The last couple of weeks have reminded me of one of my favorite fishing mantras "Any day on the water beats a day off of it". How does that fit here? "Any day in the Rose Bowl beats a day out of it".
Having seen the last two games in person, here are some of my random thoughts:
1. All season long, my basic thesis about this team has been that it is both young and inexperienced. We are now 9 games into our schedule and we are still young -- but now have had 10 weeks of practice and 9 games to gain experience -- and it shows.
a. Richard Brehaut is learning quickly. He was far better in the pistol this week than he was last week; he was far less wooden and his "deception" was far better. He also made better decisions as to when to run and when to not. He still throws into very tight coverage, but he seemed to running his checks better than last week and often found the more open receiver.
b. Much has been made of the play of our younger guys -- they were great. We started a lot of underclassmen. In fact, I don't think we started a senior on D and had maybe one junior. And, there is no doubt that our freshmen made a major impact, on both sides of the ball, yesterday.
c. However, I don't see this as grounds for criticism of our coaches. I can't buy into the "They should have played them earlier" rhetoric.
It is equally plausible that they played so well because the coaches had done a great job, these past 10 weeks, of getting them ready to play AND did not play them until they were sufficiently prepared to avoid demoralizing mistakes.
I think the fact that we played well and young speaks in favor of the staff.
There are some very concrete examples of how this 3/4 season experience has changed players.
Randall Carroll is a much improved receiver. He is multi-dimensional -- not just a long threat; and he is catching the ball.
Malcolm Jones is a different runner than the one who could not hold on to the ball and, after fumbling, left the field head down. He was strong and confident, yesterday.
We can rave about Zumwalt, and I did all game -- but we have to remember that he was playing behind and learning from Patrick Larimore before Larimore's injury.
I guess my point is that the guys who looked great, yesterday, were not necessarily ready to start or play a lot of minutes earlier in the season.
There is no way to debate this point -- we have no data upon which to base our arguments.
But, I choose to trust that the coaches were putting the players they though would do best into the situations in which they thought they would do best. They know these guys better than we do. They have just as strong a desire to win as we do. And, they want them to succeed as much as we do.
2. SPTR's -- will this never end? Unless I really missed something, the unnecessary roughness penalty, that pretty much gave Oregon State a touchdown, was called on a very clean -- arm wrap -- tackle. There was no spearing involved. At least that's how it looked from the stands AND on the replay screen.
And, twice, on our last drive, the clock was not stopped at the right time. And, it was obvious from the stands.
But, for CRN's absolute vigilance -- the game would have gone into overtime. BTW -- he told an interesting story on the radio -- how there should have been 7 seconds on the clock instead of the 3 that was ultimately changed to 4; in order to call time out, CRN had to be physically in front of the official; he had said to the official, before the play, that he wanted a time out -- and the official told him that he had to be directly in front of him before it would be called; so after the end of the play he ran to the guy -- but the guy did not make eye contact with him for a few seconds -- thus, 4 left and not 7.
Why was this important? Because, according to CRN, they have practiced that pass to the sideline and perfected doing it in 3 seconds. He knew he needed 4 seconds on the clock to have time for the kick. And, then a young Carroll almost blew it by faking before going out of bounds. (Reminded me of losing a Rose Bowl game as our QB let the clock run out as he made a futile attempt to run through a bunch of Wisconsin tacklers instead of just going down or throwing the ball away.
One other point on the challenge: During the interview, CRN said that the first words out of his mouth were "Which time out will I lose if the challenge is wrong? The one I have now, or the one in overtime." Smart question -- had it been the "overtime" time out, he said he would not have challenged the ruling.
I love a smart HC.
3. The Crowd Rocked It -- Again -- we were loud most of the game. Some of us stood up most of the game and "every man, woman and child" was standing on critical defensive 3rd downs. (Didn't help much in the first half -- what is it about 3rd and longs?)
4. CRN After the Game -- came over and thanked us BUT he was not proclaiming that things were all where they should be. Quite to the contrary -- his main theme was that we have lots of things to fix and we will get there. I really like his candor. None of that "turning corners" or "work in progress" crap. He is working hard to make this a better team and I, for one, think he is succeeding.
I really like where we will be when these kids, supplemented by more solid recruits, are juniors.
5. My Special Day in the Stands
Yes, any day in the Rose Bowl is a great day. But, mine, yesterday, was a bit "more special". I got to sit with, and I got to know Marcedes Lewis -- and it reinforced all of the good things about going to a school with both standards and integrity.
I've been sitting in the same section for about 20 years -- surrounded by the same people who have become my extended Bruin family. So, a newcomer sat down beside me and several of his friends behind me, I told him I was glad he was wearing blue. He turned to me and said he was with one of his friends, who was Captain for the Day -- Marcedes Lewis, and introduced me to Marcedes family which was sitting behind me.
The guy was great. He said, "I'm going to do what you do" so he did 8 claps, made noise, and stood on 3rd downs.
About midway through the first quarter, there was a stir in my row -- I turned to see Marcedes moving down the aisle behind me -- shaking hands, signing autographs and chatting with the people who said hello.
He then sat down, behind me. During the game, he chatted with his family, friends, and all of us sitting around him -- just a regular fan -- but knowledgeable.
He is an incredible guy -- as far from pretentious or arrogant as one could be. Great sense of humor. And, very good to his siblings and Mom who were in the row.
At one point, I did something I never do -- I asked if I could take a picture with him. I don't do that because I think all "stars" are entitled to moments of normalcy -- but I really wanted it for BN. He laughed and said "Of course" and I gave my iPhone to his friend and, voila, I now have a keepsake.
At the end of the game, I turned to Marcedes' Mom and told her "You should really be proud of him, not for how well he plays, but for who he is. He really is special and I am so glad he represents my alma mater". She is obviously aware of what great kids she has -- her other son and daughter were really nice, too. All of them are Long Beach Poly kids. So is the wife of one of my pledge brothers who was sitting 4 seats down in the row. When she told them she was class of '62, they laughed. We really are a Geezer section.
Anyway, as one of my seat mates said "I now have a new favorite pro player" -- and I do, too. I love all of my Bruins -- but, Marcedes is really special and he made a great day even better.
BTW -- I'm the old guy on the right.