Chiccoa: One More Gone

Our football columnist, Charles Chiccoa, looks at the USC game, and provides the more all-business requiem for newly-fired head coach Karl Dorrell. Does Dorrell really deserve any sympathy, or do the suffering UCLA football fans?

Until that bizarre scenario whereby the 6-5 Bruins were still alive for a Rose Bowl bid, the prospect of something as big as UCLA/SC seemed almost entirely eclipsed by the story of Karl Dorrell's inevitable firing. Then, once we got a few minutes into the game and Terrence Austin fumbled on his first punt return, then Chris Markey followed with another fumble, that tightness you always feel in the pit of your stomach when these two teams play suddenly began to disappear. Maybe it was just me, something wrong with my fanhood.

Despite the Bruins' usual stationary offense, the defense refused to break. Then again, the Trojan passing game did look out of sync. At this point I'd settled into a somewhat clinical mode, much more detached than usual. Hmmm, this feels odd. Then it hit me. This game reminded me of one of those early John McKay/Billy Barnes mismatches from the early sixties. Forty years on and it's as if nothing has changed. Oh man, this cannot continue. Something's got to change.       

I don't watch a lot of regular season SC football. Watching the Bruins, lately, is depressing enough. Anyway, I started noticing how rocked up SC looked, especially in comparison to the Bruins, who looked smaller and slower. When Chauncey Washington, Joe McKnight or Stafon Johnson would hit the edge and turn upfield, the Bruin corners were diving for their ankles, with the pursuit late and the tackling sloppy. While the Bruins were busy continually running the punt team onto the field, SC's tailbacks were ripping off 10 and 15 yard runs with impunity. While the Bruins were ignoring their fullback and tight ends (as usual), SC was hitting theirs for significant gains. The white team was getting swept along in a red tide. Once again, it was the old, old story: The big, bad Trojans punching "the gutty little Bruins" in the mouth. 

I met this guy recently, a very intense Bruin fan, a lurker on BRO, and he admitted that he actually fell asleep watching the Oregon game on TV last week. I can't imagine ever nodding off during a Bruin game, but, as Chris Rock would say, "I understand." If I'd have been watching this game at home, instead of enjoying someone else's hospitality, I might have let the tape run, go for a bicycle ride and come back for the second half.  

It was a minor miracle the Bruins hung in the game as long as they did, and that 65-yard, 38-second drive right before halftime seemed almost as shocking as the earth shattering Stanford play that knocked SC out of the National Championship. After doing absolutely nothing for the first 29 minutes, Patrick Cowan hits four very nice passes on a lightning five-play drive, culminating in Dominique Johnson's leaping, one-hand, cup job for the score. Did Pete Carroll go into a "prevent?" No, he came with pressure all right, and the Bruins earned every yard of that drive. College football games, as we've come to learn this season, can be surpassingly strange.

UCLA actually dominated much of the third quarter, three times getting past midfield, but twice screwing up the "execution" on gadget reverses (which are about as much deception as KD allows). But driving the ball has always been this team's weakness. Finally two key plays finished off the Bruins: Brian Cushing's "re-route" of Dominique Johnson, setting up the SC pick, and of course the should-I-or-should-I-not take the holding penalty at the Bruin 2 ½ yard line. To be fair, it wasn't that easy a choice. I mean, Pete has been known to go for it on fourth down so you couldn't be sure he wouldn't do it again even though the Bruins had just stuffed him on 3rd and short. My guess is he would have taken the field goal, but it was a pick your poison situation for KD. After he chose to take the penalty and give them another shot, Walker decided to go with "coverage" instead of pressure. Fred Davis then simply beat Christian Taylor on the TD play and that was ball game. Snakebit again.         
    
                                         *****

Sorry but I don't find much about Dorrell, and his situation, either poignant or moving. Call me insensitive, but dull, unimaginative and uninspired would be my choice of words. Sad for KD? Only in the everyday, decent Orwellian sense, i.e., what you ordinarily feel for a stranger in a tight spot.

