Spaulding Roundup: Setting Aside The Oregon Subplots

So Bruins are heading into Eugene as 17 point underdogs to Oregon Ducks. That’s a pretty reasonable spread for this team given it’s recent road record and the explosiveness of Duck’s offense. Mix in the factor of an extremely cranky Ducks team (coming off a deflating loss against Southern Cal) and the program’s past history with CRN, it has the potential to shape up as very difficult road trip (just like its only other road trip this season) for UCLA. No surprise CRN didn’t waste any time in getting his team together to talk about the road trip (following last weekend’s win against WSU):

When the team met Sunday, Coach Rick Neuheisel quickly addressed the need to handle this trip better than it did the Utah journey. He said he is considering changing some of the travel details to emphasize a new approach.

The problem is a new one for Neuheisel, who won his first nine road games when he took over at Colorado.

"It didn't seem so hard, but things have changed a little bit," Neuheisel said. "We've got to figure out how to play a better game on the road. A little bit of it is a mentality that it's us against the world. Somehow, everyone's got to bring that focus."

Autzen figures to be particularly rowdy Saturday. Ducks fans are not big supporters of Neuheisel. The grudge stretches back to 1995, when Neuheisel called a fake punt that led to a touchdown near the end of Colorado's 38-6 Cotton Bowl victory over Oregon.

"I've got the black hat," Neuheisel said.

More on that history between CRN and Oregon Ducks from PE.com:

The anti-Neuheisel sentiment in Oregon stems from a pair of incidents when he was at Colorado in the mid-1990s and faced the Ducks in a pair of bowl games. Following the 1995 season, Neuheisel's first season as a head coach, he led Colorado to a 38-6 victory over Oregon in the Cotton Bowl.

Late in that game, Colorado ran a fake punt that drew the ire of Oregon's team and fan base, which is among the strongest and most faithful in the Pac-10.

"I am making no excuses," Neuheisel said. "It was a poor decision."

Following the 1998 season, Colorado and Oregon met in the Aloha Bowl and after the game, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti made a comment about his side being the better team, despite a 51-43 Colorado victory. Neuheisel's response of "scoreboard" didn't sit well with Ducks fans.

"It just kind of took off," Neuheisel said. "I probably wasn't mature enough to handle it the way I should have."

If that weren't enough, Bellotti was at one time a candidate for the UCLA job last December and many Oregon fans did not want him to leave. Add to that the fact that Neuheisel also coached at Washington -- one of Oregon's biggest and most-hated rivals -- and is a lifetime 4-1 against the Ducks, and the coach expects some unflattering words this weekend.

"I admire their program and I admire their coach," Neuheisel said. "What's happened at the University of Oregon in terms of their athletic department and namely their football program has been astounding since coming to the Pac-10.

"There is great admiration there, from the coaches to the administration to (Nike owner) Phil Knight, to all of them. It's a big-time place."

And that’s about how much we will probably spend discussing this side plot heading into Saturday’s game. What happened between CRN and Oregon from his time as the head coach of UDub and CU, don’t matter all that much IMHO when it comes to rebuilding the UCLA program. Saturday’s game is going to be more than difficult for our Bruins. It will not be a surprise if the Oregon Ducks get a huge win, release some of their pent up frustrations and get their CRN. In terms of the big picture of rebuilding our program, it won’t matter much.

What will matter for UCLA is to find out how our players come and respond. FWIW there have been some signs of continuity in our offense. As Dohn noted today the OL featured the same starting lineup for two straight games, while Austin and Embree are settling in fairly productive roles as dependable receivers:

"That's how you get better," Neuheisel said. "You keep throwing to the same guys, the offensive line is talking to the same people. Those things are huge as you try to mature as a football team."

Austin and Embree were UCLA's top receivers against the Cougars, not just catching the ball but in snaps. They were on the field for approximately half of UCLA's 74 offensive snaps, which is 50 percent more plays than third receiver Dominique Johnson participated in.

It was also more than twice the number of snaps of any other receiver played, and Austin and Embree both delivered.

Austin led the Bruins with seven catches for 77 yards, and has a team-leading 27 catches. Embree made five catches for 63 yards and is third, behind tight end Ryan Moya (22catches) with 15 receptions.

"Consistency is the reason," Neuheisel said Austin and Embree separated from the other receivers. "It's the ability to be where they're supposed to be, to be readable (for the quarterback), and make plays you have to make even in close quarters."

Meanwhile, left tackle Jeff Baca, left guard Darius Savage, center Jake Dean, right guard Scott Glicksberg and right tackle Nick Ekbatani started together for the second straight game.

It will be interesting to see how these guys come through on Saturday. You can pretty much count on Ducks to devise a defensive strategy that will force UCLA to win the game through Kevin Craft’s arm. Oregon is 9th in Pac-10 in pass defense (265.6 yards per game and 4th in rush defense (109.3 yards per game). It will not be a surprise to see Alliotti and co stack the box up front, daring Craft to beat them via our passing game. With the hostile crowd, a fired up Ducks defense (more on them later this week), it will be imperative for Craft and his team-mates to stay disciplined, maintain their composure and focus on executing Chow’s game plan against a very good Oregon team.

I think if the team finds a way to stay in the game heading into the fourth quarter, we will have a shot. Otherwise, it is going to be a long night in yet another difficult game in CRN’s first season. More on the Ducks later. Hopefully the team will be able to set aside all the off field distractions and focus on getting better as a team like they have doing for last three weekends. It sure sounds like CRN and his coaches are doing what they can to get their players in that mindset.

GO BRUINS.

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