Chiccoa: Hung in a Bad Place

What would a UCLA loss be without columnist Charles Chiccoa's rewind of the game and a trip down Bruin memory lane to put it in perspective? He also looks ahead, dauntingly, to Arizona...

I've been hung in a bad place
I've had no sun on my face
I've been hung in a bad place
For too long, for too long, for too long, for too long


... Gem Archer, Oasis

Did you happen to notice the LA Times Sunday morning article on page 2? It was accompanied by a photo of an old, grey-haired guy in a Mickey Mouse cap hawking programs just outside a tunnel entrance at the Coliseum. I had a feeling I knew him, yet he didn't look familiar. Then, sure enough, it clicked: "Git yer SOU-venir PRO-gram." It was him! The funny looking guy with the squeaky voice from the old days, pre-1982, in the Coliseum. Just substitute BRUINS for TROJANS at the top of the program he's holding up and you have a perfect image of the long suffering Bruin fan of a certain age.

Everyone is free to root for their team however they wish, or, as Elliott Gould kept muttering all through The Long Goodbye, "It's okay with me." As a kid I used to make it to the Coliseum for every Bruin game, most of the time by myself. My best friend had moved back east, and I didn't know anyone else with a comparable passion for Bruin football. I'd take a little transistor radio and listen to the pre- and post-game shows while wandering through Exposition Park's rose gardens.

The first time I took a date to a game happened to be the week following 20-21, the tragic 64-yard O.J. Simpson touchdown run. Gary Beban was too beaten up to play, so Bill Bolden, a nondescript running quarterback, filled in for him. The Bruins wound up losing a desultory 14-32 game to an unranked Syracuse team featuring Larry Csonka and Tom Coughlin. My date had recently moved here from Germany and had little understanding of the game. In two weeks the Bruins would drop from #1 to #4 to #10. The small crowd of 36,000 began emptying out at the beginning of the fourth quarter. As usual, I stayed until the last play. It was at about this time that I started thinking to myself, man, this is sooo Bruin.

*****


Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow. How could they miss? The prodigal son and the best college football OC that ever was. I wrote it and believed it, and so did a lot of you. I mean, hadn't Chow written a kind of academic treatise on his passing game, his offensive philosophy? And isn't Neuheisel almost fatally likable, a nationally recognizable face for the program and one smooth talker who has already turned around a poor recruiting situation? It's still early times for the Neu Era, and there are reasons for their disappointing 7-11 start. But it does give you pause; it does make you wonder… only the Bruins. For them, always the hard way.

Since you always miss things during the heat of a live game, you really ought to force yourself to watch the tape, no matter how hard it is. I must admit, though, the more I do it, the easier it gets… the less it hurts. Could all this be leading up to some sort of bent, video masochism? (David Cronenberg, call your office.)
Coming into the game, Cal wasn't quite as one-dimensional as Oregon last week, but they certainly weren't balanced. Quarterback Kevin Riley (unlucky number 13) was about as popular up north as Cory Paus used to be down here, yet against the Bruins he went a very credible 14-of-23 for 205 yards, 0 picks and 3 TDs. How did this defensive collapse happen? Lack of a consistent pass rush for one thing; lack of pressure at the line of scrimmage for another; and, of course, that old Bruin standby, too much reliance on the good, ol' base defense.

Is it possible that not only Bruin fans but also Chuck Bullough and his defensive staff may have overrated the strength and talent of the defensive front… probably starting from spring and continuing through preseason practices? The presence of a star like Brian Price can do that, particularly when they're going up against a green offense every day. And not to diminish the Tennessee victory, but it may have had as much to do with another poor performance by Jonathan Crompton as anything the Bruins did.

