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Spaulding Roundup: Craft's Toughness & Other Game Week Notes

As we began the “Rivalry Week” Brian Dohn is already salivating over the prospect of a record blowout on Saturday (emphasis added):

As far as lopsided scores go, the 66-19 pasting in 2005 is a recent memory of how bad things can get for the Bruins.

But given that UCLA ranks 110th of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the nation in total offense (294.7 ypg) and 107th in scoring (18.6 ppg), quarterback Kevin Craft has 12 interceptions and no touchdowns in his last four games, and USC leads the nation in scoring defense (7.8 ppg) and total defense (210.6 ypg), perhaps it bears pointing out that the Trojans won the first two games of this series 76-0 (1929) and 52-0 (1930).

Dohn sounds pretty eager in his passive-aggressive way. It's pretty amusing.

The line for this game started around 27.5 points. Last I heard it was going up as much as 30+ points. I think all this noise is perfect and I hope there is not let up in this kind of clippings online and in the traditional media till kickoff on Saturday.

CRN (BTW did you know a bloggy pundit once actually spent an entire blog post whining about use of the initials “CRN”?) as he has done this entire first season didn’t take Dohn’s bait re. worrying about blowout losses:

"I think if you start worrying (about being embarrassed), you're taking yourself out of the focus of how to play our best football," Neuheisel said. "Our job, as a coaching staff, is to give the kids the best possible chance to be successful. Whether that's scheme, whether that's strategy, or it's motivation, whatever it takes, we've got to find a way to give ourselves the best possible chance to be competitive and successful against USC.

Obviously lot of the focus around UCLA will be on the plight of Kevin Craft. If you are expecting dramatic changes at UCLA’s QB situation heading into Saturday, you should get rid of those expectations now. CRN made it clear again following the ASU game that at this point of time the problems our offense is experiencing is a team issue:

"There were some things where we let him down with some route-running details, some protection issues," Neuheisel said. "It just becomes glaring when it's the quarterback letting go of the football (and) it falls on his shoulders, but we all have to accept our share of the blame, starting with me."

It also didn't help that backup Chris Forcier, who entered the game after Craft's final interception with nine minutes remaining, was 2 of 4 for 13 yards. He was also sacked twice.

As for the fans (especially people wailing on the message boards) who are calling for a drastic QB change, CRN’s message was pretty clear: Craft is the “best option” available to our coaches:

"I can understand that," Neuheisel said. "It frustrates me that there isn't another option that gives us a better chance to win, but we have to do what's in our best interest. And Kevin right now, unless we come up with another plan, is our best option."

As I have said over and over again, if Chow and Neuheisel had a better option available to them at QB, they wouldn’t have wasted any time to go with that option.

Neuheisel also made the following observations re. difficulties Craft has had from adjusting to college from JC:

Neuheisel sees across the nation a paucity of young quarterbacks prepared to operate in the pro-style offense that many colleges employ.

"So many of the high school offenses are spread," he said. "They get in the gun . . . so there isn't as much pocket awareness, pocket presence if you will, being taught at that level."

It's a matter of footwork, dropping back from center and knowing how to be in sync with various short, medium and long passes, he said. A late pass can become a turnover.

UCLA starter Kevin Craft played in a spread-style offense at Mt. San Antonio College, where his dad was the offensive coordinator. This season, Craft has completed 56% of his passes for 2,252 yards but has 19 interceptions against seven touchdowns.

Neuheisel believes that Craft and other quarterbacks accustomed to the spread require time to adjust.

"You just have to understand that has to have a real component of the teaching progression," he said.

So how will Craft respond this Saturday?

He doesn’t have a lot of friends this week expect for his coaches and players (and ironically even though the traditional media looking for cheap storylines have constantly harped on Neuheisel/Craft’s sideline interaction, they have mostly missed the obvious fact that Chow and Neuheisel have remained as Craft’s staunchest supporters never throwing him under the bus this entire season). The odds are obviously overwhelmingly against Craft and right now one would be foolish to make a bet that he will not make any mistakes on Saturday against an outstanding Trojan defense.

Yet, one thing Craft has going for him that has made an impact on the entire team is how he has maintained his public composure amidst all the unreal adversity he has experienced this entire season. Not once has he complained about getting chewed out by the coaches. Not once has he complained about having an OL which probably would have sent any other QB to the emergency room (their protection scheme led to PC’s collapsed lungs and BO’s numerous injuries in previous years). Not once has he complained about not having a credible running game. He just keeps taking those bone crunching hits and keeps getting up.

I’ve got to think his team-mates realize and appreciate what this kid is going through and I think it’s one of the primary reason there has been no break in team unity in what has been a sobering rebuilding season. I also think it has allowed the defense not to get too frustrated and keep persevering and improving even as the team collectively has experienced one tough loss after another. All that might amount to something on Saturday. If the team shows the same determination and grit, it has shown since that embarrassment in Provo, they will have a shot no matter how much snickering they are subjected to all week from Trojans, traditional media reporters, pundits and in some cases some of our own fans who are expecting (and some in the traditional media are relishing) a total slaughter.