Chiccoa: Blood in the Water

Football columnist Charles Chiccoa refrains from rehashing the Arizona game, but looks with some resignation but a hint of hope at UCLA's chances this week against Oregon State, and the outlook for the season...

This is why I don't buy season tickets anymore, why I prefer not to commit to every home game (that, and I can never find Derf's tailgate). As the season progresses and the Bruins once again head south… well, the plot is getting old and I never claimed to be a good fan.

The Arizona game has certainly hardened opinions regarding the performance of this coaching staff, the quarterback play and the relative talent on the roster. As the quality of play has deteriorated, more than a few fans have, once again, become uncomfortably numb due to shock, depression, and disillusionment. In short, the bubble has well and truly burst.

The more pugnacious among us are always spoiling for a fight: loyalists (the Blue police) vs. skeptics (the Crank gang). The majority will, I suppose, continue to hope for deliverance, the best of which seems to be a 6 and 6, with no bowl game. Of the five games left, one looks like a dead loss. Oregon State is a solid favorite this week, and the remaining three games vs. fellow Pac-10 bottom-feeders, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State, look to be up for grabs. All is not lost, but it's damn close to it.

If football is a continuum - a long string of seasons, decades, eras of related games, which both reflect history and anticipates the future - then chances are some of us will dial back our commitment, yet remain engaged enough to stay on board… see what happens next. (Think of a good Hitchcock movie or a well-done horror flick.) Bruin football is a hard habit to break - in my experience, much harder than the Dodgers. Progress is the watchword, and the lack of it - this continuing slough of bad football this program cannot seem to shake - is what's making people crazy.

*****


Though some things should be noted, there's not a lot to be gained rehashing the Arizona experience… other than to drop it in the box marked bad losses. I assume we all agree the Bruins laid a huge, rotten egg. As to the quarterbacking: Kevin Prince played worse than ever, Kevin Craft's appearance was a collective shock to the BRO system and Richard Brehaut's mop-up went about the same as before, meaning he also couldn't drive the Bruins. Brehaut, however, has a better excuse than the other two.

Another shock was seeing Christian Ramirez get the start over Johnathan Franklin, easily the Bruins' offensive MVP (if you discount the kickers, Kai Forbath and Jeff Locke). Whatever the reason, it robbed Franklin of some early carries and the offense of some early possible success. Ultimately, there would be another meager offensive output, 200 yards – no, make that 211 yards. With this offense, every yard is precious. Though winning the turnover battle, 5-2, the offense could manage only 24 ½ minutes time of possession.

On both sides of the ball, the ‘Cats looked leaner, meaner, faster, smarter and more confident. Their rookie quarterback, Nick Foles, didn't even need to play well. Afterwards, Mike Stoops claimed Foles was a little under the weather. Rick Neuheisel, to his credit, didn't attempt to spin: "We are not throwing and catching the ball well enough to compete in the Pac-10," he declared. When asked why, he wouldn'td explain, though he likely knew the reasons. Even from his view on the sidelines, he must have noticed how slow to react, how confused and mechanical his team looked.

In the continuing controversy over the "other corner," Sheldon Price and Courtney Viney battled to a draw, Price getting flipped along the sideline, Viney getting beaten on a double move (the age old stop-and-go), both plays resulting in Arizona scores. Then, of course, there was the strange case of the "fly sweep," which the Bruins were totally unprepared for. In effect, the Cats' speedy flankers were conceded a running start on their nicely executed, hand-off sweep while the hapless Bruins, on the corners, were left to contain the play from a standing start! It was a pretty stark example of being out-schemed. And, as is their custom, the Bruins came out in their clockwork, base defense, and conceded the first punch to their opponent once again. In short, the Bruins looked like victims.

*****


When T.J. Simers shows up at your press conference, you know things have taken a serious turn for the worse… like waking up in a hospital bed to the sight of the Grim Reaper. The tension in the room always seems a degree or two higher. On the other hand, this particular session was more interesting than usual, seemed a little closer to the bone, and not just from Simers' questions… though Rick did look a little relieved whenever someone else was able to squeeze in a question between T.J.'s running interrogation.

Are you improving?

Can you win three out of the next five?

Will you have to win four in order to get a bowl bid?

Considering your record in conference, are you the right guy for the job?

Can you understand how it's difficult to see the development?

Where is the legitimate point at which we start evaluating the job you're doing?

And from Tracy: Can you rate the job your DC has done so far this season?

No great surprise, Neuheisel handled himself okay. The most interesting questions, however, had to do with pulling Prince for Craft, then Craft for Brehaut… along with Neuheisel's decision to definitely give Brehaut one or two meaningful drives this Saturday because he deserves it. Considering Norm Chow's well-known belief in Prince, you got the distinct impression Chow was making a concession to his head coach… that at some level there's a disagreement here. Well, if so, good for Rick. (I have my own ideas on the Chow/Neuheisel marriage, but it's probably prudent to wait on future developments.)

Oregon State now looks like a tougher challenge than either Arizona or California, particularly their offense. But just like a week ago, this game again has the potential – if the Bruins can somehow pull it out - of ratcheting up interest in the November games. I mean, wouldn't it be nice to see the Bruins come out angry, aggressive and looking to take the initiative for once? To land the first punch for a change. When was the last time we saw that?


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