One of the biggest issues emerging from last weekend's win over Kansas State was the play of our special teams. We are not talking about our kicking game but about coverage on punt and kickoff returns. Until Kansas State, it appeared that our special teams had improved from last year as we won the field position battle against both San Diego State and Tennessee. That changed last Saturday when we saw our guys over pursuing, not staying within their lanes, and well getting sloppy with tackling. So special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. has been extra busy this week at Spaulding:
We lost contain; that's the basic essential of any type of defensive structure," Gansz said. "Whether it be coverage or defense - you can't lose contain. That and missed tackles, those are poisonous. We've spent a lot of time working on it, getting back to the fundamental things. Those are things we can't do."
As a result, the Bruins have dedicated extra time this week to special teams, breaking it down to the barest of details.
With the bye week, this extra time has been crucial, as the extra time spent on scheming the opposition has been channeled to the finer things.
"We had some mistakes on the kickoff team, some miscues that allowed them to get some returns on us," senior kick returner Terrence Austin said. "We worked on that specifically a whole lot this whole week. We can't set up our defense up like that. I think we were getting a little loose last week, and we need to tighten up. We can't afford that. The Pac-10 is really tough, so we have to get it down." [...]
"Sometimes, there are problems that kind of get mirrored," Gansz said. "It's always good to win and have things happen than lose and have things happen. This has been a good time for us, get us back to fundamentals. We're 3-0 right now, but I don't think anyone is happy with the way they've played. To a man, there's not a guy out here who thinks they've played their best game yet."
We will get to find out next Saturday how the extra attention pays off. More practice related notes and some details on coaches recruiting trips this weekend after the jump.
Right now it looks like Craft will most likely be starting for UCLA against Stanford. However, he is not going to be able to rest on his status as the "starter" since CRN is indicating that he is going to look for opportunities to play Brehaut (even if Craft doesn't strugge). From the LA Times:
"I'm looking for chances to put him in the game," Neuheisel said of Brehaut. "So I wouldn't say it has to be anything negative happening for him to be in the ballgame."
Brehaut said consistency in practice could be the key to playing time: "I don't want to have three good plays and a bad play. I want to have all good plays; I want to take care of the ball and manage the game."
It will be interesting to see whether Neuheisel and Chow are able to work him in. I think if they were to give him some reps it would have to be sometime in late first or early second quarter. Otherwise, if the game is on the line in third quarter, and Craft playing decent (but unspectacular) not sure if they will throw in the true freshman. We will see how it works out I guess.
CRN also challenged Ramirez, Ketchum and Viney a bit as they are working to get back into the rotation:
On Christian Ramirez' recovery:
"We had him in a little scrimmage, got him some live action there at the end, and I hope he's ok. He got up a little hobbled there. He's got to start playing through that."
On Gavin Ketchum's recovery:
"He's getting there. It's been a while. He doesn't seem right now willing to explode out of it. But that's why this bye week is so important." [...]
On the battle at cornerback with Aaron Hester down:
"Sheldon Price is now competing, and Courtney has to win that job back from him. Sheldon has had the job. We'll have plenty more opportunities the next couple weeks to see who's ready to play."
We will see how those guys respond when the Bruins get back in practice field in couple of days (they are taking today and tomorrow off if I have it right). While the players are resting up a bit, coaches are going to be all over the Western US, scouting recruits:
Rick Neuheisel is off on a recruiting tour, where he will see Salt Lake City Brighton High defensive tackle Ricky Heimuli,Lakewood (Wash.) defensive lineman Sione Potoa'e, Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon linebacker Curtis White and Winston (Ore.) Douglas defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa
Chuck Bullough heads for Hawaii, where he will see Punahou offensive lineman Kaiwi Crabb and Honolulu Iolani defensive tackle Sealii Epenesa.
Todd Howard is in Texas to see Temple High running back Lache Seastrunk and Cedar Park linebacker Holmes Onwukaife.
Norm Chow stays closer to home to see La Costa Canyon wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Frank Gansz Jr. heads north to watch Pittsburgh (Calif.) safety Erick Dargan and Livermore Granada defensive back George Atkinson III.
And that's not all. More on where UCLA coaches will be recruiting this weekend over here. From what I am hearing in terms of momentum and the vibe recruits are feeling around the UCLA program, we might have another incredible finish to the recruiting season just like last year.
Now if our guys can get it done on the field and get the team into a bowl game, showing tangible improvement (in terms of W-L record) from last year that will keep the rebuilding process on track. I know we are 3-0 but I sure hope our guys and people who follow this program is not taking anything for granted. Stanford is going to be a tough game no matter what because we have had our share of hiccups in Palo Alto with very good football teams. So, again I hope while the players have rested up a little this week, they get ready with same quiet focus and intensity they had during the Tennessee game week.