Big Picture Thoughts: Rick Neuheisel Needs To Deliver (At Least) 6 Wins In 2009

Well losing last night was a surprise. It's sad commentary on the state of our football program (thank you Al Carnesale and Pate Dalis) when the Sunday after UCLA losses doesn't sting like they do after a tough loss in a basketball game. Years of mismanagement and I would submit total neglect from the UCLA administration has our football program the state it is in right now. It is not going to get easier any time soon.

I fully expect us to lose next weekend as well as we will probably see the two Kevins flail away leading an impotent offense, while the Bruin defense will probably get run around and marched on with easy as they look hapless (and kind of hopeless) under their coaches' not so inspiring bend-don't break boring schemes. Sure we might get some big plays here there with momentary flickers of hope but those of who have been around long enough will know better and not get too excited about more magic from the legendary UCLA kicking game.

So where are we in terms of big picture? We are 3-4 and tied for last place with a winless team in conference play. The expectations for this season remains the same. Neuheisel and his coaches need to bring home 6 wins. If he tries to spin anything less than that as a successful season, we are going to LOL at him or anyone else who tries to spin it as success. So anything less than 6 wins this season will the first strike against him in his UCLA career. Here is the schedule for next season (courtesy of BruinGold.com):

at Kansas St Wildcats    Sep 4
Houston Cougars    Sep 11
at Texas Longhorns    Sep 18
Washington State Cougars     Oct 2
at California Bears    Oct 9
Stanford Cardinal    Oct 16
at Oregon Ducks    Oct 23
Arizona Wildcats    Oct 30
Oregon State Beavers    Nov 6
at Washington Huskies    Nov 13
at Arizona State Sun Devils    Nov 21
USC Trojans    Dec 4

Looking at that I already see sure losses at Kansas State, at Texas, at Oregon. There is no way we are going to win those games with our current team (assuming those teams are in full strength). That leaves us 9 regular season games and I can tell you right now that depending on what we see in the next few months, the reasonable bet right now is that we will set an expectation level of at least 7 regular season wins and a victory over Southern Cal (at the Rose Bowl) in CRN's third year in Westwood. Those are very mild expectations IMO and if Neuheisel cannot meet them, we will count it as the second strike against him, setting him with an expectation of either a title run (for at least a Pac-10 championship) or bust in his fourth season in Westwood. If he can't win 7 games next year (and beat Southern Cal) and then follow it up with a title run (a legit one not the BS 10 win season from Dorrell's third year in Westwood) in his fourth season, he will get full fledged Dorrell treatment here on BN. In fact we will subject him to that if it becomes clear (number wise) that he is not getting it done.

As for the game for last night I don't really care much about micro-analyzing it at this point. It was ugly and uninspiring. We certainly didn't play with that "no fear" mindset we were hoping for. We looked unsure, sloppy and completely out of sync on offense while we looked tentative, slow, unimaginative until it was too late on defense. Although we can't pin the loss on this defense because they did get 3 picks, recovered 2 fumbles, and score a TD, they pretty much allowed the Arizona team slice it to shreds in the first half. More after the jump.

On offense there isn't much to say when we make Dorrellian move of kicking a FG on 4th and 7 at the 34, while down by 14 points. Of course there is the matter of the inexplicable decision to go with Kevin Craft, who was marked as the number 3 QB following the total lackluster and unispiring performance against Stanford. My passion bucket will always be full with Bruin pride. However, that doesn't mean I have to get excited about following a team with two Kevins who remind me the combinations of Jimmy Bonds and Brett Johnson or Ryan Fien and Rob Walker.

Tracy Pierson over at Bruin Report Online put up his extended analysis immediately after the game. It is not behind subscription firewall. So I will go ahead and share the obvious issues he toplined following last night's (not so surprising) debacle in the desert:

-- The offense is still anemic. There isn’t much experienced talent, and the offensive scheme doesn’t seem to be getting the most out of the talent that is there.

-- The defense has been anywhere from a disappointment to a disaster. The play-calling isn’t aggressive, and the defensive coaches seem to need the entire first half before they understand what the opposing offense is doing. The players aren’t playing well, missing gaps and tackles.

-- The team is just plainly not very talented on either side of the ball. At least the players that have enough experience to play aren’t very talented.

Tracy doesn't have a lot of nice things to say about our defense:

This says so much: Arizona ran the same end-around play 6 times for double-digit yards before UCLA did anything to stop it.

Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough has a very conservative defensive philosophy. He’s more about preventing the big play, sitting back in coverage, bending-and-not-breaking, and making the opposing offense have to execute over and over to drive the ball down the field. From what I could see, UCLA only blitzed a couple of times in the first half. One of the seemingly first blitzes put pressure on Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, nicked his arm when throwing, which caused an interception by defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski. On Arizona’s first possession of the second half, UCLA blitzed on a third-and-eight and the pressure caused Foles to throw incomplete. Just about every time UCLA sent pressure, it harrassed Foles into a mistake or an errant pass.

Bullough tends to get more aggressive in the second half in his defensive play-calling. But that’s usually after opposing offenses have sliced through UCLA’s defense in the first half as if no UCLA coach had watched any film of the opposing offense. It’s as if the first half of every game is the first time the coaches have seen the opposing offense. Yeah, we know that there are different offensive game plans for every game and that you need to get a look at it to be able to adjust, but the learning curve is far too huge. It’s not unreasonable to expect UCLA’s defense to appear more prepared in the first half of each game.

Still, as I said above I am having a hard time blaming our defense for last night's loss. They did hold the Wildcats to 27 points and got those 5 turnovers including scoring 7 points by themselves. In return our offense scored only 6 points out of the first 4 turnovers. That is pure impotence.

Now, I actually don't have any issues with Chow's play calling. I think our play calling has been mostly OK. Although, I don't get why Chow hasn't decided to stretch the field with our running game by calling for toss or little sweeps, using the speed of JetSki and Thigpen. Still in general, I thought the calls he had out of the gate was fine as it was our players who were dropping balls, looking totally lacksdasical and unfocused to start the game (that falls on the coaches including the guy at the top: Rick Neuheisel).

What I don't get is how Rick Neuheisel continues to play it safe looking Dorrellian and settling for FGs. What I don't get is how we stick with Kevin Prince who just doesn't look "ready" to be a starting QB. Once again in Prince we saw a QB, who just like Craft locks on to his receiver, doesn't pick up the blitzhes, and seems to be routinely late in his passes or just hurling flat throws.

I have heard the argument about Richard Brehaut not being "ready." However, from what I have seen with my own eyes right now, I am seeing in Kevin Prince a UCLA QB who looks as unprepared as any UCLA QB I have seen in my 20+ years of watching Bruin football. He certainly doesn't remind me of Cade in his freshman year. So, the question if this kid looks so unprepared (and Craft is a known commodity in terms less than mediocre results), why aren't giving Brehaut a chance? Also, I think the coaches are really doing Brehaut a disservice when they are inserting him in hopeless circumstance when the game is all but decided.

Anyway, I am not going to press the issue for now. All I can say at this point, I am going to wait and see whether the coaches can deliver 6 wins. I still think we have a shot of getting to 6 wins by taking care of business against Washington and Arizona State at home, and then executing our game play against (what I think will be an inspired Cougar bunch) Washington State in Pullman. If Rick Neuheisel wants to make a tangible case that UCLA football is headed towards right direction under his leadership, he needs to get us those three wins in 2009 and then build on it with at least 7 wins (and a victory over Southern Cal) in 2010. He has to get it done. End of story.

GO BRUINS.

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