QBs, Paranoia and Perversity

Our football columnist, Charles Chiccoa, reviews the ugliness of the Oregon game, speculates about the prospects of UCLA facing USC this Saturday, and if that game has any bearing on the status of Karl Dorrell...

By now we've all heard the wisecracks about the Oregon game, with the operative word being ugly. You know, rimshots like "uglier than a fat man in a thong"… that sort of thing. Bad passing, bad running, bad "execution." Brady Leaf vs. Osaar Rasshan? So, you were expecting something like competitive offenses? The operative word there was hope; the reality was hopeless. The "unders" for this thing (50) was, as they say, the lock of the year.  

We all know the mind-boggling stats, Bruin and Duck fans alike. Neither quarterback had ever indicated they could drive their teams, threaten a defense downfield or put points on the board. Which is not to say it was impossible, just extremely unlikely. And so we had all those funny numbers like 22 punts between the teams and Oregon's 1.9 yards per play. Everyone in my section was cracking up when they flashed the first quarter stats: the Bruins leading 3-0 with minus four yards total offense. And trying to follow all those rapid fire punt exchanges was a little like watching a tennis match.

Rasshan's big talent is as a scrambler, yet he was easily sacked multiple times. All the talk of an extra week's preparation, or putting in a "package" of Osaar-friendly plays, was just so much hollow coachspeak. Osaar played much worse than in his relief appearance in Tucson and his start vs. Arizona State. Defenses are now prepared for the fact he simply can't throw, particularly on the run (He almost got Logan Paulsen killed when he floated a short pass to him with the safety bearing down hard). Perhaps he's trying too hard to prove he can throw from the pocket. In any case, he never once pulled it down quickly enough to scramble. Some of this can be chalked up to inexperience, but it's not much of an exaggeration to say he was McLeod Bethel-Thompson less all the turnovers (admittedly not a small thing).

Oregon's quarterback situation was even more desperate. From Leaf, to Cody Kempf, to Justin Roper, was like going from bad, to worse, to worst. With his original third-stringer having gone down earlier in the season, Mike Bellotti was in effect playing his 4th and 5th stringers. (If you want to count the ten or so direct snaps to a running back, whom the Bruins knew would not throw, that would make Roper the 6th stringer.)

It was nice and all, getting the shutout and holding Oregon under 150 yards, but not really that difficult a trick. This particular Oregon O is based almost entirely on variations off that little front handoff in the shotgun. With a not very mobile quarterback who cannot pass, the offense is… that's right… a sitting Duck (rimshot!). And isn't it amazing how well a defense performs when they have little or nothing to fear from the opposing offense? Of course, Oregon's D was in the same sweet position, but their personnel (and D coordinator) weren't as good as UCLA's. And of course they were on the road.

But give Bellotti credit for at least trying to game-plan around an impossible situation. It's more difficult trying to replace a dual-threat quarterback than a conventional dropback passer; and much likelier that a "running quarterback" (especially if he's not as big and strong as, say, Vince Young and Tim Tebow) is going to sustain a serious injury somewhere along the line. To repeat yet again: You cannot play football today without a legit passing threat, and neither team had one.                               

I would guess the Rasshan experiment is over and that the next time we see him on the field it will be at another position. Since we all know how hard it is for KD to replace starters, you knew that a relief quarterback wasn't going to appear until the second half, and only then if the starter was impossible to bring back. Tim Brant, on the telecast, was already anticipating Osaar getting the hook as early as midway of the first quarter. Since Ben Olson was physically ready to go, KD and Jay Norvell were playing with fire not starting him in the first place. Had the Bruins somehow fallen behind early, this game could well have been yet another KD disaster. Thank goodness the Bruin D didn't let the wounded Ducks within range even of a field goal.   

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It's no surprise the betting line, after opening at 16, quickly shot up to SC -21. All year Las Vegas has been behind the curve regarding the Bruins. Which is understandable since they don't live with them like we have to do. Other than the DeWayne Walker/John David Booty angle, there's nothing much to hang Bruin hopes on this year… that is, if you're among those Bruins still rooting for a win (and, yes, I understand if you're not). Whatever chance there may be rests almost entirely with the defense, with the kicking game and with Matthew Slater breaking a couple of long returns.

Kai Forbath gives every indication of becoming the greatest place kicker in Bruin history. He's obviously tamed the hook which was bothering him in the spring and early fall, and now the extraordinary height and distance he's getting on his kicks puts me in mind of a Tiger Woods pitching wedge.

I do wish Terrence Austin would focus harder on where he is on the field and how close the "gunners" are to taking off his head. He needs to call for more fair catches. But given some room, he's also proved he can break a long return, and he does have pretty good hands.

The Bruin D is, at the very least, a capable unit, and Walker should be able to bring on an aggressive and confident defense when they take the field. How long they can sustain this attitude is the question. But if they can get any help at all from this miserable offense, and if they can carry things into the fourth quarter, maybe the memory of Eric McNeal will kick in, not least in Booty's mind. As to the current notion that "SC is back," I still don't see a Leinart, Reggie, LenDale, Jarrett, Mike Williams, Steve Smith or Norm Chow in cardinal. Not yet, anyway.     

If nothing else, the game last week injected some much needed juice into this game. More than anything, the Bruins are playing for respectability. It goes without saying they cannot afford turnovers, and with SC "pinning their ears back," and a wobbly Olson or Patrick Cowan both prospective sitting ducks, and with Pete no doubt trying to worm his way into some long-shot National Championship scenario, prospects of a respectable showing are not great. Call me chicken, but today I'd settle for something like a "moral victory" (though absolutely not a heartbreak loss… that would be killer).             

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With this "glorious" bowl-eligible win, the more tormented Cranks among us seem to be getting sweaty palms all over again, fearful their (and our) nemesis might yet slip the executioner… pull some kind of "Lav" out of his ass. But less a hugely improbable win Saturday, I would think KD is safely gone. And if the Bruins do manage a miracle, I guess we'll all just have to live with that win, and a possible Rose Bowl date, along with the prospect of you know what. Would it be worth it? Each of us must answer that one for himself. Failing that (and returning to reality), I'm prepared to take Dan Guerrero at his word: KD has not met the requirements he, himself, set out for the job. And all of DG's recent quotes indicate he's prepared to do the deed. If not, then the sky falls on him.

Saturday evening, Steve Dilbeck of the Daily News, speculated on what the Oregon win might mean for what Brant earlier referred to as "the hottest seat." Guerrero reiterated his stance. "It's all about the body of work," he said. "When you evaluate a program, you have to let the season run its course." Referring to the coaching staff, he said, "The intent was not to light a fire or to bring pressure… They're pros. They understand."       

Fear not, Bruin fans, it sounds as if the blindfold is still in place, and KD is working on that last cigarette. Even a respectable loss should not be enough to prolong the agony. Then again, until it's a done deal, I understand the anxiety. Pass the meds, Kenneth. 

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