State of Expectations/Perspective for 2009 (part one)

Bumped. GO BRUINS. - N

The performance on the field the past two weeks has left much to be desired, to say the least. Offensively, even the biggest proponent of UCLA or its coaches has to concede we have been abysmal. But I think people are losing perspective. 66 jumped to the rescue when he said we need to relax and keep an eye on where we are and where we are going. He would have saved me a lot of words if not for the fact that I am also a lawyer and therefore find it impossible not to speak.  

The second guessers have come out in full force. Brehaut should start. Play calling is atrocious. Neuheisel and Chow are not cutting it. Austin and Embree don't belong in the game. In a sense, this is progress. Last year and in the final years of Dorrell we expected to lose by 14 or more points to Oregon because we knew we were going to be outcoached and less talented. Now, we expect better on-field results. We expect that an offensive coordinator with the reputation of Chow will magically turn our offense into a juggernaut. After that 3-0 start, we may not have said on this site that we expected to win 9 games, but we certainly thought it possible that the turn around we know must be just around the corner was coming a year early, and oh what a treat!

Thoughts of keeping perspective reminded me of a lengthy post I began last summer about my expectations for 2009 but didn't finish because I wanted to add something to it and never found the time. Yes, it may be too late for expectations on a season that is nearly halfway over, but when I thought back to what I wrote then, it helped to provide perspective on these last two games. So, I've reproduced the essence of that post below and have updated it so as to reflect that weeks have passed and things have happened.

I've often said in arguments here that I don't know the difference between expectations and predictions. That's still the case. As fans, we constantly combine the two, our hearts holding visions of roses in January (which in a way represents our expectations of where we want the program to be in the near future) while our rational minds try to tell us that it's not possible this year (leading to our expectations of a 5-7 or 6-6 type of season). This is a post about our expectations and regaining perspective, so I am going to leave all of that emotional fan stuff behind and get analytical and rational.

Any set of expectations for 2009 needs to take into account where we were in 2008. And today, to gain perspective on where we are as a program, we need to remember and what changed between last year and this year and should assume that we want this year to show us we are on a path toward our near future expectations where we come out smelling like roses. 

Last year, we were 4-8, which obviously was not very good. But how bad was it? Of the 65 teams in the 6 major conferences, we were one of 6 teams to finish with a 4-8 record. Six other teams were worse than 4-8. Our record alone puts us in the 9th-18th percentile (ouch).

That lowly position was not over- or under-stated by tons of close losses or an especially difficult or easy schedule. Two of the teams we beat, WSU and UW, were probably the two worst teams of these 65 big conference teams (indeed they beat no other BCS division school except in the one game when they played each other). Our other two wins last year required last minute touchdowns for us to win by a field goal at home against 5-7 teams.

Of our 8 losses, only two were competitive games: Fresno State (31-36) and Oregon (24-31 in what may have been our best game of the season and surely was our best road game). The other 6 losses were by a minimum of 21 points (that’s right 3 TDs!). So the reality is that we could improve quite a bit and still have trouble eliminating a 3-TD gap between us and the 6 teams that blew us out.

Based on these results, we can easily conclude that we were one of the 7 to 12 worst teams in college football in 2008.

I went on in my pre-season expectations to conclude that we were likely to beat SDSU, KSU, UW and WSU and also thought we'd beat ASU. It seemed unlikely that we'd beat Tennessee or Stanford on the road, less likely that we'd beat OSU, USC and Arizona on the road after they'd pummeled us at home. Cal seems possible but we still had to bridge a considerable gulf. 5-7 season, here we come, I thought, and if we can knock off Cal, Stanford or Tennessee, we'd see a bowl game. Win the bowl game, and we're in the top 50%, which doesn't seem like a lot to cheer about, but that would be like getting all Fs in 2008 and then turning in all Cs the following year with a few Bs sprinkled in. A huge, huge step. Of course, going 5-7 seems a lot like going 4-8. You're still losing way too much. So, I set different expectations for us. Expectations not based on wins and losses but on what progress  we should look for on the field to start to feel like we're moving in the right direction.

So what were my expectations heading into 2009 (other than a 5-7 season or maybe 6-6)? And how are they faring?

(1) MY EXPECTATION IN JULY: Developing an offensive line that can protect well enough to allow occasional 5-step drops and gives the QB a chance on most plays to get to his 3rd option. Fewer sacks and occasional holes for the running game. Also, I’d like to see some continuity develop on the line as the season progresses so that by the end of the year, we have 5 guys in place who will be back in 2010 and expected to start then as part of a solid to good line.

