August 21, 2008
An individual grows and develops within the context of a defined social order.
By any standard, Jake Locker was an enormous hit as a runner as a freshman, accounting for over 1,100 yards before sacks, against one of the toughest schedules in the country, despite missing a full game and a half.
But in order to succeed in his difficult journey of maturation, Locker must conquer the erratic nemesis that is his own right arm: he had easily the worst completion percentage among regular Pac Ten starters and the next-to-worst pass efficiency rating; where no quarterback in the NCAA's top 100 in efficiency finished below a 52 percent completion rate, Locker (whose rating was nowhere near the top 100) completed just a little over 47 percent, one of the worst numbers in the country. After an impressive opening jog at Syracuse, he threw at least one interception in every game he finished except one, in which he complete 6-of-14 for 16 yards before leaving the game at Oregon State.
Eventually, the spirit and values of the social order of quarterbacks will become manifest in Locker as a protagonist, and he will be fully incorporated into society: his size and raw physical ability suggest he has an NFL future. In the meantime, his first step in the journey is to follow those before him. Most recently, they belong to Juice Williams, another athletic, embarrassingly erratic passer who advanced from a naîf in the pocket in his first season to a competent, balanced leader on a dramatically improved team as a sophomore.
The Individual in Nature
Nature is at war with each of us and proves our vulnerability.
To some extent, injuries can be prevented by conditioning, technique and caution. But no matter what steps you take to keep them working, the hubristic notion of keeping every bone, tendon, muscle, ligament and neuron in place while doing what football players do is an affront to nature's design for the human body. In UCLA's case, nature has responded by declaring war on the Bruins, and on the vulnerable L.A. quarterbacks, in particular.
On the offensive line, starting tackle Aleksey Lans left the team with knee injuries in the spring, and the new coaching staff passed 'overly' on the Ouija Board of concern when eight linemen were missing from practice at the start of the week. Of the most experienced Bruin skill guys, running back Kahlil Bell missed the last five games last year, Marcus Everett missed the last nine, and the quarterbacks . . . well, just pay very close attention to the brutal circle of UCLA quarterbacks over the last twelve months:
OK, so: Ben Olson was the starter in 2006 until he was knocked out for the season; Patrick Cowan finished the year in underwhelming fashion but didn't turn the ball over while the defense was upsetting USC. Then Olson came back and started last year, until he got knocked out in the third game; Cowan started the next week and was knocked out for the following two weeks, during which Olson returned until he was knocked out of the game against Notre Dame and overmatched walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson came on to commit seven turnovers in the dismal loss to the Irish. Cowan returned to start the next three games, until he was knocked out against Arizona. Osaar Rashaan moved from wide receiver to start the next two, against Arizona State and Oregon, until he was pulled in favor of a gimpy Olson after starting 1-for-9 against the Ducks. Cowan returned to start at USC until he was knocked out in the fourth quarter and replaced by Olson, who wasn't 100 percent. Bethel-Thompson played the entire bowl game but left the team after the season. After a couple months to rest, Cowan won the starting job in the spring, then immediately got the injury ball rolling to start '08 camp last week. Google '"Ben Olson" injury,' and you get nearly 39,000 results, the first four of which each refer to a separate injury. Kevin Craft may have won the starting job in Olson's and Cowan's stead, but Chris Forcier should probably be ready to go, just in case. And get a good insurance policy.
An Individual's Relation to the Gods
The gods mock the individual and torture him or her for presuming to be great.
To be fair, neither Mike Stoops nor Ty Willingham necessarily referred to himself as "great." But they were both considered solid to slam dunk hires at Arizona and Washington, respectively, schools with a history of success throughout the nineties and that needed only a competent guiding hand to resurrect their winning ways after the disastrous John Mackovic and Kevin Gilbertson administrations ran them into the ground. And even they had presumed to be "slightly above average," their tenures have been a mockery of expectations.
Four years in for Stoops, three for Willingham, and no bowl in sight. Arizona is 12-22 in conference games since 2003; the Huskies are 6-20 in-conference under Willingham. It's not for lack of anticipation -- both teams have been "on the verge of a breakthrough" for the last two summers, when even Arizona's PR department felt confident enough in the team's improvement to state flatly before the year, "the 2006 Cats are a bowl team." Close -- they rallied late to finish 6-6 -- but no cigar, and the record regressed to 5-7 last year. Washington found itself in the polls after starting 4-1 in '06 and then 2-0 last year. From there, they lost six straight and nine of eleven, respectively, and wealthy alums were offering to create scholarships in honor of Willingham's termination.
In both cases, 2008 is broadly cast as a zero-sum proposition: a bowl game, or you're fired. Judging from the forecasts, it looks like the chips are on "fired."
- - -
Photo of Jake Locker via Getty Images; Photo of Mike Stoops via US Presswire.