Spaulding Roundup: New Starter At Mike & 29 Inches

We will start our roundup today on the defensive front. Kevin Pearson from the Press Enterprise reports that Steve Sloan will get the start at MLB against Arizona (shifting Carter over to WLB and I guess at this point still keep Hale at SLB):

Steve Sloan has never played a single snap on defense for the Bruins, but on Saturday he will be the man in charge of making sure everything goes correctly on that side of the ball.

A redshirt freshman, Sloan will start and get his first game action at middle linebacker as the Bruins host Arizona in the teams' Pac-10 opener at the Rose Bowl.

Because of an injury to weak-side linebacker Kyle Bosworth, the Bruins have reshuffled their linebackers this week in order to get their three best available players on the field. That forced Reggie Carter from the middle to the weak side and creates the opening for Sloan, a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder who fits better in the middle.

Steve Sloan will have some big shoes to fill. MLB is basically the QB position on the defensive side, which involves calling the right signals. Christian Taylor did an amazing job playing that role last two years. Reggie Carter last week despite the defense’s overall meltdown registered 20 tackles at that spot. So Sloan will have to step and make plays.

Meanwhile, on the other side the biggest concern continues to be the lack of running game:

Of all the labors set before this Bruins' coaching staff, which some people have dubbed a dream team, generating a running game appears to be the most urgent.

Palcic's line was supposed to be a weakness. It has been. He was so steamed after watching film of the 59-0 blowout at BYU, he practically fired the whole group and opened the starting spots to auditions.

The running backs were supposed to be OK, but – already hobbled by injuries – they have disappointed.

UCLA has not chosen to run the ball often and why should it? Quarterback Kevin Craft has handed off 47 times (vs. 82 passes) and it has netted 38 yards, an average of 0.8 yards per carry. That's good for 119th out of 119 major-college teams. The Bruins aren't even close to the No. 118 team, San Diego State.

Why even bother trying?

"I think we do the kids harm when we don't do it that way," UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow said. "It's tougher to defend. If you know we're going to pass the whole game, how tough is that?"

Chow said he will begin restoring balance Saturday against Arizona. He might have the perfect chance, when his resistible force meets a moveable object.

While coaches are trying to figure out a way to get some kind of running game going, Bell is patiently working to get healthy and waiting for Neuheisel’s decision:

With UCLA needing to jump-start a sluggish running game, all eyes have focused on tailback Kahlil Bell and his sore ankle.

Bell looked relatively sound during Wednesday's practice and said he was ready to play against Arizona on Saturday, but that doesn't mean he will.

"It really will be on me," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I haven't made up my mind as to whether or not I'm going to let him, just because it's a long year and this is only Week 3."

Bell said he understood his coach's concern. The senior has some experience dealing with injury after suffering a torn ACL last season.

"It's tough," he said. "I want to be back, but at the same time I've got to be smart."

Neuheisel says he will watch Bell for the next few days and make a decision by game time. If Bell cannot play, a healthy Derrick Coleman could pick up some of the slack.

Again right now our running backs are averaging 0.8 yards per carry. Think about that. I believe that comes out to about 29 inches per carry.

29 inches per carry.

I know it is incredibly when we point out the lack of talent, size and athleticism in our OL. But we have to be cognizant about reality. We did that when Howland was dealing with a team that had Brian Morrison and Ryan Walcott in the backcourt and Josiah Johnson and Michael Fey up front. People who have jumped on to the Ben Ball bandwagon since that epic game against Gonzaga in 2006 don’t remember the agony, frustration, and humiliations from Howland’s first year. Just like we have few chicken little out there complaining and whining about what we are seeing on the field – a program result of almost a decade of listless, uninspiring and competent leadership – there were number of folks questioning Howland’s leadership in those first two seasons (even after Howland miraculously turned the worst UCLA teams in its history to a tournament team).

Yet, we have Brian Dohns of the world looking beyond the obvious and trying to come up with other reasons behind the roller coaster ride UCLA football will go through this season. In what is probably one of the worst articles, I have ever read from a UCLA beat writer, Dohn has a write up today featuring comments from couple of shrinks on why Bruin football program go through extreme up and downs. Dohn dialed up some dude named Dr. John Murray, “a Florida based … nationally known sports psychologist” to spout this:

"Whereas you get a team like UCLA, that really doesn't have a backbone or tradition or history or a coach, they're going to be all over the map. That's kind of how it feels. But they come back after a big loss, they're hungry and they're angry and feeling ashamed, so they fight for pride, or whatever it is."

Somehow Dohn, the Rutgers graduate forgot to mention how that “tradition” entails 18 Conference Championships, 1 National Championship, 1 Heisman Trophy Winner, 12 Rose Bowls, and 8 straight bowl victories (1983-1991).

I wonder if Dohn bothered to dial up these “nationally known sports psychologists” when Bruins were getting pounded by Arizona, Stanford, California, Southern Cal, St. Johns, and Washington State in six straight humiliating defeats during the midpoint of Howland’s first season when bunch of Lavin recruited basketball players quit on the best coach in the game. I wonder if Dohn bothered to write up articles from sports psychologists dumping all over the “tradition” of UCLA basketball program (which many pundits predicted would not reemerge in the modern era) that year when the Bruins finished the season with another 6 game losing streak.

There was no going around the fact that we didn’t have the talent and athleticism and offense to being a .500 team in Howland’s first season. We have no choice but to take the same mindset now, while hoping for the best (rooting for the kids wearing UCLA uniforms). Not much else can we do when the team features an OL that generates 29 inches per carry despite getting coaches by some of the best in the game.

GO BRUINS.

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