Unprepared for the Worst

Our football columnist, Charles Chiccoa, touches on some of the lasting reverberations from the Notre Dame game, the quarterback situation, the season, and coping techniques for being a Bruin football fan right now...

Sunday morning (and for future reference):

If you haven't already wised up, make it easy on yourself and accept the fact that there will be more games like this, like Notre Dame and Utah, and they will come relatively often, at least once a season, maybe more. So be prepared. Only until UCLA secures at least reliable leadership can you relax in the knowledge that these train wrecks will become few and far between.

After each debacle, do whatever it takes to get a decent night's sleep, treat yourself to your favorite breakfast, read the papers (if you're in any way curious), then just let it go. It's not your problem. It's Karl Dorrell's problem, and Dan Guerrero's. By all means, vent. It's probably healthier than keeping it bottled up. But you must know that it's out of your hands. And after your anger and frustration begins to ebb, find something else to occupy your mind (you have a life, right?). As I write this, it's fourteen days until the next Bruin experience. Get into some good books (perhaps the Durant's "The Story of Civilization" in eleven volumes); see some of those movies you've been thinking about; get out of the house, play some golf or tennis, even ping-pong (something where you can slam balls); ride a bike; take the family on an outing… anything but thinking about Bruin football. 

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There are some things, college football truisms if you will, which we all should be able to agree upon, the most important of which relates to the most important position in team sports, the quarterback. You cannot expect to consistently compete without a competent quarterback. This is Football 101.

KD's job on Saturday was to make sure McLeod Bethel-Thompson was somewhere in the neighborhood of competent. Since "Mac" is not athletic, and is in fact an inexperienced, red-shirt freshman with a scarlet "W" on his forehead, there was reason for doubt. Did KD and Jay Norvell honestly test him with any real pressure in practices? Or did they merely decide they would go with him as the backup, cram him with as many reps as possible, and hope for the best? Practice may not be playing in the Rose Bowl in front of 78,000 in a must-win situation, but it does tell you something. In any case, "Mac" turned out to be all but paralyzed by the occasion. He never loosened up and his play was disastrous.  

We all know it wasn't primarily Bethel-Thompson's fault. He's not a D-1 football player.  By refusing to move Osaar Rasshan back to quarterback, and by apparently worrying about Chris Forcier's red-shirt, KD left himself no alternative to an extremely risky proposition. He kept Osaar as a deep reserve wide receiver (who rarely sees the field, anyway) and gave him no reps whatsoever, while Forcier was presumably not  considered. When poor "Mac" turned into something like John Sciarra Jr. in Berkeley, KD obviously felt he had no alternative but to grit his teeth and hope; and hope, as we know, seldom floats.

Was it unlikely that a player as big, and immobile, and as lacking in football instincts as Ben Olson might go down? What do you think? (I should admit, here, that I wrote last week asking how could "Mac" be any worse than Ben, based on how Ben was playing. To use the current vernacular, "My bad. I take full responsibility.")                     

Then, of course, once the tone of the game was set and it became obvious the Bruin defense could handle the uncharacteristically conservative Charlie Weis gameplan, there were the curiously "bold" strategies. I mean this was going to be an old-fashioned, low-scoring, field-position game. So what does KD do? He becomes KD the riverboat gambler. He risks losing field position and momentum with the decision to go for it on fourth-and-short inside the Irish 35, then compounds the error by putting his faith in the shaky hands of Bethel-Thompson. Either punt the ball and retain field-position, let Kai Forbath take a shot at a 50 yarder, use some misdirection or deception (not likely), or power it with Kahlil Bell or Chane Moline (preferably Bell, since the presence of "The Train" announces you're going up the middle). Instead, KD rolls "Mac" right on an obvious little dump attempt, and the poor kid can't make the play. Then there's the third and long from the shadow of his own endzone when, once again, KD surprisingly rolls the dice, electing to let "Mac" throw, whereupon, no surprise, he badly overthrows his receiver for a back-breaking pick. Snake-eyes!

Truly, KD is like some mysteriously misplaced musician who turns up among a symphony orchestra, only he has a tin ear.

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So where does this leave the Bruins in the year of no excuses? Prospects for avoiding another disposable, forgettable season are not bright, to say the least. If healthy, Patrick Cowan gets "next," but who can say exactly when that will be? Maybe Cal, maybe not. Where Ben eventually figures in all this, who knows? Before he went down again, it was yet another unimpressive start to add to your Ben collection. Now KD is talking about Bethel-Thompson and Forcier, because they've been in quarterback meetings, with Osaar, after switching positions yet again, sounding like the third option (talk about being "snakebit"). But Bethel-Thompson - despite Bell's drop of a well -thrown ball in the endzone, and the long pass and run to Joe Cowan which was nullified by penalty - looked absolutely shell-shocked both on and off the field. It was worse even than the usual string of Bruin concussions. So what if his throws are  comparatively accurate on Spaulding Field? How can you even think about putting him out there to face a Pac-10 opponent after getting tossed around the field like a rag doll last Saturday? 

These last two weeks have proved - as if we needed it - that anything's possible in college football. Only lottery-loving, hopeless romantics could confidently bet even something as unchallenging as three teams on a football parlay card. (Do they even have those cards anymore?) If a 40-point underdog can beat SC in the Coliseum with a rookie quarterback, I won't be surprised to see pigs do a flyover at the Rose Bowl on the 20th. With Cowan -- if you're not among those rooting for a clear-cut, BT style meltdown, thus leaving Guerrero no wiggle room with which to retain KD -- there could be… uh, dare I say, reasonable hope. Cowan has experience, he's athletic and he's certainly not intimidated. A win isn't likely, but, as we've seen, not even close to inconceivable. 

T.J. Simers (much as I hate admitting it) said it best: "KD is what he is." He's not going to change and I don't think he'll ever willingly resign. We've always known he'd sink or swim with this "furshuggenah" offense, and right now it looks as if he's going down, tied to the mast. I'm sure he and the players are hunkered down today, telling themselves, "It's us against the world." Jocks, particularly football players, are like Marines. Family and loyalty are all, and they're uncomfortable considering anything beyond that concept, which is fine. It works for them. The rest of us civilians, who can be more or less agnostic on the subject of Bruin football, are less engaged.

KD thinks his team is "snakebit." Of course it is; this is Bruin football! The problem is, right now, KD is a part of that venom.
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