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Pregame Guesses: Colorado Buffaloes Edition

Will the Bruins bounce back after losing to the Beavers?

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Stephen Marley Live - Hey Baby @ Newport, RI USA - Aug. 2, 2008 (via Wailers4Ever)

(This week's video is Stephen Marley performing Hey Baby in Newport, Rhode Island. Why? Mostly because I felt like it. Also because this track makes me feel better and we lost last week. And it's about going on the road and we play a road game tomorrow. And because I felt like it. Stephen Marley doesn't get the attention his dad does (of course) nor his he as renowned as his older brother Ziggy. I'd argue that he is more well-known than his little brother Damian "Junior Gong" Marley. If anyone cares, his brother Rohan played football for Miami.)

One advantage of writing the Pregame Guesses column is that it gives me a week to absorb what happened the Saturday before. After a victory, I get a chance to come down and calm down before trying to evaluate what it all means.

After a loss, I get to pick myself up a bit, take a deep breath and try and figure out what went wrong.

It helps keep things on an even keel, it allows – for me, at least – for a bit of perspective.

Let’s start with last Saturday.

I made the trip to the Rose Bowl. It was hot, too hot and the combination of heat and too many beers on an empty stomach had me queasy before kickoff. My seats were in Section 2, right in front of Geof Strand – though as it turned out, Strand wasn’t there. I’ll be straight up honest, it wasn’t until one of the guys I tailgate with wandered over from the press box side and asked me what it was like to not hear the alumni cheerleader all game long did it even occur to me that the one-time fixture was nowhere to be found. Seriously. For all the hand wringing about "where was he" and "why wasn’t he" and "what the hell happened to him" after the fact – I didn’t miss Strand one bit. I don’t mean that as a knock, I’m just saying in the long run it didn’t matter one bit to the game time experience. In theory, I’m not exactly celebrating the fact that a dedicated Bruin got canned from his job yelling into his metaphoric megaphone; but in practice I was over it about 29 seconds after someone pointed out he wasn’t there.

It’s always interesting to go back and read the comments on Bruins Nation that were written during a game. You can almost track the action while you’re watching the DVR’s replay on mute – the highs and lows of the game thread matching up with the game like Dark Side of the Moon and the Wizard of Oz. (Just Google it, Fox71.) When I got home from Pasadena, the frustration in the game threads was palpable – and not exactly unexpected.

One sentiment I didn’t quite relate to – things are different when you’re watching live – was the idea that much of the poor play was more of the same, just another lousy performance turned in by a UCLA team that had more talent, but less discipline than their opponents. It didn’t quite feel that way in person. Sure the misplays were a drag, but they just felt like mistakes, not a trend. These are kids, let’s not forget, they play bad sometimes.

The other thing I sort of got but not quite were the conversations about whether or not we are a veteran or young team. The truth is we’re neither ... or both. We definitely have some veterans, like in the secondary – but c’mon Sheldon Price you need to play like one. We’re also young in places, and nowhere is that more evident than along the offensive line.

Oregon State is a program that really exists in a difficult spot. The state of Oregon produces relatively little in state talent (not saying there is none, just saying it’s not Texas or Florida) and their interstate archrival is the Nike-sponsored juggernaut. It’s not easy for them to recruit at a high level and there are seasons like 2011 when they just don’t have enough guys and they limp along to a 3-9 season.

On the other hand, Mike Riley and his staff can flat out coach. Before their last two undermanned seasons, they averaged like nine wins a year. They get the most out of what they got.

Last week, they had clearly scouted us and saw that they could confuse our young, offensive linemen. Jake Brendel is a big ol’ boy from Texas, ranked by Scout as the #11 center in the nation. He’s gonna be a good one. But right now he’s a redshirt freshman and he just not ready to make all the line calls. Quarterback Brett Hundley is in his class and while a veteran QB is able to pick up on what the defense is doing, Hundley doesn’t appear to be at that point.

