Chiccoa: State of Morbid Curiosity

Football columnist Charles Chiccoa takes a whack at the Arizona game, trying to find some meaning -- somewhere. He ponders: How long can Kevin Craft get every snap at quarterback, and is it time to get the younger players more playing time?

Since I don't believe in gurus, I'm certainly not going to tell you how to feel. Trust your own eyes.

Despite what coaches and the media might say, sports -- even football, with its ever changing jargon and pseudo mystification -- isn't nearly as complex as they'd like you to believe. Sure, the various elements of the game, compared to, say, basketball is a little more complex because of the number of players involved. But if you have a decent grasp of fundamental principles, and if you've been watching football for a few years, make up your own mind. So what, if you're not always right? Sooner or later, we all have to eat some nachos.

My wife only recently began watching Bruin games, and already she's asking good questions. But then she's notably unsentimental and has no agenda. If you're still engaged with Bruin football, you may as well ride out the usual Helter-Skelter… see what happens next. 

Three games down, one quarter of the regular season gone, and some disquieting facts are becoming obvious, the most important of which concerns Kevin Craft. Is it fair to say he's been only marginally more effective than McLeod Bethel-Thompson was last year? Even granted that outstanding 4th quarter, three weeks ago, I think it is fair. Wonder if "Mac" wishes he hadn't transferred. 

Publicly, the coaching staff continues to defend Craft with the immemorial, coach's QB spin: "When you're the quarterback, you don't get to hide," said Rick Neuheisel. "It's easy to say that he must be the reason you're unsuccessful. [He] works hard, and I hope he can continue to work hard and continue to improve." Continue to improve? And how is working hard helpful in this case, since he's not improving. Norm Chow, less diplomatic, said, "I was disappointed in some of the decisions he made." Still an understatement I think.  

The Bruin offense has provided exactly squat the last two games. "I take that really personally," said Craft (as well he should). "It reflects on me a lot." (Uh-huh). Of course he "needed to see the film." 81 yards in 31 attempts! Eleven first downs. And he needs to see the film? I'll give him this: He talks like a coach already.

The questions regarding Craft are still the same:

1) Is he now the best alternative?

2) How much worse can Kevin Prince and Chris Forcier be?

If Craft can't cut it this Saturday, RN and Chow will almost certainly be forced into taking what they may regard as a leap into the unknown with one of the freshmen. On the other hand, what's to lose? Bruin fans and the media have already flushed the season.

Coaches may deny it, but they usually give themselves away with their fear of a "quarterback controversy." Which may be one reason Craft has taken every snap thus far. They're obviously hoping to see something good, especially since being rewarded for their patience in the 4th quarter of the opener.

You notice coaches are never afraid of a center, guard, tackle, tight end or fullback controversy; or even a wide receiver or tailback controversy… because they know the axis of an offense is the quarterback. He's much more crucial than a pitcher in baseball. So, when he fails, they slap the "Handle with Care" sign on him. Then it's all about sharing the blame, receivers dropping the ball, running the wrong routes, failing to get separation, along with the O line failing to block and the backs failing to pick up blitzers. Of course, there's some truth here, but nothing to the degree of a QB not driving the offense, converting third downs, unable to complete anything downfield, not even sniffing the red zone let alone the end zone. I counted at least fifteen poor plays by Craft on Saturday and you may have counted more. If he were a Buckeye, and Ohio State stuck misplays on their helmets (boneheads?) as well as buckeyes, Craft's helmet would be completely covered after only three games.

It's being said the running game is improving: up from -2 yards vs. Tennessee and 9 yards vs. BYU. How could it not! 115 yards is still a modest number, and even less so without benefit of Chane Moline's casual 40-yard jaunt through the Arizona secondary, the one and only memorable Bruin run of the season.

We all know Moline is not the answer at tailback… no potential Toby Gerhart here. Yet he continues to dominate the carries. It didn't take long to notice Derrick Coleman hits in there harder and moves better, quicker and faster than Moline. (Unfortunately it didn't take long to notice Coleman's hands aren't the best, either.) And before the season is over there may well be yet another freshman who could emerge. Anyway, the difference in explosiveness between Moline and Coleman (plus the Arizona backs, too) was unmistakable on Saturday.

The Bruin defense was obviously better than in Provo. Of course they were at home and Arizona, with Tuitama, Grigsby and Thomas, was not as challenging as BYU, with Hall, Unga, Collie and the rest of those guys. Tennessee, especially considering its defense, was more impressive than Arizona. But Tuitama was able to attack enough with downfield passes to make that the deciding factor. Essentially, it was the same story we've seen before: When DeWayne Walker attacks and/or strongly contests the line of scrimmage, the Bruins are better off. When he chooses a safer approach and puts his faith in the secondary, or when he chooses to spread his defensive front in hopes of containment, particularly anywhere near the Bruin goal line, the Bruins are worse off, vulnerable both to the pass and the run. DW manfully included himself and his staff in some of these problems (as well he should have).

Special teams' coverage continues to be an abomination, this time giving up 162 return yards. It's been poor ever since spring. Frank Gansz Jr. has to share some blame here.  

Terrence Austin, though improved as a receiver, may be too small and undependable as a kick returner. He does have some shake; on the other hand he goes down with the slightest hit. His fumbling and general insecurity fielding punts is becoming a major problem on a team that has bigger problems. He needs to have a better sense of where he is on the field and when to call for a fair catch.    

Player personnel obviously needs a shakeup. These guys may be a poor crop, indeed, but how poor are they compared to the likes of Fresno State this week and the rest of an apparently weak Pac-10? And if the bulk of Bruin talent lies with their underclassmen, I would suppose we'll see them begin to get more reps with a view to getting them on the field.   

So, did RN really thank the fans for not booing? "Bad fan" that I am, I was out of the Rose Bowl and on my little Suzuki with about five minutes to go. Perhaps a lot of potential booers were already in the parking lots or on the freeways even before me. Fans began streaming out with almost the entire fourth quarter remaining. I don't know, but some of the remaining "good fans" may have been too exhausted, sunburned or bored to indulge themselves in a healthy booooo! (Since the sound itself causes me to laugh, I couldn't make it even if I wanted to.) But good for them. 

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