As strange as it may sound, in some ways I have been looking forward to this game day more than the one involving Tennessee. The reason is pretty simple because it presents the best opportunity for our football team and out community to move forward.
We will start our game day round up with Kevin Pearson from the Press Enterprise, who zeroes in on the key matchup at the Rose Bowl:
The key matchup is UCLA's offensive line vs. Arizona's defensive front. The Bruins have done nothing right when it comes to run blocking, and the Wildcats aren't the best defensive front UCLA will see this season. The Bruins need to keep running the ball, and this could be the game for it.
Needless to say there is a lot of pressure on our offensive line to perform today. We have discussed this week, how these guys have been responsible for generating a ground game, which has been averaging an astonishing 29 inches per game. Chris Foster from the LA Times has an article in which he calls out the OL from the freshmen class of 2006:
"What it has been to this point is there is always one guy who is making a mental mistake or not using proper technique," tackle Nick Ekbatani said. "His guy is making the play. It seems like there are four guys on the right body and we have one going to the wrong guy."
That it seems to be a different guy each time calls into question UCLA's much-ballyhooed recruiting class of 2006, which included seven offensive linemen -- Ekbatani, Brandon Bennett, Jake Dean, Andy Keane, Micah Kia, Sean Sheller and Sonny Tevaga.
SuperPrep Magazine rated that class of linemen sixth in the nation.
Sheller, a projected starter, suffered a knee injury in an all-terrain vehicle accident this summer. The rest?
"It's been a bit of a disappointment, that's the bottom line," said Allen Wallace, national recruiting editor for Scout.com. "That was viewed as a recruiting class that was going to give UCLA a leg up in the trenches."
Instead, the Bruins keep digging deep holes.
I personally don’t feel it is all that productive to constantly bash the previous head coach (even though he bears a major share of the responsibility for where we find ourselves today (along with the previous Chancellor Al Carnesale and Vice Chancellor Peter Blackmun, who meddled into the hiring process back in 2002). However, for the purposes of perspective it is necessary to keep in mind what kind of talent, coaches are working with in the current regime. No wonder Bob Palcic, who is considered one of the best OL coaches in America, is calling this “the biggest challenge” of his decorated career:
"The five best," Bruins offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "I'm just looking for the five guys I feel can execute the game plan. It's not specific to run. It's not specific to pass. You've got to be able to do both."
In 38 years of coaching, the respected Palcic, in his first year at UCLA, is still searching for a capable combination.
Asked if he was ever searching this much three games into a season during his coaching career, he said, "Never. It's the biggest challenge of my career. That's the way it is. The biggest challenge of my career."
Hopefully, Palcic’s boys will be able to move in a positive direction today. I know I believe in what Coach Palcic can do given what I saw firsthand in the kind of line he put together last time he was coaching at UCLA. If you need a reminder just look up the game tapes of UCLA’
The Bruins also must play smart. They have been penalized only six times in two games and must keep that up.
They also must hold on to the ball. Turnovers will kill most teams, and this one is not talented enough to make up for wasted possessions.
Asked this week what gave him hope that UCLA could rebound and beat Arizona, Coach Rick Neuheisel pointed out that everyone showed up to practice, which was a promising start. In trying to rebuild this program, Neuheisel has stressed mental toughness, not only to avoid the bad losses but also to have the resiliency to respond when they occur.
"The test will be when there is a bump in the road in a game, and all of the sudden, will everyone sit and wonder, 'Oh here we go again'?" Neuheisel said. "It cannot happen. We have to be resilient.
"Ultimately the hallmark of this program is that we have to be tough. When you take one on the chin, the best thing a competitor does is get back up and get back in the ring."
Speaking of getting back up, we have discussed about Walker and his boys bouncing back from last week’s humiliation. In Arizona they are taking on a QB, who has a history of lighting it up against the Bruins. In addition to Tutitama and prolific receivers such as Gronkowski (who is making his season debut after sitting out the first three games due to health issues) and Thomas, Walker is worried about Arizona’s running back. From Dohn:
Wildcats tailback Nic Grigsby had no problem running through UCLA's defense last season, rushing for 124 yards. He is averaging 125 yards per game this season.
"If you give (Tuitama) seams and he gets his confidence going, that's the whole thing," UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "The little running back concerns me a little bit because they can get you in space.
"You worry about taking care of all the wideouts and the tight ends and all the throws, and all of a sudden they hand it off to the little guy and he finds a crease, and there he goes. It's executing and tackling."
While UCLA is a three-point underdog, it has won 17 of its past 20 home games, and in the last four years made a living of winning at home after disastrous performances on the road.
"We've got a lot of people that don't want to have that feeling again," UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "I think that is the motivation, but also we learn from those mistakes. I'm pretty sure most of this team is mentally tough."
For more on the game here are other games notes from the LA Times and the Daily News. Also as the OC Register notes, despite last weekend’s disaster our coaches continue to recruit aggressively, as they are hosting a large number of recruits at today’s game.
Hope ATV and his team-mates get to bounce back today that will enable them to put 0-59 in the past, and make a statement to those young kids getting a taste of UCLA game at the Rose Bowl. It will also be the perfect way of moving this program forward.
We will have our game thread up about 30 mins before the game.