In yesterday's game, I saw a probable Pac-12 champion team in Stanford. A well-oiled and often dominant power running game, helmed by an excellent QB flanked with some of the best TEs in the country; and a solid defense built around a formidable defensive line. I hope they win the Pac-12, as it will show that teams can win despite academic requirements and without huge investment from wealthy and influential alumni, if they have the right coaching staff to build a program.
I also saw a team that is very capable of winning the Pac-12 South this year: UCLA. This is a combination of 2 things: glimmers of development from the Bruins, and ongoing demonstrations by other Pac-12 South teams that the divisions are lopsided.When the frontpagers laid out their baseline expectations for the remainder of the season, I initially thought they were unrealistic (6-2 in the last 8, coming off a 2-2 start, seemed like it would be a huge turnaround); but after this weekend's games, I think we can beat any team on our schedule. We don't play Oregon, and all the other teams have been underwhelming. And, I think there have been glimpses of progress:
1) Richard Brehaut - in a game where he was afforded little protection, I thought he did a good job in his decision-making for the most part. I don't blame him for the fumble - given his O-line had let one guy run straight through at him, I'm not surprised he didn't anticipate that there would be a second guy running free as well. Several times he made positive yards out of totally broken protection; and he made a few good reads in the run game. He missed a couple of throws, but he seems to continue to improve in the areas he most needed to improve.
2) Receivers are (mostly) catching the ball. We may not be getting much after the catch from our possession guys, but they seem to be building rapport with Brehaut. Fauria is proving to be a weapon who can command a double-team. (on which note - people who say that not throwing to Fauria demonstrates coaching failure are not watching the coverage. If Fauria can take 2 defenders with him, we should be hitting the open guys)
3) Our running backs are playing well, and we are finding ways to use them. Franklin and Coleman are workhorses, and the sprinkling of Jordon James as the 3rd back gives us some exciting options. A positive about running the ball so much is we get to give all these guys some plays to show what they can do. In short: I think our offense can score on anyone. We had a decent mix of plays against Stanford and racked up a decent number of yards on a limited number of possessions.
Our defense still has tackling issues, but our schemes seemed better against Stanford, and our banged-up secondary did a decent job under the circumstances - many of the Stanford pass plays were good coverage beaten by better throws. Our D-line did not perform so well, and has performed below pre-season expectations - but Stanford's O-line has been great for the last 2 years; we won't see another O-line (and particularly, an O-line directed by that level of QB) like that for the rest of the season.
Our special teams were pretty woeful. Not having a FG kicker is a problem. Punt returning is an issue. Punting and kick returning are decent. But, I think our offense can overcome the special teams deficiencies. (Side note: I think the vitriol at Taylor Embree yesterday (and in general) should be tempered - if you don't want him back there, your issue is with CRN not Embree. He gets mocked by some here for regularly calling for fair catches (regardless of whether that is often a good idea when the punt coverage is closing in), and got slammed yesterday for trying to make a risky play for his team and failing to execute. He didn't commit a bonehead penalty, and he always seems to be trying out there, and willing to put his body on the line in the receiving game. He erred on the side of aggression, and didn't execute a play. Again, unless you think he is blackmailing CRN with some photogenic animal pictures, it is not Embree who is to blame for Embree being our punt returner.)
We are by no means a complete team. But the Pac-12 is not a scary conference. I am actually confident we will get to 6 wins; and am not giving up hope we can meet the frontpagers' baseline expectations with 8 wins includin @ $c. 8 wins might well get us to the Pac-12 title game.
One more thing on the frontpager expectations and tone: they have high expectations and are critical when the team - and particularly the coaching staff - fails to meet them. There is not a negative agenda, but an understandable set of reactions given their high expectations. They have also set out season expectations, which is rational and gives CRN et al the right to be judged on this whole season. I think this is in contrast with some people who have been commenting in game threads and elsewhere, who turn every positive play into a negative (e.g. great play by Fauria = proof that the coaching staff didn't know what they were doing by not throwing to Fauria on the previous play), and who are calling on CRN to be fired midseason. Right now, we should be supporting our guys - coaches and players - rather than trying to tear them down. The frontpagers have their tone right: willing to judge the team and coaching staff based on their expectations, and rooting for the guys to meet those expectations, but not pimping sunshine when the team/staff fall well short of those expectations. A lot of commenters seem to see a silver lining in losses, hoping to put nails in CRN's coffin, and are throwing relentless negativity at our fellow Bruins.
I think CRN could be a successful coach for us, and am willing to give him until the end of the season to make that case. Right now, I am rooting for CRN to succeed; I think the frontpagers are too. If you are rooting for CRN to fail, and want the team to collapse to hasten his departure and the arrival of some savior coach, I think your perspective is warped - though you are obviously entitled to your opinion, I would urge you to reconsider.