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The Morning After, Part 8: Arizona State

The Bruins overcome mistakes and adversity and a tough ASU team for a thrilling win. What does it mean for the long term?

Scott Halleran

Love to North Campus, the land of literature and history and MPTV and more, including yesterday's football game.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

I wish that were my line. But most of the good ones are already taken, and this one is epic.

It's one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature. It's also one of the most elegant in both its simplicity and stark contradiction in describing two rival capitals with shared ancestry and ideals on the verge of a critical moment in history that would see one city and its ideal survive unscathed and the other city and the same ideal plunged into utter chaos and destruction. London and Paris 1789. Or Westwood and Tempe 2012?

I want to give some love to North Campus, today, in part because I was called out a couple weeks back for being too South biased and making too many North jokes. Fair enough. Now, in general, if you aren't offending someone, perhaps your convictions need to be stronger. But in this case, that wasn't remotely my aim at all. So, first off, U.C.L.A. isn't the greatest school in the world without both sides, North and South. I don't want to be Cal Tech and I don't want to be Williams College. We're Bruins, and we are lucky to have the best of both. Further, the truth is that I flirted seriously with a North Campus major before insecurity pushed me back towards my comfort and security, and forever away from inspiration, and I have always considered how I made that choice to be a major character flaw. So this week I want to sing some praises for the North. Besides, A Tale of Two Cities is a gorgeously written book with one of my favorite characters, Sydney Carton (when I went into exile, I got two kittens and named one Sydney and the other Jake, but that's for another morning).

And that opening line fits really very nicely with yesterday's game. Well, maybe if we reverse the order.

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times... - The Morning After, 10/28/12.

There. That's mine.

It makes more sense, after all, because those first 5 minutes were pretty brutal. Who wasn't already picturing the inevitable Bruin implosion at that point? Hey, I went back and read the game thread. All of you were (and so was I, only on DVR a few hours later). But in a game so full of back and forths that even the coin toss was a wild swing from a Bruin victory to a monumental failure, that was only the beginning. It's never simple with the Bruins.

But unlike nearly all similar opportunities in our recent history, this time the Bruins stood up to adversity. This wasn't Cal this year or Arizona last year or Southern Cal for most of a decade. Those are the lessons which have scarred us and made us expect the worst and afraid to hope for the best.

But this time was different. Of course, there were a whole lot of ups and downs before the final chapter, which makes it apt to continue with Dickens' opening lines (and to give more love to the North) which describe both the game and the Bruin fanbase pretty well:

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Sound familiar?

That's us, dude! - Ted Theodore Logan

Who knew Dickens, or Wyld Stallyns, was talking about us way back then?

We've all been on the roller coaster with Bruin football for far too long, so while we're at least used to the ups and downs, it's nice to be on the side with the wisdom and Light and hope for a day. There's no Heaven quite like a U.C.L.A. win.

But what do we take from yesterday's game? How long will those virtues last, and how can we keep them from turning to foolishness and incredulity and Darkness and despair? Saturday's result was fantastic, but we are always looking big picture here. The defense gave up a lot on the day, especially in the end when one stop would have won the game in simpler fashion. We still had at least one and a half selfish mindless personal fouls, and another awful boneheaded special teams gaffe. The OL struggled with simple stunts and blitzes. Our DL had trouble recognizing a screen - over and over. We stopped more of our own drives with penalties. The absence of our captains at the coin toss was an all-timer. There is a reason these problems don't entirely go away at U.C.L.A. and it's going to take something of a revolution to fix it.

Tell me who didn't think that ASU touchdown with 1:33 left wasn't the worst of times, signs of our football program going direct the other way? Time to storm the Morgan Center?

Now if some of you say you believed, I'll take your word for it, because there is some room for justifying belief with this team. For all the negatives we can and should take from this game, we can also look at the determination of our players for 60 minutes away from home, and the willingness for our OC to eschew the playbook and qo with what worked, and the fire of a coach in crunch time, and the efforts of a senior RB who is 20 yards from becoming our best ever, and a freshman QB who went home to show that he is well on his way to that end, too, and a young place kicker who grew up a little bit more. Or maybe it was just Mexi staying out of the game thread (we'll miss you, bro). In any case, it's pretty clear that ASU was our best road win in the last 5 years and maybe more when you consider its importance for the point in the season. Expectations are still on track.

This program is better than what we have seen in recent years - as no way do any of our recent teams, except maybe MJD's, come back in the end of yesterday's game. But that still doesn't mean that the team is good enough or has come far enough for anyone to be satisfied. Does anyone have complete confidence for next week against Arizona, or on the road again in Pullman (ok, maybe there), or with the Southern Cal receivers, or with the Stanford ground game?

Then on the other hand, consider where we were for our final games last season and I'll ask if there is anyone now who thinks we have no shot or that we shouldn't expect to win these next four games. That's progress. Baby steps. They don't cover a lot of ground, and it takes a lot of them to get anywhere. But I feel at least it's going in the right direction. And maybe those steps will start getting bigger...

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." - Frazier Crane, reading Dickens aloud

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Which was it?" - Norm Peterson

"Boy, this Dickens guy sure liked to keep his butt covered, didn't he?" - Cliff Clavin

Yup, and I'm covering mine, too. I don't know which it is. We've seen "turnaround" and "statement" and "culture change" games before, only to fall flat the next week, and I hate that. But now we've seen a team refuse to lose a game it had plenty of chances to lose and I love that. I know yesterday was among the best of times, while this last decade has been among the worst. It's up to this team and coaching staff to determine its outcome and move on from the destruction of the past. As fans, we will continue to go where they go. We have suffered like Gaspard and triumphed like Charles. It's still the best and the worst. This morning, you can't have one without the other.

So, for now, I'll just sum it up by borrowing one of Sydney Carton's final thoughts that we can all take for today, and also use to look ahead to next week and beyond as we consider the state of U.C.L.A. football...

"I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out." - Dickens

"Tis a far, far better butt-kicking I give than I have ever butt-kicked before!" - Frazier Crane, quoting Charles Dickens...or something like that.