Walking this road together, through the storm ... (Photo Credit: Bruins Nation)
l will start our third game day of the season with a quick note on last night's game between California and Nevada. Lot of us tuned into that game to check out how the "pistol" offense operates under the scheme's innovator - Nevada head coach Chris Ault. I only got to the see the second half and it was pretty breath taking to watch Colin Kaepernick putting on a clinic.
Of course, the natural and first reaction among a lot of Bruins have been why the heck our offense doesn't resemble anything like that. The answers if you think about it just a little bit are pretty simple. Kaepernick is in his fourth year operating out of this system, while over in Westwood our guys including Prince are just getting started. Also, as pointed out by Avinash at California Golden Blogs, the Bears were playing without their best defender - Mike Mohamed - who not only is the heart and soul of that defense, but IMHO one of the best linebackers in the country.
In any event, if the UCLA coaches stick with their current schemes, Bruins have the potential to look something like the Wolfpacks at Pac-10 level but it is going to take time. Transformation into an explosive offense like that is not going to happen overnight, especially with sophomore QBs. What the Bruins need most heading into tonight is for their starting QB to gain confidence, slow things down, minimize mistakes on offense, while the defense has to find a way to attack a well diversified Houston attack, while staying disciplined within their assignments. It's a tall order but we have to start somewhere.
Starting with our QB, Peter Yoon from ESPNLA has a great article on how both Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel have been working with our starting QB all week to "restore" his confidence:
Neuheisel and Chow have worked diligently this week to restore Prince's confidence. They've had office meetings with Prince several times and Chow even approached Prince's father in an attempt to hash out the mental issues Prince is facing when he steps on the field.
"He's a worrywart," Chow said. "He tends to hold on to stuff that he isn't doing as well as he should. He's got to grow up. To be a quarterback you have to have a short memory. Let it go. If you miss one, don't compound it by missing the next one. It's no big psychological thing going on."
Prince as we have seen in various video interviews (including the one posted this am) and reports have been sounding calm and have talked about finally feeling healthy the first time this season. However, Chow himself laid down the bottom line for Prince in the same article:
"Talk is cheap," Chow said. "You've got to go out and perform. Kevin better be a little bit more productive than he has been, no question."
IMO next two games will be auditions for Prince to hold on the starting job (I doubt UCLA coaches will be breaking in a new starting QB in Austin against the Long Horns). Prince will have the opportunity to show substantial and tangible improvements in his game in next two contests to stave off from UCLA coaches in going towards another direction. So, needless to say tonight will be a big night for number 4 (on offense). More after the jump.
Speaking of needing to step up that goes for the entire team. We talked yesterday about how UCLA (on both sides of the ball) needs to desperately get off to a good start tonight. We need to draw first blood against the Houston Cougars, who are coming in with a well diversified offense. From the Houston Chronicle:
"Any defensive coordinator who is game-planning against the University of Houston is going to have trouble," said UH senior receiver James Cleveland, who has 114 catches and 16 touchdowns since the start of the 2009 season. "There are just so many different ways we can beat you, as we proved last week. The dynamics of this offense can be one dimension of running, it can be throwing, it can be intermediate passes, it can be long balls. It's just a lot to prepare for."
The first two touchdowns against UTEP came out of a two-back shotgun set. The third touchdown came out of a one-back power set. The touchdown after that came out of a one-back shotgun set. And the one after that out of a one-back power set. The last two touchdowns came out of the traditional shotgun.
"We're just trying to stay ahead of the curve and become multiple on offense," Sumlin said. "Our job is to move the football and score. With more mature players, you can expand the offense. "
Can't blame them for sounding so confident. A huge key for the UCLA defense will be to contain the Cougars on 3rd down attempts. Chuck Bullough's defense so far has been dreadful giving up 17 first downs in 32 attempts. They look both gassed and gashed up by the Wildcats in second half in the first game and unbelievably they had no answers or adjustments for Andrew Luck's scramble against Stanford throughout the second game.