The first half, vs. Cal was almost as hard to watch as the opening seconds/minutes of the third quarter vs. Oregon… another of those "What's-going-on-down-there?" ordeals. Post game, Neuheisel couldn't resist pointing out how the defense had stifled Jhavbid Best except for that 93 yard TD, which is a little like saying Lincoln had a pretty good night out at Ford's Theater except for that shot in the head. There was also the small matter of Shane Vereen's 154 yards rushing. But in this sort of thing, he's no different than most of his peers. Surely he knows, better than us, what a shambles that first half was. I also wonder if Bullough's post-game mantra of tackle, tackle, tackle is, by itself, enough to help turn this defense around. As for those matched pair of fourth-down decisions not to go for it… it likely says as much about Neuheisel's lack of faith in the offense as it does his conservative nature. "Riverboat gambler?" I think not.

At least Kevin Prince looked a bit more promising… something I've been somewhat skeptical of before this game. (I may have missed his good days, but the practices I attended never led me to believe he was a particularly accurate passer. A strong enough arm, sure, but, otherwise, no "it factor.") His numbers for Cal, 21 of 41 for 311 yards, 1 TD and a "pick 6" aren't as good as the passing yardage looks in the box score. And of course his fumble set up another Cal score. However they figure quarterback ratings, Riley won the battle of the Kevins. Of course Riley is vastly more experienced than Prince.

It'll be interesting to see how much Prince progresses… to see if he's finally able to convert drives into six points rather than this blizzard of Kai Forbath's threes. You certainly couldn't call Johnathan Franklin's 73-yard TD sprint a drive, which leaves only the single 39-yard, four-play drive, which was set up by a nice 50-yard kickoff return from the much maligned Terrence Austin… followed by Prince's perfectly-thrown, 30-yard sideline fade to the much-maligned Taylor Embree.

Though some of us are anxious to see more of Richard Brehaut, that event becomes increasingly unlikely since there doesn't figure to be much garbage time the rest of the year. Considering that Neu/Chow are doing everything in their power to defuse a "quarterback controversy" (or even a "situation"), Prince will likely have to fail, outright, in order for Brehaut to see much action from here on in. (I don't even want to think about injury).

Franklin is beginning to look like something special, and with Damien Thigpen, Milton Knox and even Christian Ramirez now getting some carries, the ground game is becoming more intriguing. The O line played reasonably well even after losing starting guard, Eddie Williams. And I continue to believe in the receivers; that they are more sinned against than sinning (if you follow my meaning).

*****


Where to from here? I mean there's a whole half season still to play. Unfortunately, Arizona, in the desert, is not what the doctor ordered. I'll let Tracy give you all the details on the ‘Cats, but I will say this: The Bruins' base defense, or even the nickel, is unlikely to get it done vs. Arizona's brand-new, well-traveled, sophomore "phenom" QB, Nick Foles… at least judging from the numbers on paper. If you happened to check the box score from last week's Stanford shootout in Tucson, your eyes may have popped out at the ‘Cats' offensive numbers: Foles was 40 of 51 for 415 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 picks. Oh, and he's completing 74%! since taking over the starting spot earlier in the season. His offensive coordinator, Sonny Dykes, son of Spike Dykes, of the Texas Tech Dykes (yikes!) says of Foles, "He throws a good deep ball. He gives those guys chances to make plays." He also trusts Foles to check plays at the line of scrimmage and go through his progressions, post-snap.

Running back Nic Grigsby is now back, having scored the winning touchdown last week on a 57-yard run. Another tailback had scored earlier in the fourth quarter on a 43-yard run. Arizona averaged over 8 yards per play and needed only 23:50, time of possession to produce 553 yards (must be nice). Granted it was only Stanford's defense, but even so…

On the other hand, there's good news for the Bruin offense: Stanford's Andrew Luck threw for 19 more yards than Foles on 16 less attempts. Kind of looks like UCLA's passing game shouldn't have any excuses. And I think Bullough might want to run a few more blitzes, while D line coach, Todd Howard, might want to run Brian Price a bit more on the practice field with a view to keeping him in the game a bit more on Saturdays.

Other than SC and Oregon, Arizona was the only other Pac-10 team to be ranked in the new BCS poll (#22). At least a Bruin upset over such a scary passing team, on the road, has the potential for a possible bounce back to something like respectability, along with some genuine anticipation for the games of November. Today, however, that job looks more than a little daunting. Come Saturday night, this place is either going to brighten up a little or get a whole lot angrier.


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