So, what I saw happening was Oregon State really changing things up along their defensive front with different looks and blitzes and an offensive line that just wasn’t able to keep up. As a result, the Beavers really jammed the running lanes, rendering Johnathan Franklin far less impactful than he had been in the first three games and forcing the passing game to really carry the load. On a day when Hundley’s accuracy regressed and his receivers had a case of the drops, it just looked like a different offense than we saw during the 3-0 start.

There’s another thing.

Former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel had an interesting observation about non-conference games vs. conference games. I couldn’t find the quote, but I think he said it after the Buckeyes beat Texas 24-7 in 2006. Honestly, I could be wrong about the details, but it doesn’t matter, the point still holds.

Someone asked Tressel why OSU was able to easily handle a top team like Texas, when the same squad played tight games against conference foes with less talent than the Longhorns. Tressel’s response was that conference opponents played your guys every year, many of them had played your guys in high school. That familiarity led to a certain confidence that allowed teams to play above their talent level and keep games close. I’m positive he wasn’t saying that Texas was intimidated, he was just saying that they were unfamiliar with what Ohio State did and with the players on the field and those factors played a part in the margin of victory. Conference foes, even weaker conference foes, harnessed their awareness and managed to hang in there.

I was thinking about that while comparing our win over Nebraska against the loss to Oregon State. We popped the Cornhuskers in the mouth, knocked them off balance and won the game. But remember, even though they came in confident, they didn’t really know us. Their guys didn’t know our guys. The Beavers, though, play us every year. Nothing about us worried them coming in and even if man for man have more talent, conference games are just all too often closer games.

So, when you combine a day when we made more mistakes than we had in the prior three games with going up against a really good coach who gets the most out of his team (I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Riley is arguably the best player caller on offense in the Pac 12 this side of Chip Kelly) and you subtract any intimidation our talent advantage gave us because we play them every year – well, you lose.

And we did.

It sucked but it’s not the end of the season.

Oh, one more thing and it’s a bit of a contradiction from what I wrote up above.

I wrote that this didn’t feel like "just another loss" – not a carryover from the past. But in one way it was: All of our veterans have been under-coached and underdeveloped but the prior coaching regime. Yes, our corners are seniors, but they were not properly trained for their first three years and I’m not sure that Jim Mora and his staff have had enough time to undo all that needed undoing and set things straight. As a result, you see guys playing well for stretches and slipping back into old, bad habits the next.

Back to, not the end of the season.

I’m sure it reads like I’m making all kinds of excuses. Maybe I am. But it’s not my intent. I’ll say it again, we played poorly and we got out-schemed. The Beavers players played well, give them credit. What we need to find out the next two weeks is whether or not the mistakes get corrected and whether or not the team bounces back.

See, a bad team (and we all know what they look like) starts to fold after a bad loss. They start to expect the mistakes and once you start to do that, it’s all over. A good team, even a good team capable of crapping the bed at home as a favorite against a conference rival who lost nine games the year before, bounces back, puts things behind them, shows up in force against a weak, 1-3 Colorado team.

I’d like to make a prediction that we do bounce back, but I can’t. I really don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I really do believe that it’s hard to assess where we are right now. I really do believe that we were so far down below sea level the last four years, that it’s all Mora could do to get us back to the surface. It’s tough to tell from shore if the team will stay calm and start swimming or if it will swallow a mouthful of seawater and drown.

Hmmm …

When you think about it, I just took 1,500 words to point out that we probably weren’t as good as we thought we were after the 3-0 start and we aren’t as bad as we looked or felt after losing to Oregon State.

But this I do know: We’re better off than last year. Not necessarily a better team (though we are definitely a better team), but we seem better prepared to put a bad performance behind us. You could just see it. The team – the coaches and the players – really didn’t act much differently after the loss than they did after the three wins. Sure, they celebrated the Nebraska game, but only momentarily. They flipped the switch to "Nice win, but it’s only one game" really fast and the other side of that coin was "Tough loss, but it’s only one game." If nothing else, that’s the right approach.

With that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Colorado Buffaloes edition:

  1. True or False: Johnathan Franklin will get things going again and break the 100 yard total against Colorado.
  2. How many different Bruins will catch a pass tomorrow?
  3. True or False: Brett Hundley will have at least one completion that goes for 60 yards or more on Saturday.