Of course KD is disappointed, but do you doubt he won't soon get over it? This is the guy who famously doesn't lose sleep over losses that would cause an ordinary man to walk the floors at night for weeks; a guy with a history of rarely, if ever, doubting his methods; a guy who always has that "great game plan" tucked into his waist band. People as complacently sure of themselves as KD…they almost always bounce back. Does KD look like Donnie Moore to you?

From all the tears being shed on his behalf lately, you'd think he was going to be led out and shot on Sunday morning if his team couldn't whip a 20-point favorite on Saturday. No, I feel sorry for the rest of us who've had to endure five years of underachieving football, on top of the seven-year stretch of Bob Toledo and the twenty-year sentence of Terry Donahue. That's more than a quarter century of mild to severe bipolar disorder for a great portion of the Bruin Nation. Depending on your age, you can now officially file away all those KD memories - along with those of Toledo, Donahue, Pepper Rodgers and Billy Barnes - in that sad football album of your mind.

Winning football is what this drama is all about… not how hard you play or coach, or how well you've shaped up the so-called "underbelly." At bottom, it's just a numbers game… that and how well you play. 35-27, and what we've come to know as KD ball, wasn't nearly good enough. This is about reality in the age of the bottom line. Is there too much money on the table, too much pressure? Yes. Is it going to change in the near future? No, you're either in or you're out. Do you have to go the way of Pete Carroll and Mike Garrett? No. Is it harder on the straighter path? Yes. But you can still compete at the highest levels. It only takes the right coach to kick-start the program, the guy who has what it takes to finally turn that everlasting corner. To repeat: Until UCLA formally joins the Ivy League, we'll continue to believe that "if he wins they will come." Not necessarily in the same numbers, or as easily as to some other places, but in numbers enough to get the job done, to once again grow and maintain a national profile instead of this shabby weed patch with its homely little Vegas Bowl sprouts.  

I don't know KD, but the little I've seen of him doesn't exactly describe likable: hire and fire, then hire and fire again. Some hits, some misses, and always with the condition that his offensive coaches work within the confines of his strange understanding of Mike Shanahan's run-heavy, west coast offense. Most of us, over the years, have seen at least a few Denver games. How much would you say this offense resembles Shanahan's, or Bill Walsh's (where Shanahan learned it)? Unless a talented tailback can shake loose for a long touchdown, or the quarterback completes a long pass play, you can count on lots of punts and field goals. And all those times when the coaches dial up that "perfect play," but the "execution" breaks down, whose fault is that? Certainly the players, but, if it continually keeps repeating, and you're the head coach, you have to look in the mirror. I mean, why are coaches paid all that money if not to produce well executed plays in a well thought-out game plan?

What about talent on the field? Do you seriously believe it's this bad? And injuries? Granted that's a legit excuse, but how much better have the Bruins played even when healthy? Defensively, they've been solid under DeWayne Walker. Offensively, they've been nearly unwatchable. So how much strategic input do you believe KD has had with the defense? Not a lot, right? But offensively we all know the story: coordinators come and go but KD remains the constant.               

Am I wrong or is what we're dealing with right now nothing more than the endgame of what was a straightforward exchange? Something along the lines of:

You're green, we understand that. We know we're taking a shot with you based on hope, and…uh, you know…all that business about Jackie Robinson and Arthur Ashe. Anyway, we're going to trust you with the football program. Now, you do understand the terms of the deal, right? And about the low, vulgar fellow across town and how he specifically relates to the well-being, perhaps even the survival, as we know it, of our 83-year old football program. Now we wasted the last seven years on Toledo, and we can't afford any more failed seven year plans. So, at the very least, make some real progress because right now we're getting buried.

Does any of this look like progress to you? My guess is that ten or twenty years from now the Karl Dorrell era will be as forgotten as the Bill Barnes era is today.
   


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