Spaulding Roundup: Keeping It Close

Lot of news and notes to get to this Tuesday morning. We will start with Cal. Both CRN and ATV talked about their upcoming opponent yesterday afternoon. If you don’t know it yet, Bruins are about 18 point underdogs heading into Saturday’s game. One of the main reasons Cal is such a huge favorite is their powerful offense headlined by Jahvid Best:

Verner and Neuheisel talked at length about the types of athletes Cal has on its roster and the most dangerous is clearly sophomore running back Jahvid Best, who is first in the nation in all-purpose yards and is a home-run threat every time he gets his hands on the ball.

“They’ve got great speed at tailback and a very accomplished offensive line, so they can maul you,” Neuheisel said. “That’s been the hallmark of his offense, is they can run the ball, even against really good defenses. That’s going to be a real challenge for us, is to not let them control the game with their running game.”

Best fwiw didn’t play in the fourth quarter last weekend against Arizona due to a sore elbow. But I wouldn’t let that note give any kind of false sense of comfort given what we have seen from our rush defense this season.

Sticking with Cal offense, right now it’s not clear which QB will start against the Bruins:

UCLA is not alone in searching for consistency on offense. California, UCLA's opponent Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, has been switching between quarterbacks.

Nate Longshore started against Arizona last Saturday and built a 24-14 halftime lead. But when the Wildcats jumped ahead, Coach Jeff Tedford put Kevin Riley into the lineup.

Which quarterback trots onto the field Saturday does not seem to concern Neuheisel.

"Riley is more a running threat than Longshore, but I think the way the system is built they don't call different package plays for one or the other," Neuheisel said.

IMHO both of them have the ability to pick apart our offense (if they are in rhythm). Longshore is more of the pocket passer. If he gets in a comfort zone he will sit back and slice up our secondary picking and choosing among all the targets offered up by Cal’s receiving corps. Riley on the other hand could be even more dangerous with his ability to scramble.

The key for Bruins on Saturday will be not to allow the Cal offense (no matter who is starting for them at QB) to get off to a fast start. This means Walker will have to find a way to bring some heat on Cal QBs. Easier said than done considering Cal has one of the best OL in the conference, while our defensive line is banged up.

If the Bruins want to have a shot at pulling off an upset, they will have to find a way to contain the Cal offense and keep the game close heading into fourth quarter:

"I talk about it all the time (with the team), we've got to get games to the fourth quarter," Neuheisel said. "We've done it in all but one. I'd love to be 7-0, but the facts of the matter are, we're progressing."

Whether that holds true on the road remains to be seen. The Bruins have played just twice away from the Rose Bowl and are 18-point underdogs heading into Memorial Coliseum against Cal.

The circumstances are not much different than they were two weeks ago at Oregon, an experience Neuheisel is looking to draw from.

"We battled the elements, we were able to weather the crowd, we played hard," Neuheisel said during Monday's news conference. "We played the way you'd like to play when you go on the road.

"The key for us this week is to find a way to be one point better than Cal. "They can start by trying to stay close.

By the way, just how much the “relentlessly positive” mantra has become engrained in the brains of our players. From the same article linked above:

It rubbed off enough on quarterback Kevin Craft that he was quoting the first-year coach in the huddle during UCLA's game-winning drive against Stanford this past Saturday.

"He was saying what the coaches say, to stay 'relentlessly positive,'" tight end Cory Harkey said of Craft. "'The game's not over. Keep busting your butts.' And it happened for us."

I’d say that is a pretty good example of subtle “culture change” that is taking place in the program and we have seen direct results of that shift in the form of dramatic come from behind wins in fourth quarter, and a never ending spirit to fight in all but one of our games.

We will end this roundup with couple of notes on our running backs. Dohn gives CRN’s explanation on why Dean is not getting a lot of reps:

"He's a little hurt, in my opinion," Neuheisel said. "I still see a little limp when he tries to open it. And he's a young player. He's the kind of guy that we had such high hopes and wanted him to blossom.

"There's more to it than carrying the football. There's pass protection. There's knowing all the schemes, both in pass and in run, and he right now he isn't quite ready to burst into the scene."

Dean has two carries, and played in only two games. If Dean does not play again this season, there is a chance UCLA will seek a medical redshirt.

That’s what we suspected. And it would be great if he can get a medical red-shirt if he doesn’t see any more reps rest of this season. Speaking of red-shirt, we also now know why Knox is redshirting this season:

Neuheisel said Knox's slow start was due to off-the-field issues, including a tough August and September in which he dealt with questions of eligibility, and family crisis. His father, Milton Sr., suffered a heart attack two months ago and his grandmother also had a health scare. He said both are doing well, and added he was glad he chose UCLA over Notre Dame, which allowed him to remain close to home to give, and receive, support from his family.

"If something (didn't work out with the NCAA), I would have come back in January," Knox said. "UCLA stuck by me 100 percent, and they said I could come in January as a true freshman. They never turned their back on me at all, and that's why I'm so indebted to the program.

"At the beginning, I wasn't too sure of coming here. Now, I'm glad I made the decision. If I went to Notre Dame, they probably would have turned their back on me. Everything worked out as a blessing for me."

One of the things Neuheisel said he considered was whether inserting Knox into the running back rotation was fair, especially with Kahlil Bell and Derrick Coleman entrenched as the top two running backs.

"(Neuheisel) told me it wouldn't be fair to the program, or myself, to play me right now," Knox said. "It didn't matter if it were special teams, or kickoff returns, I just wanted to play. Everybody's been doubting me for so long, saying things about my size, and I just want to go out there and prove all the people wrong who thought I couldn't do it.

"It was kind of hard to not be on the field and watch other people play. It's a tough adjustment, but like coach Neuheisel always says, patience is key."

Patience  and relentless optimism. We will needs lots of that from our entire to team to keep the game close and to have a shot this Saturday.

GO BRUINS.

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