For the third consecutive day, UCLA brought a lot of energy and spirit to the practice field on Thursday. Defensive players erupted in the Florida State/Atlanta Braves "tomahawk chop" chant during team drills and there were a few minor skirmishes during the mid-day practice session.
Now, FWIW apparently practice (on a federal Holiday) did drag a little towards the middle. Per Jon Gold special teams coach Frank Gansz uttered some choice words to get the guys fired up:
Practice lagged a little bit toward the middle - definitely not the energy of the last two days - and it came to a head during special teams work, when coach Frank Gansz had the best line of the year: "What is this?!? F***ing Dancing with the Stars?!?"
Well, to be honest coach, that is sometimes how it feels when we see Taylor Embree returning punts.
Anyway, the Bruins will take couple of days off from practice and come back out on Spaulding on Sunday. In the meantime, the coaches are going to be out and about to recruit all over Southern California and beyond. More notes including video of Coach Rick Neuheisel's post practice comments after the jump.
So here is Coach Neuheisel after practice:
Watching these videos has been pretty enlightening this year. It is almost becoming too predictable who will ask the silly questions and focus on superficial questions that really don't have much to do with football (i.e. Chris Foster's lame joke about whether Neuheisel was going to use a chopper for recruiting this weekend).
As for practice, good to hear the guys have maintained their energy and excitement during this by week. Hopefully the guys who are banged up - Nelson Rosario, Sheldon Price, Steve Sloane - are going to feel a little more rejuvenated after next two days and come with fresher and ready to contribute on Sunday.
Speaking of Rosario, he re-tweaked his ankle on Tuesday. He didn't practice much yesterday but he might be ready to come back on Sunday and prepare for Thursday night. Jon Gold wrote about Rosario trying to come back from the shelf:
UCLA's passing game, which was stuck in neutral for seven weeks - perhaps even rolling backward - has improved in the past two games, with Smith and Carroll catching long touchdown passes in Week 8 from Richard Brehaut, and Carroll and Embree making clutch fourth-quarter catches against Oregon State.
"That's what we need. I don't want them to go out there and suck and make it easy for me to just take the job back," Rosario said. "Them doing well brings the best out of us. I want the team's success; along with the team success will come the individual success. Seeing Randy step up was big-time; he's going to need that, especially when Taylor and I do leave."
Well, I think at this point of season Randall Carroll has established himself as the starter. For Rosario to get back his starting spot (whenever he is fully healthy), he is going to need to step up in terms of production and show a fierce intensity and desire, we hadn't seen from him before he got hurt. So I hope the way Carroll and Smith have stepped up is infusing him with a sense of urgency. Frankly, at this point both Embree and Rosario, are behind the troika of Randall Carroll, Josh Smith and Ricky Marvray in the WR rotation based on what we have seen on gamedays.
The wide receivers have been stepping up also because of improved play from our QB. Chris Foster from the LA Times writes about Richard Brehaut learning to improvise within our offense:
"I was focusing on, 'This is my read and I'm going to go here, here, here.' " Brehaut said. "As you progress and mature, you realize that sometimes you can't always go 'here, here, here.' Sometimes you have to abandon everything and make something happen with your legs."
The feet-don't-fail-me-now approach worked against Oregon State. Brehaut finished with 61 yards rushing.
Said Brehaut: "There is a point in your drop where you know if you're not getting rid of the ball, you're getting out of there because you're about to get hit."
Practice reports indicate that Brehaut has looked increasingly comfortable and confident in recent weeks. I am guessing he will still make mistakes (as any young QB does) by trying to force the issue here and there. However, his pocket presence has improved dramatically from what we saw from him last year. The growing confidence is also resulting in net positive plays (keeping drives alive) more than making up for the occasional mistakes that is expected from a young QB (again people should look up what number 18 was doing during his first 10-15 starts in 96-97).
Speaking of young, there is an exciting youth movement in the Bruin defense:
The Bruins are going young on the defensive line, but don't take that to mean they're looking ahead to next season. Looking forward to next season might be a better way to put it.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley deemed it a "disruptive" bunch after the Bruins pressured Beavers quarterback Ryan Katz all day and held Jacquizz Rodgers to 63 rushing yards and without a touchdown for the first time all season.
"They aren't dominating at this level - it's hard to dominate as a freshman - but they're definitely holding their own," UCLA defensive line coach Todd Howard said. "I think (the line) will grow to be the strength of the defense."
This year we have had true freshmen Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Cassius Marsh breaking into the starting lineup. Keenan Graham got starts as red shirt frosh before losing his sport to sophomore Damien Holmes, who has been coming on pretty nicely. Meanwhile, Seali'i Epenesa has been looking pretty good when he has gotten his reps. While these guys are going to be exciting watch next year, we are going to get Wesley Flowers, who is redshirting, and North Carolina transfer Brandon Willis, who was an elite DT recruit. Plus Iuta Tepa and Datone Jones are coming back to the fold. If this defense is coached up by an aggressive DC, it is going to be pretty exciting next season.
The young talent in this defense was in full display yesterday:
Eric Kendricks and Aramide Olaniyan simply looked on another level than anyone else on the field during the game. Kendricks had two big stops, Olaniyan had another, and they were right in the thick of most other plays. You can see a lot of talent in those two kids.
Wesley Flowers is absolutely massive, and once he packs some weight on, he could become a force. He needs to pack on good weight and learn how to use it, but I probably did a quadruple-take when he was on the field for the first time.
Again hard not to get excited to picture a LB corps with Kendricks, Olaniyan, Zumwalt and Larimore anchoring this crew. Lot of explosiveness and speed in this bunch, who should get bigger and stronger this off-season.
Anyway, while we can all look forward to next season, Bruins still have a huge game coming up next Thursday. We will end with an interesting report coming out of Seattle re. Husky attendance:
First, UW reports that there are 59,833 tickets distributed at the moment for the UCLA game. So obviously, lots of tickets left for anyone who may be interested in attending. And just as obviously, looks like a smaller crowd than would have been anticipated when the game was announced earlier this year.
However, UW officials have said they thought all along that the logistics involved in a Thursday night game might hold the crowd down some. Obviously, the way the season has gone is also a factor.
UW is averaging 67,047 in five home games with a low of 62,418 for the Syracuse game and a high of 72,876 for Nebraska. If the ticket number doesn't increase much for the UCLA game it could rank as the lowest-attended game of the season.
Hmm. I have a hard time believing the Husky faithful will not turn out in big numbers for a nationally televised Thursday night game, which will be the last appearance of Jake Locker. Doesn't matter how big that crowd is. It is going to be a charged bunch all fired up to "take on Neuheisel" and bid goodbye to a very good player, who gave up a lot by deciding to come back for his senior season. They are going to be emotional, and we hope the Bruins are going to poised and focus to match the intensity with which Huskies will come at UCLA.