Moving Forward: Bruins Need One More Win (And Focus On Arizona State)

I know lot of us are dying to think about that last regular game of the season (especially after what transpired yesterday) but this is not the time for any of us to look ahead. It looks like we did have a good reason to feel slightly better after that fourth quarter against Oregon State, when we got the sense that it was time to rally around our Bruins. Well something is clearly working right now and it feels good.

Yes, last night's blowout win was only against lowly Washington State. We could have looked lot better than we did against Paul Wulff's demoralized bunch. Yet, I still think there is something little encouraging about that performance because it was one of those games we have seen UCLA football team either choke away or make it unnecessarily hard on themselves to win over the years. We now hope our team can keep it going by locking in on the next opponent which is capable of ruining senior day at the Rose Bowl.

Let's start with something CRN did to get his players in the right mindset to deal with the elements. From the LA Times:

Neuheisel's cold-weather preparation included holding Friday night's team meeting outside in a snow storm.

"I was amazed how many of our guys had never been in snow before," Neuheisel said. "It gave us the right mind-set."

Still, it was cold.

He also made his players get a little taste of snowball fights so that they could "get used to the weather":

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel had his players throw snowballs, while his kid threw touchdown passes.

UCLA players hardly seemed uptight heading into today’s game at Washington State. A snowstorm Friday night had a handful of Bruins outside throwing snowballs at each other for a half hour.

The frolicking was the result of Neuheisel’s instructions to go outside and get used to the weather.

Yeah, his son - Jerry Neuheisel - threw a 45-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-11 play with 31 seconds left to give Loyola a 41-37 victory over Crespi (which I guess was a good omen for the weekend). Anyway, going back to the game, what I liked about iur guys was how they looked confident. They weren't cocky as team leaders like Reggie Carter struck all the right notes before the game as he was gracious towards a struggling team. Our guys had the look of a locked in football team that knew exactly what was at stake and what they needed to hold on to the momentum Rahim Moore and co grabbed to end the Washington game on our home coming weekend. It is going to be a challenge for us to hold on to that momentum next weekend against a very good defensive team. However, if we can continue to build on the successes of last 9 quarters, this will truly turn out to be a Novermbet to remember.

As noted in the post game thread, Kevin Prince was the head line grabber. He had a great game by all accounts. Yet CRN (as he mentioned during half time) though Prince could have played even better:

"When you're enjoying this kind of success, it's almost like going down the cafeteria line and trying to grab everything," Neuheisel said. "You have to maintain your patience. I thought Kevin tried to make throws down the field instead of taking what they were giving him underneath."

Prince completed 27 of 40 passes, as Neuheisel, said, "I thought he did a nice job getting back to the scheme." Practice-like corrections made possible by the scout-team-like defense Washington State offered.

I thought we saw that in Prince during the second half, especially after the Cougars scored a TD. Prince drove the team down for our own TD drive during when he was methodically looking of his primary and secondary targets. He also did a great job during the two min drill to end the first half when he was finding Moline for little check downs:

Prince hit Moline four times on the ensuing drive for 35 yards, meticulously going through his reads until settling short, and the Bruins chopped their way down the field to set up a 38-yard field goal by junior kicker Kai Forbath.

"All week in practice we knew the check-downs were going to be a big factor in the game," said Moline, who finished with three carries for 25 yards and seven catches for 60 yards. "We check-released, we checked down from linebackers, and especially in that two-minute drive when I got all those catches, Prince was checking down the field and no one was there."

Moline had himself a great game which you can read more about here and here.

However, the fact that Moline was our most productive running back is a cause for concern. Derrick Coleman had a decent game yesterday rushing for 50 yards in 12 carries. Our entire team (thanks largely due to Prince's 68 yard rumble down the sidelines) rushed for 232 yards which is not too bad against a bad Washington State defense. However, Coleman to me appears more as a servicable full back than a feature tailback. He did a better job of falling forward yesterday though which is a positive but I think he will have tougher times against team with average or better defensive speed (like the one we are going to face next weekend at home).

JetSki's fumbling issue is a real problem now. Not sure what else the coaches can do. They have sent every message they possibly can. It's a matter of him playing with focus and concentration on every down. Milton Knox picked up some decent chunk of yardage during garbage time. Yet he looked unsure in the fact of Coguar blitzes and failed to hit the hole with authority on a key 3rd and 1 in third quarters. Thigpen has a lot of promise but he doesn't have the frame to be a every down back. Christian Ramirez is just too brittle and inconsistent to have a discernible impact. So, you can see why getting both Malcolm Jones and Jordon James were big deal for this year's recruiting class. It looks like we have a QB of the future slowly emerging in Chow's offense. We now need a back or two, who can costar with the Prince.

Our OL did a decent job of providing pass protection. However, there were moments of sloppiness that needs to be cleaned up. Darius Savage didn't look totally comfortable at RG stepping for Ryan Taylor. I thought our OL's overall run blocking performance was pretty mediocre against an atrocious defensive line. Also, our OL looked somewhat unprepared for WSU blitzes when it seemed like opposing LBers was getting to Prince untouched. Again, it's something we really have to work on this game week to prepare for a solid Arizona State defense.

Moving on to the other side Akeem and Brian Price were the two big stars in last night's defense. From Jon Gold in the Daily News here are Kyle Bosworth's comments on what BP did to the Cougars' offense:

"BP has always had his name out on the leaderboard, but with Akeem, it's really good to see him kind of shine today," Bosworth said. "Two picks is huge for anybody, and it's good to see him with those two sacks.