AFTER 5 WEEKS: Granted, this request was modest, but it seems like we're making progress in all points. We went to more 3-step drops against Oregon, but we've been mixing it up, and our QB is staying upright far more often than last year and most often having enough time to go through progressions before being under siege. Our RBs have holes and are not often getting stopped behind the line of scrimmage. We've started the same 5 guys in all 5 games. Based on what we hear about their performance, it seems that at least 3 of the 5 are going to be starters again next year (Sua-Filo, Baca and Maiava), while I would guess that the other two (Williams and Harris) will compete for starting jobs with Hasiak, Kia, Ward and Abele.  It should also be noted that the current line has very little experience, with only Baca and Maiava having started at the D-1 level before this year and 4 underclassmen among the 5 starters. Next year, we will have some experienced players with size and talent, and based on the improvement I've seen, the 2010 line could be the foundation of a good offense.

(2) MY EXPECTATION IN JULY: A running back (or tandem) with consistent hole hitting and occasional break away ability. Last year, our longest run from scrimmage was 44 yards. I don’t have the stats for this, but we had a high percentage of tackles for losses. We need the o-line to open up holes, but we need a RB to run through them and get the consistent 3-4 yard gains, as well as a back who has home-run burst. As with the o-line, this may take time to develop, but it would be nice to go into 2010 knowing that we have 2 or 3 guys who can carry the rock effectively and at least 1 guy who has big-play potential.

AFTER FIVE WEEKS: Hit and miss. Our RBs are doing a better job of finding and hitting holes this year. Franklin shows some speed and ability to gain positive yardage consistently, and Thigpen and Knox have shown some burst. I cannot say we have a home run hitter. Of our top 5 backs, 3 are freshmen, 1 is a sophomore and 1 is a junior. There is a chance for major improvement between this year and next year, but I would like to see a couple home runs before I'm willing to be happy with what we have going into 2010.

(3) MY EXPECTATION IN JULY: Turning around the TD-INT numbers at QB. We threw 9 TDs and 22 INTs last year. Craft threw 7 TDs to our team and 6 to our opponents. Throwing for 22 TDs and 9 INTs is probably too much to ask of a redshirt freshman QB, but I would have to think that more TDs than INTs—14-12 perhaps—is possible.

AFTER FIVE WEEKS: The interceptions have decreased to an average of 1 per game, which incidentally puts us right on pace for 12 INTs.  Unfortunately, we're throwing even fewer TDs than last year (on pace for 7). I will be interested in watching whether the # of TD passes go up the rest of the season. I still think 14-12 is attainable. 

(4) MY EXPECTATION IN JULY: Deep threat at WR. As with our running game, we didn’t have a deep passing attack last year. Our longest pass play went for 43 yards (not a TD). Only 2 WRs (Embree and Moya) had even 1 catch for 30 yards or longer. Part was lack of pass protection, part was Craft’s arm, and part was lack of great speed at WR. With other things coming together, we need to develop a deep threat in the passing game. All the better if it’s someone who will be returning to the team in 2010 (meaning not Austin, who’ll be a senior this year).

AFTER FIVE WEEKS: We've only had 8 pass plays of longer than 20 yards, 4 of those were longer than 30 and one of those was longer than 50. Three of the 8 longest plays were by Austin and another was by Paulsen. Suffice it to say that our deep threat (who will be returning next year) has not been found. Carroll and Rosario are possibie deep threats in the future. Rosario's catching ability seems very good, and I would not be surprised if he plays more down the stretch. I did see against Oregon the validity in his not playing more than Embree: on a WR screen to the left, Rosario missed his blocking assignment and allowed a CB to blow up the play for a 4 yard loss.

(5) MY EXPECTATION IN JULY: Finally, I expect us to fight in each game. We showed some grit last year in many of our games (BYU excepted). Playing with a woeful offense, we hung tough in many games for 2 or 3 quarters before the wheels fell off the clunker we were trying to drive to the auto show. Fight and improvement in the areas described above will manifest in fewer blowouts and more competitive games. Perhaps we still go 4-8, but instead of 6 blowout losses, we have only 1 or 2. Or we stay competitive in 10 games and more of those into wins than predicted. These are little things, but I think they are important. Just as you have to walk before you can run, we need to get back to being average before we can be good. Being competitive against good teams is the beginning of that ascent.

AFTER FIVE WEEKS: We haven't been blown out! We haven't been blown out! No, that's not something to cheer about, but if we keep that up for 7 more weeks, it could be considered a form of progress. Perhaps this expectation is one of the reasons I don't feel so bad about the last two weeks. In 2008, the team would have fallen apart after falling behind to Stanford 24-6 or when the unfortunate chain of events led to 21 Oregon points in 4 minutes. Instead in both instances, we stemmed the tide and were able to make the games interesting. We have stolen one of the wins that could be the difference between a bowl and no bowl. 

I've reached the point where I'm too exhausted to write more. Usually I would save the draft and try to come up with the conclusion tomorrow and wait for tomorrow to become three months from now. Instead, I'm going to post it as part one of my perspective on the team. Part two will be a more in-depth look at the coaches and personnel through the first 5 games (or 6, in case I don't finish it before the Cal game) and why, adding it all up, it makes the future seem bright (notwithstanding the most recent results). 

Go Bruins.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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