Did you see those kids out there last night?
Tevin McDonald had 3 interceptions. He's a redshirt freshman, by the way.
Or how about Keenan Graham? He had one of our 3 sacks. And he's a redshirt sophomore.
Eric Kendricks is a redshirt freshman. He went crazy at linebacker.
Wade Yandall was a beast on the OL. He's a redshirt freshman, too.
Jerry Rice Jr had 2 balls thrown at him. He caught them both. Redshirt sophomore.
Now consider that McDonald was playing for an injured Tony Dye, Graham was getting time due to a suspended Cassius Marsh, Kendricks was filling in for a struggling Sean Westgate, Yandall was covering for a suspended Alberto Cid, and Rice was in for the suspended WR quartet of Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll, and Ricky Marvray. That's fair. His dad was as good as 20 WRs back in the day, so his son ought to be able to cover 4.
And we should mention Aramide Olaniyan (RS Fr), Jordan Zumwalt (So), Owamagbe Odighizuwa (So), Jordan James (RS Fr), Anthony Barr (So) as some other young players who have made relatively brief but promising contributions to this team. Oh, and let's not forget our PK Tyler Gonzales (Sr). Ok, yes, he is a senior, but he's been on the team for only 4 weeks, so we'll give him partial credit. Just think if Devin Lucien (Fr) were playing.
Has anyone noticed that before now I have never mentioned a single Bruin player's name in the first 7 parts of The Morning After? Rather than picking apart individual performances, I have wanted these articles to be more about the general feeling around the football team and to set a tone for the discussions as we look toward our next games. We have the game threads and the eye tests and other places to do that.
But that's what last night's game was about. It was about these kids stepping up big time when their opportunity came. It was about these young kids being buried down in the depth chart showing that maybe age isn't the best way to stratify the depth chart. Which, of course, makes the optimist in me ask, why did it take this long for their opportunity to come in the first place?
We have criticized Rick Neuhesiel for many things, but probably more than anything else, we have criticized him for his conservative, play-not-to-lose philosphy. From the run, run, pass progressions, to the unimaginative offensive sets and calls, to the awful "Punting is winning" philosophy, the football team has been predictable, vanilla, and completely unsurprising and unoriginal. I think we have all been sorely disappointed at this aspect of Rick 2000, as we were expecting the creative dynamic offensive mind we saw in the past.
A tangent to this conservative philosophy is the idea that Neuheisel is not be playing his most skilled or explosive players in favor of older and safer players. It's hard to watch players like Zumwalt and Owa and James and Kendrick and wonder why they aren't getting more playing time. While the older players may be less likely to be out of position or drop a punt or know the playbook all the way through, they also aren't going to give you much to separate yourself from the opponent.
Maybe this is why we were squeaking by teams like San Jose and Oregon State and Wazzu when we felt like those could have been solid if not blowout wins. Sure, Cal remembered that they are Cal and went nuclear on themselves with turnovers and inexplicably didn't force us to pass, but we finally quit trying to match their ineptitude that and took advantage of the opportunities. Was anyone really concerned that that team was coming back on us last night? I don't think it is any coincidence that we had a lot more young kids playing and contributing last night, and it was our widest margin of victory against a conference opponent not from Pullman in 3 years.
Imagine if Zumwalt or Owa or Graham had gotten real playing time last year. Imagine if Jones had been catching punts before. Anyone think Kendrick should be starting? What would these players look like this year if they weren't still learning on the fly in game time? Scary to think, isn't it? But this just highlights another failure of the Neuheisel era. The failure to put the best talent on the field and to suffer through the growing pains has hampered our team from reaching their upper reaches of their potential. Sad that it took injuries and an embarrassing lack of discipline to give these young kids an opportunity, but it is encouraging to see what they can do. I have little hope when I think about the starting lineup Rick puts on the field next week when many of our players are back from suspension.
But I do have hope what an aggressive play-to-win sort of coach who is backed by a supportive and invested athletic director might do with these players next year.
There are finally some things to celebrate from last night's win. And they also simply reinforce the need to replace Rick as head coach, and to get Guerrerror out of Morgan Center.