"I'm happier for him, but BP did great - I know he'll be in the league one of these days, and this is one of the games that's going to help him do that."

Price racked up three tackles for loss, which makes him Pacific-10 leader with 16.5 for the season. He also has 5 sacks to go along with those stats. There is not much I can add to make him sound more incredible than he already is. I cherish watching this kid play just like I enjoyed recent great Ben Ball warriors such as KL, RW, LRMAM, AA, and DC. I am keeping my fingers crossed that he can add to his legend on a week by week basis (because I won't blame him if he decides to jump provided he gets positive feedback from NFL draft whizes during the off season). 

In addition to Price, Akeem had a great game as he benefited from a new look Bullough through at the Cougs:

For the first time this year, UCLA defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough lined up Ayers on the defensive line in a three-point stance, allowing Ayers to burst off the ball at the point of contact. He said both of his sacks were from the formation.

That is sure to catch the eye of those in the NFL, as well, as hybrid pass-rushers - those who can play both in coverage and on the line of scrimmage - have become in vogue in 3-4 defenses.

"It wasn't anything really new to me," said Ayers, who played his sophomore and junior seasons in high school at defensive end. "I'm used to being in a three-point and getting a pass rush. I definitely can see myself doing something like that - I'm athletic enough to stand up and drop into coverage, but I'm also able to rush the passer."

Hope Akeem can build on this weekend's performance to put together another consistent outing next against Arizona State.

While Akeem and BP had great games, I am getting worried about Reggie Carter's contribution to our defense. Reggie Carter is a great Bruin and solid leader for this football team. He is definitely the emotional heart and soul of our defense. However, the more I have watched him in recent weeks, the more its becoming clear to me that he is not the same Reggie we have seen over the years. It looks like his injury is really bothering him. He doesn't have the same ability to move around from MLB spot and he routined finds himself away from the action. Just look at the game tape from Tennessee and compare it what we saw yesterday. It's not even close.

Apparently Reggie is trying to will himself through these last few games of his Bruin career. The coaches tried to take him out during early in the fourth quarter but he wouldn't come out. So per the LA Times the coaches had to take a time out to get Reggie out of the game:

"That was the first time since I have been at UCLA that we have been ahead by so much that they were taking me out of the game," Carter said. "I told them, 'No, let me stay.' Then coach told me he didn't want me to get hurt. So I apologize, but I just wanted to enjoy the moment."

I think Reggie needs to rest up a bit. I think it could potentialy be worth it to use him as sparingly as possible next weekend against Arizona State and perhaps use Steve Sloan at the MLB spot, who did a servicable job last year when he took over for Christian Taylor. Guess, this is an issue we will have to defer to the coaches who have shown pretty good judgment wrt to injury issues this season (See the cautioun they showed with Aaron Hester).

Our punt return performance continues to be a concern. Terrence Austin had another fumble yesterday, which luckily for us went out bounce. He also had a fumble against Washington State during kick return the previous weekend. Terrence has to clean this up. He is running out of time in his last few games as a Bruin.

On the flip side, Sean Westgate came out with a huge punt block. It's not the first time he has made big plays a special teamer (remember the punt block he had against Tennessee last season at the Rose Bowl). I also liked the intensity Damien Thigpen showed during punt coverage even when we were up by a huge margin late in second half. Damien sprinted down the field during Locke punt and dove to down the ball at 2 yard line even when we were up by a score of 43-7. That kind of little details tells us something about the character of the team under its head coach.

Going back to big picture as good as we feel this Sunday, it is important that we don't get carried away. Tracy Pierson from Bruin Report Online had a solid breakdown of the game, in which he rightfully warns UCLA fans to not get too carried away. However, Tracy ended with the following encouraging notes (not behind a subscription firewall at the time of this post):

UCLA’s 556 total offensive yards were better than Arizona (471), Arizona State (410), and Stanford (481).

In fact, it was better than what USC did in the Coliseum against WSU (403), or even Oregon in Eugene (514).

UCLA’s defense held WSU to 180 yards, compared to the 185 yards WSU gained against Arizona, 206 against Notre Dame, 440 against Cal (what the heck?), 181 against Arizona State, 229 against USC, and 351 against Stanford.

Yeah, WSU was without its starting quarterback when it played UCLA, but Jeff Tuel didn’t even play in some of those other games.

So let’s overlook the actual play on the field and go with that. It’s so much more fun to look at it that way, huh?

Regardless if you’re the type who watched that game and came away satisfied (Blue), or came away thinking there wasn’t much you could take away from it and it didn’t give you great expectations for facing ASU and USC (Crank) – or a little bit of both (most of us) – it was good to see UCLA have an easy, blow-out win for the first time in a while. It clearly kept Prince and Co. in the same productive, offensive rhythm established in the OSU 4th quarter and against Washington last week, which is a good thing. It’s also good that the defense maintained its bottom-line successful M.O. – looking vulnerable but doing enough to put UCLA in a position to win.

In other words, at this late stage of this season the team under CRN's leadership continues to move forward. We now have 5 wins which on paper at least is clear step forward from last season. We now need our boys to take lock in and focus for another game week to get that much talked about 6th win next weekend at the Rose Bowl. That's all we should be thinking and talking about till next Saturday. If we can accomplish the objective of getting our 6th win, we will have our program in a pretty decent spot heading into last regular game of 2009 season. So, let's just all focus on Arizona State just like we have been taking it game by game since Oregon State.

GO BRUINS.

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