I don't recall so much drama around a UCLA "bowl team" like the one from this year. We have had players suspended due to academic issues. We have had a guy sent back home due to off field issues (which we hope will get resolved some time in the near future). We have had senior captain LB getting into it with defensive coordinator because he didn't want to take part in tackling drills. We have also had players ditching practices in the name of a pathetic tradition emblematic of mediocrity and classic under achievements dating back to Donahue era.
In the middle of all this our team is trying to prepare for a tough football team from Philadelphia which is coached by a protege of Joe Paterno with issues at center and a QB who is still trying to heal from a shoulder separation. Concerns remain about effectiveness of Kevin Prince and the rhythm he is developing with back up center Jake Dean, who now finds himself at the center of action due to suspension of Kai Maivava. Let's start with the latest on Prince, who per the LAT is making "progress":
One concern Coach Rick Neuheisel has is how Prince's shoulder will be affected by the cold weather in Washington. Highs are expected to be about 40 degrees during the game, according to forecasts.
"When we get there spinning around in the cold weather, you never know what it will do," said Neuheisel, who added that Prince wasn't "100% sharp" in practice Tuesday.
Still, barring unforeseen complications, Prince is set to start for the Bruins, though backup Kevin Craft could get playing time as well.
While saying the decision wasn't his to make, Prince said he was ready to play.
"I think the only thing holding me back is from a physical standpoint," Prince said. "There are still a couple throws that really bother me. I played hurt before and I have never had an issue getting over injuries."
Neuheisel is looking more than day to day progress. He is looking for sharp practices and per the Daily News our offense hasn't been as sharp as CRN wants it to be:
"We still have to have sharper days," Neuheisel said. "Kevin is better, but he's not 100 percent yet. That may be why I'm not willing to say it was a great practice. We're still not sharp yet. He's not complaining of pain, he's just not sharp yet. He's got to improve between now and game-time."
And if he doesn't?
"Well then we have another Kevin, who is dying to play again, and he has been sharp," said Neuheisel, referring to senior quarterback Kevin Craft. "I think there's reason for optimism. I just want to make sure we've got healthy, consistent players out there.
Well, I still think Neuheisel needs to make sure Craft is ready to go. Craft has shown this year than he can step in any time like he did during the Washington game without a lot of practices. However, that took place in Southern California weather conditions at the Rose Bowl. I hope when the team gets to DC later this week, Neuheisel makes sure Craft gets enough reps so that he is ready to go if needed. More on our offense after the jump.While Prince is working to get healthy and work his way through his injury, he (and Craft) are also adjusting to a new center (Jake Dean) during these practices:
"It'll be a little different," Prince said. "You adjust to the way they snap the ball. Everybody snaps a little differently. Jake happens to snap it a little further back so you do little adjustments. (It's) nothing too big of a deal."
Everyone knows that one of the most important parts of any offensive play is the exchange between the center and the quarterback. Dean was used sparingly in games against Washington State and USC but has enough familiarity with Prince and Kevin Craft, who could see action in the bowl game.
"Kevin Craft and I took snaps together all year, last year, and Kevin Prince was working with the second team a lot last year so I was taking snaps with him," Dean said. "Spring and fall camp and all that stuff, I took snaps with all of them. Every day before practice we all rotate, taking snaps together. It's not going to be anything new. I've taken plenty of snaps with Kevin Prince. I've taken plenty of snaps with him during seven-on-sevens and in the offseason. We're fine."
Not just Prince, it sounds like rest of the offense is not "worried" about losing Kai and his leadership for this game:
"I don't feel like I need to replace that (Maiava's leadership)," Dean said. "We're a really close group this year, and we don't need to be out there yelling and doing all that stuff. We know what to do, we know what our assignments are. That intensity is going to be there every time I step on the field, but I'm not going to try to do what Kai does."
Dean's offensive teammates are not worried about the switch, particularly as this starting unit is no stranger to each other.
Dean, Ekbatani, left guard Jeff Baca and right tackle Mike Harris started against Oregon State last season.
"Our line is a pretty close-knit group," sophomore wide receiver Nelson Rosario said. "They'll pick it up without Kai. We're just going to miss someone to lead our little chant before the game. We'll find somebody."
Dean has one idea: to stand in for Maiava's pre-game rendition of the haka, a Maori tribal dance.
"(Sophomore linebacker) Steve Sloan does a pretty good impression in the locker room," Dean said with a laugh. "I'm sure he can go out there and get us going."
They will need to get it going from the kick off against a Temple team, that will be ready and is not going through anywhere close to the off field soap opera surrounding our football team.
Right now I am hoping all the drama that has gone on last few days will have a reverse effect of firing up our team. UCLA is still a 5 point favorite over the Owls. However, given the coverage we have read in recent days it sure appears the Owls are lot more prepared and focused (at least according to the news reports we have been blogging about in recent days), while the Bruins have their mind somewhere else. After it's all said and done, I hope it will be the Bruins who will come out with a chip on their shoulder and prove to a national TV audience that they were as deserving as any other team to appear in this year's bowl season. Well that's the best case scenario I am hoping for as I am getting ready for a freezing cold afternoon at RFK. :-)