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The Morning After, Part 4: Arizona State

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The Bruins played great against Arizona State, at times. They also made their usual share of mistakes at other times. It was all enough to give a Bruin fan almost infinite hope, while at the same time leaving him dangling perilously on the ledge.

What elbow?
What elbow?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I was listening to 104.3 The Fan, the local sports talk radio station here in Denver yesterday afternoon while dropping my daughter off for soccer before continuing on to work for my 5pm shift. On air, Alfred Williams (two time Super Bowl winner with the Broncos and Butkus Award winner at CU) was talking about the Denver Broncos' anemic run game with guest Shannon Sharpe (Williams' teammate and three time Super Bowl winner and Hall Of Famer and all-epic interview team). The Broncos inability to mount any threat of a run game makes them one dimensional, and therefore beatable by a team with a tough physical pass defense. Like, well, Seattle, for instance. Twice. F...

Anyway, Williams brought up that the Broncos don't run block well at the point of attack, to which Sharpe took off on a tangent about the Broncos second year burgeoning star tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas is nearly unstoppable in the passing game, and he is basically worthless in the run game.

This dude doesn't block the sun out of his eyes.

Sharpe was only getting started. His awesome rant continued for several minutes and was classic Shannon. Passionate, witty, inspiring, mostly sane. He related his own early blocking struggles and his realization that he would never be a champion if his game wasn't complete, and how that fueled an incredible drive to improve on his run blocking.  His story contained this gem:

When Mike Shananan came, our first game in Denver in 1995 under Mike Shanahan, opening day against Buffalo, I catch 10 balls for 180 yards. At the time it was about the 3rd of 4th best NFL opening game in history, regardless of tight end or wide receiver. The next day Mike called me in his office. I'm thinking Mike's gonna congratulate me, talk about what a great game I played. He turned the tape on. The tape ran for like 10 minutes. [all missed blocks by Sharpe]. He sees the look on my face and he cuts the tape off. He says, "Shannon, I won't accept anything in a win that I wouldn't in a loss." What he was telling me, that what I displayed, even though we won the game, and I had 180 yards, would have been unacceptable if we had lost that game.

So I won't accept nothing in a win that I wouldn't in a loss.

Going back to that 5pm work part...

I've probably leaked the secret before that I don't always write this morning after blurb the morning after.  It's frequently the night after, which may be 3 or 4 in the morning when I finish, so technically I guess that still counts. But it's a literal issue this morning. I got home from that work shift at 3am having successfully avoided any knowledge of the game, and immediately turned on the DVR and nuked a pot pie and some wings and sat down to some late late late night U.C.L.A. football.

You can imagine how I felt after a typically miserable late shift at work and then suffering through that first quarter and a play at 3:30 in the morning. Fortunately, there was a second quarter and the highlight plays started piling up.

And this is why it's important to watch the games. If I'd just checked scores and saw that we put up 60++ and won by 5 touchdowns, it would be pretty easy to think that we played a great game. And we did, in parts. But we didn't, in parts, too. It felt great that we won, but I was thinking of Shannon's words...

So I won't accept nothing in a win that I wouldn't in a loss.

(in my mind, I correct the grammar. Because, anal.)

Last night's game contained a ton of mistakes. If this team really has designs on a Pac-12 title and beyond, and the highlights from last night show why those hopes are legitimate, it simply cannot afford those mistakes. We might roll up a big win against a depleted ASU team, but how would that performance work against Oregon or Stanford? Or even our next opponent, Utah?

Once again, we were killing ourselves with penalties in the first half.  We had virtually no running game in the first half. The defense bent and bent and bent all night long.

I know, I know.  35 point win, dude!

As the unnaturally tan Shanahan preached to a for once speechless Shannon Sharpe, you have to ignore the final score and take the whole performance into account. As great as the defense's 4 forced turnovers were, the 626 yards given up was absolutely awful. For as great as the defense was against one of the most explosive offensive players in the country, some backup QB who had to have once been nicknamed Skippy or Bucky went YA Tittle on us for 488 yards and was sacked just once. Backup QBs across America continue to beg their ADs to schedule us.

We were really pretty fortunate that we were playing Skippy and not ASU's starting QB. The Bruins basically ignored the idea that the ASU backup could just jog the ball for 10 yards a pop and focused all their efforts on stopping their electric running back. The game plan never could have worked against their starter who is a great runner. He would have destroyed that defense we saw last night, and we would have had to leave a lot more room for said stud RB.

Once we were down 17-6, we outscored them 56-10. That's pretty nice. But how would the game have gone without their killer turnovers? Without our own killer penalties? With a more effective running game in the first quarter? With ASU not channeling Ben Howland with their first half timeouts? With ASU's starting QB healthy?

We played a really good game. But if we want to climb the mountaintop, we are going to need to play a great game. And last night wasn't a great game. Just wait for the Eye Test if you doubt me. We aren't getting straight A's. That's not being negative. It's being constructive. Sure, we're feeling pretty good this morning after making the ASU fans black out. But how would we feel about those 600+ yards of offense given up, and almost 500 yds of passing against us, and our 78 yards of penalties, and half as many first downs, and all those ineffective runs up the middle…if we had lost?

I finished watching the game about 5:40 am and then immediately left home to go watch my son's 6am hockey game, (which wasn't bad because he sometimes practices at 5am). I started typing a few notes between periods and am now furiously trying to get this done around 8:30am PT while I'm still sort of coherent.

So today really is a morning after article. And as I've been asking all season, what sort of team is this really?

And I still don't really know. It's still not clear what this team is, but I do feel a fair amount better about things today than I have the previous 3 weeks. Our QB was a Heisman candidate last night. The offensive line was good in the second half. The defense made big plays when it needed to. We contained one of the best playmakers in the country. Our coaching staff had a good game plan this week. And those who read this weekly thing closely probably know this article is supposed to be about the team and the fans and the themes around our football program, and for that reason I almost never mention any player by name. But...

Ishmael Adams.

Good win on the road against a well coached but unfortunately hamstrung (or foot strung?) opponent. But if we want to be Champions, we still have a lot of work to do.

Let's not accept in a win what we wouldn't in a loss.

Let's get to it.

Right after a nap.

That's the Morning After, Bruins.

Good Night.