging in when the first twenty some minutes looked exactly like yet another roadie horror show. But enough of this game. I've already erased the tape.

Decide For Yourself                                     
I got two calls after the game, the first one from Cynical Dan, brimming with his reflexive sarcasm, delighting over the ugly play while looking forward to Ben's prospective crucifixion vs. California. When I suggested the possibility of Patrick Cowan starting that game, Dan wouldn't hear of it. "No, no," he said. "Even if Ben stunk up the Rose Bowl against Notre Dame, even if Patrick is healthy by Cal, KD will still stick with Ben." When I suggested that KD had already chosen Patrick over Ben at least once before, he again dismissed the possibility. Such is his "hatred" for KD, the "right move" was just too painful for him to contemplate. If Dan had his way, the Bruins would go 0-12 just to ensure regime change. And I don't believe he's alone in this "hatred" (the word having a more harmless, benign meaning among sports fans when they believe a coach or player is betraying "their team"). 

The other call was from Excitable Tom, who said things were breaking "just right." The kids got off to a bad start, sure, but they held their poise, kept it together, pulled through for a big road win. Though the final score was deceptive, the rest of the country would be completely ignorant since nobody outside of Bruin fans would've watched the game. Ben would come around, he assured me. That last quarter would set him right, carry over, give him the confidence he needed. Success would breed success. Ben was going to be just fine.

Dan, of course, is a veteran, abused, season ticket-holding alum. Tom, naturally, is an ex-baller.  


Everyone is weighing in on the question of whether the problem is the KDWCO or Bruin quarterbacking. I can't offer anything original beyond saying I'm with those who believe both the offense and the quarterbacking have been something close to unwatchable. With respect to Ben, it's almost inconceivable anyone could have been so over-hyped, or so it seems today. Having said this, I don't rule out the possibility he may somehow "find himself" and become at least competent to lead the offense. The other Olson did it, but I don't remember his performances ever looking quite so consistently depressing as Ben right now. I don't think the words lumbering and slowhand are out of line when applied to his recent play. And the most troubling aspect is that these things look physical… therefore not easily "fixable." But like everyone else, I'm anxious to see some improvement this Saturday.    

Yeah, all things staying the same, I'd go with Cowan when he's ready (hopefully for Cal), and the choice doesn't seem close. Olson was fine against Stanford, despite his numbers being almost as inflated in that game as they were in Corvallis. In his subsequent starts, he's gotten progressively worse, although the improvement from Utah to Oregon State is almost imperceptible. Granted, he wasn't quite as awful last Saturday, but he was still bad. In retrospect, a similar pattern can be detected last year. But if Cowan would've played better during his shot last year, grabbed the job with both hands when he had the chance, we may not even be having this discussion.     

We all know Cowan is quicker and more instinctive than Olson, that he gets the ball off faster. Neither shows any talent for finding secondary receivers or even looking off their primaries. (This would also appear to be a coaching problem.) To repeat: if Olson can't complete throws downfield, can't drive the team, then there's no point in continuing to go with him. Accuracy down field, his touch on the longer throws, seems to be his only virtue. Without that he's a drag on the offense. Who knows what plays are being called, or how much his problems getting the ball off on time may be influencing the play calling? And if both guys fail, hell, give the walk-on, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a series and see what happens. "Mac" has apparently looked better than your average walk-on. How much worse can he be? I might have given him a meaningful series in both the Utah and Oregon State games, and not just limited him to handing off… that's how badly Olson was playing. In '92, when Wayne Cook went down and then Rob Walker and Ryan "Phenom" failed, we all remember what happened when that walk-on "tramp athlete," John Barnes, got a shot. This is college football, after all, and these things are not inconceivable. 

I don't know if the WCO can work in college ball. I do know that the KDWCO is the hard way to move the football. You cannot consistently come at a good college defense armed only with "execution." But KD stubbornly clings to the notion that you can. And so he continues to disregard misdirection, counters or any consistent sort of deception. Does Jay Norvell endorse the notion? It would appear so. (The occasional trick play is not my idea of deception since it's not organic to the overall offensive design. To this day, it amazes me that people still believe BT was a good offensive coordinator merely because he believed in trick plays and because he was lucky enough to have inherited Cade.)

I'm also not real interested what fired coaches like Mooch and Rick Neuheisel think about the so-called difficulty of the WCO for college teams. Football coaches are by nature self-serving, and they're getting worse as the pay becomes greater. Why else do you think these guys so often go off under pressure? Call me cynical, but I have to carefully think over almost every word that passes their lips. Anyway, decide for yourself. Trust your own eyes. If you've played some sport, and/or just watched the college game for a respectable period of time, and if you're halfway intelligent and can grasp elementary, abstract concepts, go with what you know. I mean, if you'd have spent all your working life in the college game and had put in as many years as the average lucky devil who's stealing a living as one more average or underachieving coach, you'd have progressed past football 101, too, just like the "professionals" condescending to the rest of us. And that goes for gurus, the media, and every other "expert" who wants to "break it all down" for you… who tries to convince you that black is white because they know best. These games are not that complex, the book isn't that hard a read.

Anything can happen with this team. You're not likely to get out-coached by UCLA, and with their obvious quarterback problems who knows what could happen when they fall behind early or try to sit on a late lead. You can't count on a Canfield or a "LawDog" to bail you out, even as a three-touchdown favorite. A loss against the Irish isn't likely but this is not yet a class program, and I'll still be just as queasy when they kick off this Saturday as I am for any ordinary "big game." Until we see consistency, every single game is big.                                       .      

Bruin Report Online Top Stories