Bruins will need more than a running attack to beat Texas. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
It appears that the Bruins started and finished practice early yesterday at Spaulding. Coach Rick Neuheisel mentioned in his post-game briefing he wanted to get our guys "off their feet early" in anticipation of an early game on Saturday. It appears from various practice reports that Kevin Prince will most likely be the starter on Saturday with Richard Brehaut waiting in the wings. The kicking situation also continues to be in limbo as Kip Smith sat out another practice while soccer team manager Tyler Gonzalez had another day in the sun.
* All signs point to Kevin Prince getting the start on Saturday against Texas. Prince again got the lion's share of reps with the first-team, including the 11-on-11 two-minute-drill-ish period before special teams. He's looked really sharp this week, and Rick Neuheisel said for the first time that he's finally back to 100 percent.
* Saw a lot of reps for Dietrich Riley with the first team defense, and he might be headed to a start. Expect both he and Dalton Hilliard to play extensively, either way.
* Kip Smith again missed practice - didn't even dress out - but either Neuheisel is extremely hopeful or extremely naive. He hasn't practiced since early Tuesday. Jeff Locke would kick if he can't go. Neuheisel said he's considering adding Tyler Gonzalez, who got a one-day tryout yesterday, but needs to figure if it makes roster sense.
Yoon noted that Gonzalez made two of three attempts in practice. If Gonzalez is added to the roster, Locke will probably handle the field goal duties, while Gonzalez will serve as an emergency backup. I don't think Tyler will have any problem transitioning in from one underachieving bunch to another. Some additional notes and a thought on the game after the jump.
Yoon has an amusing note on this week's preparation. It appears that the Bruins have been preparing this week as if they are going to be playing in a road game at Rose Bowl:
All week during practice, coach Rick Neuheisel has ordered crowd noise to be played during the team's two-minute drill -- an unusual occurrence considering the Bruins have a home game against Texas this week.
Normally he reserves the crowd noise for road games in anticipation of a loud, hostile environment. Playing against Texas, however, changes things.
"Texas fans are as proud as there are in the country and Los Angeles is a glamorous place to be," Neuheisel said. "I remember one time landing to play in Austin when I was with Colorado and I saw more private jets with Longhorns on their wings than you can shake a stick at. So I imagine the Air Force of Texas will be there in force."
That's a fair point but it also points to the sense of apathy and anxiety currently prevalent in the greater UCLA community about the state of our football program in general. It is not a good sign when the football team has to prepare for the most attractive matchup in its home stand in a matter as if it is going on the road. This kind of tidbit should create more urgency around the program to get its act together and turn this ship around starting on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Derrick Coleman is getting some pub heading into Saturday's tilt against the Longhorns. Peter Yoon writes about the 240-pound bruising tailback "powering through" in his senior season. OC Mike Johnson calls him the "thumper":
"It's nice to have in your back pocket when you have a guy you call your thumper," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "A guy who can go in there and close out games and execute run plays in the fourth quarter when you need them. I like both our backs. They both have a certain style and a role and at the end of games when you have to go pound somebody, I think Derrick Coleman fits that role."
"UCLA will be the sternest challenge in that they have backs that can go the distance," said Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz told the Dallas Morning News this week. "They've got a very sophisticated rushing attack."
Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said the Longhorns should be concerned. While UCLA's passing game has been sporadic through two games, the running game has been stalwart. The Bruins' are averaging 252 yards a game and have posted five rushing touchdowns in two games. Franklin, a 193-pound redshirt junior, leads the rushers with a total of 209 yards on 32 carries, while Coleman has 152 yards on 21 carries.
Last season, the Bruins were huge underdogs heading into Austin, Texas. The Longhorns were nationally ranked, undefeated and their defense was to be feared. Not to mention, UCLA had not won a road game against a ranked opponent in nine seasons.
Yet, the Bruins jumped on the Longhorns quickly. Franklin carried the load and the day for UCLA with 118 yards in the Bruins' victory, while Coleman rushed for nearly 100 yards.
"Mack (Brown, Texas coach) is a master motivator and I'm sure they will be raring to go," Neuheisel said.
While the Bruins' passing attack struggles to find consistency, their ground game seems to be settling in. Neuheisel and his staff have built an imposing running game that ranks 16th in the FBS, which should serve as a warning to Texas and their other opponents: be ready to hit or be hit.
This kind of narrative actually concerns me. What I am really worried about for Saturday is the UCLA coaching staff once again getting themselves into a conservative shell in which they will be looking to our ground game to eek out a close, grinding win over the Longhorns. I think that kind of mindset will play right into the hands of the Texas Longhorns, who will be going all out to stop our run, and force our QBs to beat them with our passing attack.
I hope our coaches come out with a game plan that will get our QB - whoever he is - cranked up early and engage our athletic receivers and TEs. It would also be nice to get our F-Backs involved through quick, short passes and get them out in open space against the Longhorns. Then again, it seems like we seem to be discussing out wishes for Neuheisel to shed his conservatism almost on a routine base in last few years.
Bruins are going to be a huge challenge on Saturday. They have struggled in the trenches against less athletic counterparts from Houston and San Jose State. It will be up to our coaches to instill in our players and aggressive mindset, and finally play up to our potential on Saturday. Once they get to that point, they will need to sustain it beyond Saturday. Not much to ask for in the fourth year of a coaching regime.