Lets start the Friday with another injury update. It looks like Johnathan Franklin will most likely get into the game tomorrow. According to the LAT he practiced for the second day yesterday. Carter didn't practice but if you were to read Neuheisel's comments it seems clear that he will be available tomorrow. Here is CRN on Franklin:
Franklin was injured in last week’s game against Oregon but has been going through the usual drills and plays at practice.
"I think he’ll play," Neuheisel said. "We’ll have to make a determination as to how much."
Carter left the practice field about 45 minutes before the rest of the team but gave a thumbs up on his way out.
"Reggie Carter moved real well in his workout so we’ll see how all that turns itself out," Neuheisel said.
Given how Carter played through nagging injuries last year and still remained effective, I don't see how the coaches will be able to keep him out action tomorrow afternoon. Bruins are going to need Carter desperately to take on a Cal offense which is anxious to get back its explosive form after getting dismantled against Oregon and Southern Cal in their past two games. Interestingly, Cal with Kevin Riley seems to be grappling with some of the same issues we are having at QB with Prince/Craft/Brehaut. More on the QB issues and another special note on our special teams after the jump.
We have discussed a lot about how we desperately need Kevin Prince to get back in rhythm after looking rusty and out of sync in his return from injury this past weekend. Kevin is aware of the issue more than anyone else here on BN. Jon Gold from the Daily News reports that Prince has been working hard to put Oregon game in the past and concentrating on getting comfortable again under center and regain his timing with the offense:
"I feel like overall, it's been better," Prince said. "I feel more comfortable in the pocket. I'm taking more time looking at the defense and focusing on where to get the ball. It's definitely an improvement from Saturday."
Prince worked on timing this week while attempting to recreate the rhythm he had in back-to-back wins to start the season. After winning the job in spring ball, Prince entered the fall camp with no doubts about his role on the team. A three-week layoff watching senior quarterback Kevin Craft take the reins left Prince feeling like he'd lost a little of that momentum he'd worked so hard to create.
"There's a timing factor to football, especially on offense and especially at quarterback," Prince said. "There's a rhythm; it's tough to jump back into it. But I don't have any other choice. It was tough last week, but I felt like it helped."
Prince also focused on the long ball throughout the week as sharpened his touch and ironed out any rust.
"My own personal criticism of myself has always been the deep ball," Prince said. "Sometimes when I do get an open long ball, I tend to get overanxious and shoot it too long. That's part of what I've worked on this week - just being more relaxed and letting the game come to me.
"Those throws will come."
Meanwhile, up the 101, another QB named Kevin seems to working on the exact same issues heading into this game. Rib Kroichick from the San Francisco Chronicle has a report on how Cal QB - Kevin Riley - has been putting in extra work with Jeff Tedford during the bye week to work on his mechanics and to regain his rhythm in the Cal offense:
Riley completed more than 60 percent of his passes in each of Cal's first three games, convincing wins over Maryland, Eastern Washington and Minnesota. He then completed less than 40 percent of his passes in each of the next two games, lopsided losses to Oregon and USC in which the Bears didn't score a touchdown.
But Riley insisted the disappointing start to Pac-10 play did not shake his self-belief.
"No, not at all," he said. "I was still making the right reads - I was just putting the ball a little too high. ... They did a good job disrupting our timing. They also put pressure on the receivers, which we didn't see as much the first three games."
The offense's sudden inertia - Cal scored 146 points in its first three games and only six in its last two - does not fall entirely on Riley. Oregon and USC applied heavy pressure, collecting eight sacks and often forcing him to hurry passes. So the blocking must improve, clearly, and Cal's receivers need to create more separation from coverage.
Hmm. The OL's pass blicking needs to improve. The receivers need to to create more separation. If we keep reading more of this we are going to hear Bear fans accusing UCLA of copying Cal's offensive problems too.
Seriously though it's kind of eery reading that piece about Cal's QB because it seemed basically cut and paste of number of reports we have been reading out of our practices from the local beat writers here. The difference here though is our OL's recent history is not as established as that of the Bears, our starting QB and his primary backup (Brehaut) don't have the same game experience as Riley, and we don't have a monster like Jahvid Best in our backfield. That is why I am kind of more than worried about what the Bears might do on offense. I don't know if an offense like that with game breakers at the tailback positions and an experienced QB can stay down for three straight games. They are due for coming back to old form or somewhere close to it. That means it will be up to our defense to contain them with credible performance from our offense, and a clean play from our specials teams.
Special teams ... yes. Speaking of those guys the LAT leads of their UCLA report with our problem with kickoff coverage which has marred decent performances in other areas of special teams this season:
While UCLA has been exceptional at other areas of special teams play, the Bruins rank 118th out of the nation's 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in kickoff coverage.
Against Oregon, it finally cost them, as Barner's touchdown at the start of the second half erased a 3-0 UCLA lead.
"We got to get off blocks, we got to get off blocks, we got to get off blocks," said special teams coach Frank Gansz, Jr.. "When you got you locked up, you got to get off of it."
UCLA has blocked two field goals and one punt. Alterraun Verner returned one blocked field goal for a touchdown. Terrence Austin is averaging a respectable 24.8 yards on kickoff returns and 10.5 yards on punt returns. Opponents are averaging only 4.1 yards on punt returns.
But in the last three games, the Bruins' kickoff coverage has struggled. Kansas State averaged 33.8 yards, Stanford returned one kick for 34 yards and Barner went the distance on Oregon's only return.
"We've made a few changes in practice, and emphasized some things," linebacker Sean Westgate said. "We have to make sure we have the back side contained. You got to make sure you're not jumping off the block wrong. If the ball is going inside, you can't jump to the outside."
As discussed during the comment thread yesterday I think our guys need to realize that we can't be relying on Jeff Locke's bombs every time we line up for kickoff. The game changing kickoff return against Oregon, was blasted three yards into the end zone. From what I saw it seemed like our guys just relaxed and were not able to get off their blocks. That shoulnd't be happening, especially when have a coach devoted to preparing the special teams. I was hoping the underclassmen who don't get as much time in either offense or defense would work extra hard as special teamers, to show their coaches how much they want to contribute and play in the game.
Also, another note on special teams. We need better performance from Terrence Austin. TA's return average is so so. He has had one decent return during kickoff (against San Diego State) and nice punt return last weekend against Oregon. But we need more from a fourth year senior. He needs to house it one of these days and I think more importantly he needs to stop being tentative (at least he often appears to be unsure on what he wants to when catching punts) with his decisions on whether he wants to catch the ball.
Punt/kickoff returing is probably two of the hardest assignments in special teams, a reason why coaches like having experienced upperclassmen handling those duties (I still have nightmares from Guidry brothers trying to field punts from back in the days in early 90s). So I get why they keep going back to Austin. But I can't help but wonder what could kids gifted with speed such as Carroll or Thigpen could back there if they were given the opportunities. Either way I hope TA steps up or coaches look for other options who could provide a spark via the special teams.
We will need the entire team to play with a sense of urgency tomorrow. As long as we meet the goal of getting into a bowl we are going to be all right. So the world is not going to end if Bears win tomorrow. However, I do want to see a well prepared UCLA team out there tomorrow that looks fired up, focused, and playing smart football with a sense of aggression for entire 60 minutes at the Rose Bowl.