Spaulding Roundup: Looking To Play "Good Football" On The Road

We learned from the Tennessee game that we can’t really afford to bask in our euphoric post game afterglow for a long time. As good as the ending of the Stanford game felt, it can all crash and burn within two quarters of three and out offensive series, special team’s implosion, turnovers, and total defensive meltdown.

CRN and his team has a monster challenge on their hands next weekend in Berkeley, taking on a team coming off a tough loss against Arizona (which BTW is looking as one of the better teams in the conference making our early season loss against them not look so horrific after all). While Bruins still have a shot at another bowl game, right now CRN is trying to get the team to focus strictly on Cal and playing “good football” on the road next Saturday. From the Daily News:

Neuheisel also acknowledged the large task ahead, namely California, as the Bruins enter a place that has been unkind to them - the road, and most specifically, Cal's Memorial Stadium.

The Bruins have lost 12 of their past 15 road games, including five straight. They've also dropped four straight at Cal, where UCLA last won in 1998.

"It'll be a tall order for a team that has struggled on the road, but we have to do it we're going to stay involved in the Pac-10 race," Neuheisel said. "We have to be able to go and play a good football game on the road, so that's the challenge for the week."

Neuheisel said he gives his team a copy of the Pac-10 standings each week. When he does it this time, the Bruins (3-4, 2-2) will see six teams ahead of them. However, everyone in the conference has at least one loss.

"We're not in position to look at anybody, other than Cal. We really aren't," Neuheisel said.

"We're trying to stay alive in this conference race. There's a lot of teams ahead of us, but they're only one game ahead of us, so we can be in the race going into November if we can find a way to beat a very good Cal team."

Well if we were to have any shot at beating an explosive Cal team, it would require 60 minutes of consistent football from Kevin Craft. From the LAT on Craft and co. playing cool under pressure but not being able to replicate that throughout the entire game:

On the verge of being yanked, he drove the Bruins 88 yards for a field goal in the last two minutes of the first half against Stanford on Saturday. On the precipice of defeat, he took them 87 yards for a game-winning touchdown in the last two minutes of the game.

Craft and the Bruins seem to handle playing four minutes of football. What to do during the other 56 minutes will be work for the week as UCLA prepares to play at California this Saturday.

"I think Kevin is doing great things," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "You factor in his experience and an offense that is completely foreign to him. We're asking him to do an awful lot. He doesn't go in the tank when things go wrong. You have to admire that."

Craft survived his own performance against Tennessee -- four first-half interceptions -- and drove the Bruins to a go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes of the season opener. He nearly rallied UCLA in the fourth quarter of a loss to Oregon, then got the job done against Stanford.

But finding ways to spread those performances over the entire game has eluded the Bruins' coaching staff so far.

"We'll explore everything from personnel changes to scheme changes," Neuheisel said. "One of the things you have to understand is it is difficult to change and not suffer some on your efficiency."

CRN has good reasons to be hesitant to use that no huddle offense for the entire game:

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said on his Sunday night conference call that while it was tempting to use the two-minute offense at other points in the game, it wasn't something that could be realistic long term.

He said that the two-minute, no-huddle offense is often run out of the shotgun, which takes away the threat of the running game. Add to the fact that it gets UCLA's defense back onto the field faster, and it is not a system that is set up to be used for a full game.

"Certainly there is some thought to that, but you have to remember what you are doing to your defense when you go out and do something like that," Neuheisel said. "You just can't do that. You're not necessarily guaranteed team results."

Those are very good points. I think for the Bruins to have a shot again next Saturday they will need to play ball control offense again to keep California’s potent duo of Jahvid Best/Shane Vereen and assortment of receivers off the field.

I thought the defense (despite being grinded out in that last drive and getting a break when Harbaugh didn’t go for it on 4th and 2) took some steps on Saturday in terms of tackling. Walker’s troops also did a good job in containing the Stanford’s passing game (which to put it charitably was a poor man’s version of Oregon’s offense w/ Masoli). However, all that progress will go up in smoke if the defense doesn’t come out aggressive next weekend in Berkeley. It will be imperative for Walker’s guys to tightly stay with their individual assignments and not allow Best or Vareen do their magic in open spaces.

Meanwhile, on the offensive side, Craft will need to play good football for entire 60 minutes. What is interesting is how Chow believes in Craft’s ability (as he told Greg Patton from PE.com):

For his part, Chow still prefers Craft to the totally untested alternatives on the Bruins bench. He especially likes Craft leaving the pocket and getting adventurous.

"Studies show that 70 percent of passing plays work off rhythm, not like in the book," said Chow. "He's very athletic.

"He has a nice temperament for a quarterback, and he always wants to do better."

Well, we would love to see some of the plays we saw from Craft last weekend in the second half. If we can get him out more on those designed roll outs, get him away the pressure, get him to hit some targets downfield, it might loosen up the opposing defense, and open up other options.

We will have more on Cal later this week. As mentioned above the Bears will be a huge challenge (and IMHO a tougher one than what we dealt with in Provo). For us to have any shot Bruins will need to play good football on both sides of the ball. The challenge now for our coaches and players is to follow through and build on the encouraging milestones from last few weeks.

GO BRUINS.

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