They can't afford to sit back and let the Cougars slice them apart in read and react mode tonight. I found Bullough's comments in the LA Times a little troubling:
"You've just got to make sure they know what you're calling," defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. "If it's too much, you've got to learn to scale back."
Not sure how much there is really to "scale back" from the vanilla schemes we have seen from our defense. It's not like we have seen the Bruin defense try anything creative this year. And last year we didn't see Ayers line up at DE until second half of the season, when we got in desperation mode during the 5 game losing streak. More from Jon Gold in the Daily News:
With a defensive front seven featuring six new starters in addition to preseason All-America outside linebacker Akeem Ayers, the Bruins have often been caught out of position on third down, containment broken, a quarterback or running back slipping into an unsuspecting secondary.
Bullough understands the growing pains his defense is going through, but he is also quick to mention that the defense might lack experienced starters, but it's not young.
"You have to think back as a player, `Wow, he should see that,"' Bullough said. "But it happens so much faster on game day. When you're a guy who's never started or a guy who's never played, you can try to simulate it in practice, but you can never get that tempo, where it happens right now and you have to react right now. The more they play, the more that reaction happens."
To me it is up to Bullough and his staff to coach up our young athletes and instill in them an aggressive but disciplined mindset to relentlessly attack the opposing team. We just haven't seen that from our defense to date on a consistent basis.
Of course speaking of consistency our offense has been ugly on third down conversions:
The Bruins have converted four of 22 third downs, a chief factor in a 36:23-to-23:37 average time-of-possession deficiency. Playing in the new Pistol offense with a banged-up quarterback in Kevin Prince - who ranks dead last in the NCAA in passing efficiency rating at 67.52 after completing just 15 of 38 passes for 159 yards and three interceptions - UCLA has found little success.
Well tonight would be a good night to chip away at that stats on the opposite direction.
As for Rick Neuheisel, he had some interesting observations at a Pasadena club this week:
"When I walked in here (to Brookside Country Club), I saw a lot of people feeling sorry for me, but that shouldn't be the case," Neuheisel told the audience. "Sure I'm disappointed in the way we've been playing, but you've got to continue to believe it can happen and find a way to get over the hump.
"There's plenty of good seats available on the bandwagon now right up near in the front because a lot of people have jumped off," Neuheisel continued. "If you have gotten off, that's fine, but there's still time to get back on because I wouldn't want you to miss being part of an unbelievable ride."
"We're going to get there," Neuheisel said. "I just hope I'm around to see it when it happens."
CRN is not oblivious re. the big picture. He knows the expectations around this program. He also knows that he will be held accountable by the greater Bruin community in general if he doesn't have our program contending for a Pac-10 title (not just on paper) by the end of his 5th season in Westwood.
It is also up to us to keep our poise and composure collectively at BN while go through the roller coaster. We fully realize one of the reason we started blogging on BN five years ago was due to the extreme frustrations we were experiencing under the previous head coach. That said this community has gone through its own collective maturation process through its growth thanks to the invaluable contributions of the regular members who have come here every day. FWIW we also have a responsibility to keep our community distinguished from the vibes that have come off on general message boards and talk radio circuit. If we don't guard that identity - as Class of 66 articulated in his thoughts this week - we are going to lose the intrinsic value of this community and it will also take all the joy out of blogging.
Moreover, if you want to get a sense of how the traditional media is looking to pounce on the anxiety of UCLA fans, check out this line from the LA Times today (emphasis added):
All the media and fan-based frothing at the mouth about the offense made for an entertaining week.
That was Chris Foster from the LA Times, who no doubt was channeling the thoughts of all his colleagues covering in the Bruins in Southern California. Let's not give these jerks any kind of pleasure even during our hardest times. As CRN mentioned we are going to get there eventually with or without him. Meanwhile, as some guy said in the tune along which the team rushes out of the Rose Bowl tunnel let's "walk this road TOGETHER, through the storm."
We will have a pre game thread up around 12:00 pm PST and our game thread will go up around 7:00 pm PST tonight. See you in the game thread. I will be there. Let's get a win tonight. Enjoy your Saturday.