As we head into game week preparation for Houston Cougars, let's start the week by addressing the elephant in the room: the question of who is going to be our starting QB in two weeks? Coach Rick Neuheisel will have to make that decision pretty soon (perhaps in a matter of 24 to 48 hrs) as he will have to pick someone who is going to get our 1s ready for the Cougars.
It is not going to be an easy decision. I can make strong arguments on behalf of both (which I will offer up after the jump). No matter who Neuheisel picks up as his starting QB though, I think there are couple of really encouraging aspects to this situation that can potentially bode well for the health of our program.
First, I think it is worth emphasizing against what a tremendous development it has been for Richard Brehaut to step up and challenge Kevin Prince during this Fall Camp. We have not had an honest QB competition at UCLA's practice for years. The Drew Olson v. Ben Olson battles never counted because the later Olson kept getting hurt. Actually, the later Olson always kept getting hurt. Sure Prince has been bitten by the injury bug. But I think for the first time we had two QBs going at it for most of the camp (except of Brehaut sitting out for couple of days due to minor injuries before coming back strong). We have not seen this kind of back and forth at Spaulding for years and I think that bodes well for the program.
Second, I like the fact that for the first time there is total clarity in terms of who will be making the call on starting QB. We know this is going to be Rick Neuheisel's decision and the buck will stop with him. I think this will help everyone involved. This also gives me the confidence to know that Neuheisel will make a decision that he genuinely believes is going to give him the best chance to win the game
With that said, let's take a look at some of the arguments on behalf of both QBs after the jump.
Experience on the road: Bruins start the season with a difficult game on the road. Prince is the only QB on our current roster who has won big games on the road. During his red-shirt freshman season he managed us to a big road win in front of 100,000+ fans in Knoxville. In the same year, wiw he also got us crucial wins against Washington State, and also helped us gut out a significant bowl win against Temple in sub freezing conditions at RFK stadium in Washington, DC. Last year before he got really banged up for good, he quarterbacked us what at that time was a big win against Texas. So when it comes to experience and keeping composure on the road, this is one of the biggest arguments in favor of starting Prince on the road against Houston.
Ability to run: Yes, Prince has been banged up a lot over his career at UCLA. However, when he has been healthy, he has shown that he can do some real damage with his wheels. Remember the TD run against Washington State two years ago? There was also that memorable keeper against the Longhorns in Austin last season. Prince has had the edge against Brehaut when it comes to reading the defense last couple of years. In our current offense which uses a good amount of zone-read, Prince has been better in terms of recognizing when to pass or to when to turn it loose on the ground. Although, Brehaut per some reports have caught up a bit during this pre-season camp.
Getting in rhythm: Of the two QBs, Prince has put together the most "consistent" string of games of playing in rhythm. It didn't happen last year. Yeah, it's not much but fwiw two years ago when UCLA was making a late season run towards the bowl game, Prince put together a string of solid games. Starting with a game against Oregon State on the road, Prince completed 68 percent of his passes (62 for 91) and threw for 849 yards (and he missed half the game against Washington after getting knocked out by a Donald Butler cheap shot) [See ESPN's 2009 gamelog]. No UCLA QB has shown that kind of consistent rhythm in last 3+ years (yeah, it's pretty sad). So Prince has it in him to get in a groove, when he is healthy and has confidence.
Brehaut's Strong Points
Edge in 2011 Fall Pre-season camp: If we are to go by the axiom that players earn their playing time through performance during practices, from the reports it appears that Richard Brehaut may have an argument to get the starting nod against Houston. This is where it is difficult for someone like yours truly to make any kind of clear cut assertions. However, if we were to put together a sketch based on all of our aggregated news and notes from 2011 pre-season camp, it seems though Brehaut has had the edge against Prince in terms of performance. But as I said, it is difficult to say anything definitive because huge number of the reps Brehaut has taken has been with the number 2s against number 2s. Yesterday at the scrimmage Brehaut reportedly got time with the 1s and did really well in terms of managing the offense (even though the offense kept it conservative by design by going with running plays).
Gunslinger mindset: We haven't had a gunslinger in Westwood since the days of number 18. From what I have seen from Richard Brehaut, I think he has more of that aggressive "gun slinger" mindset compared to Kevin Prince. We saw this last year as we saw the deep pass emerge as an option in our anemic offense after Brehaut took over. We didn't see consistent bombs to Randall Carroll and Josh Smith until Brehaut took over the offense. Brehaut is also not afraid to improvise as we saw Brehaut against the Beavers at the Rose Bowl. His tendency to go for it of course has landed him in trouble with TOs, but at the same time Cade Mcnown during his first two years of playing at UCLA made his share of heart-breaking mistakes. I think of Brehaut can develop a bit of game management skills, and keep his gun-slinger mindset may have more upside as ours starting QB than Prince.
Offense opens up more with Brehaut: This is not a speculation. FWIW SBN's Bill Connelly shared the following nuggets in his excellent UCLA preview this off-season:
Adj. PPG By Quarterback
Kevin Prince (five games): 21.4 Adj. PPG
Richard Breheaut (six games): 27.0 Adj. PPG
Breheaut/Tunney/Bell (Washington): 6.2 Adj. Pts.
With Prince at the helm to start the season, UCLA's passing game was ridiculously conservative. Prince averaged just 4.1 yards per pass (he had averaged 6.6 in 2009) and was eventually lost for the season with a knee injury. Breheaut took over and, aside from a couple of extreme egg-laying sessions, did alright. UCLA at least had an average offense with Breheaut, and only Brehaut, at the helm. And against Washington, things went briefly, ridiculously sour.
Ugh, I rather wipe that Washington game out of mind forever. But the numbers are interesting though. They kind of confirm what my eyes were telling me last season. The opposing defense loosened up lot more when Brehaut was leading the team because his arm posed more of a threat than Prince.
So who should get the start? This doesn't matter much but I will go ahead and attach a poll to this post. I will be honest. My heart tells me that we should go with Richard Brehaut. I think going with Brehaut gives Coach Neuheisel some added benefits in addition to having someone who is a gun-slinger and someone who can help open the offense.
I think going with Brehaut will allow Neuheisel to send some unmistakable signals in terms of culture change at UCLA. It will send the signal about how coaches value premium of preparation and performance at practices. It will also potentially signal about starting of a new chapter in our football program, with a clear break from the offense under the previous coordinator, who reportedly preferred Prince.
But that's just my heart talking. As explained above, there are some compelling arguments for going with Kevin Prince in what likely will be a very tough game against Houston. I can see a scenario where Neuheisel starts with Prince and then if the offense for some reason hits a snag, he switches in Brehaut to jump start the game. Then again, the argument would be why not just go with Brehaut to begin with?
These are definitely interesting questions to ponder. But I am not going to second guess Neuheisel and Johnson on whatever decision they make. The fact is none of us here have the overall data and practice tapes they are going to be pouring through before making their decision. What we should take comfort in is the fact that whoever Neuheisel chooses should be ready to lead what we hope will be a well prepared and focused team against Houston.
Let's root for both of these guys and hope that whoever gets the start, helps the team to pass the much talked about "eye ball test" starting with our season opener against Houston.