Ted Millers provides the obvious key for a Bruin victory on Saturday:
For that upset to happen, one thing absolutely must occur: UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft has to play well.
That's a big if. Craft has thrown 12 interceptions in the past four games with no touchdowns. His post-pick trudges to the sidelines for another harangue from Neuheisel have provided must-see moments for the television audience.
"Kevin Craft has been tougher than nails and has been a try-hard kid," Neuheisel said. "Unfortunately, we had to put too much on his shoulders."
As in, Craft has had little help on an offense that can't run or block or get open very well.
The offensive ineptitude is why a pretty solid defense doesn't have great numbers, but Harwell says he only has love for Craft.
"I told him we believe in him," Harwell said. "Yeah, it's frustrating when he throws interceptions. But we're a team and we have his back. If he gives great effort, we can't ask for anything more."
It figures to take more than just great effort or relentless optimism for the Bruins to prevail.
So what is it going to take besides Craft playing a mistake free game, winning the turnover battle and the defense putting together a monster effort on Saturday afternoon. Here are some other keys I think could come in very handy for our boys at the Rose Bowl:
First Drive: Not sure how many of you have noticed this. Our offense has actually gotten off to a pretty good start in our last three games. Against Arizona State we put together an 11 play first drive going 54 yards netting a FG. Against Washington that first drive went on for 12 plays netting 80 yards and a rushing TD. The week before against Oregon State we drove for 79 yards in 6 plays for a FG in the first drive as well. For some reason our offense has actually come out looking very solid and in sync in these last three games. I am not sure what Chow has been doing (because no one has really asked him about it) but some thing has clearly been working. Is he scripting our first drive ala Bill Walsh (who used to script the first 25 plays)? Whatever it is he is doing, we desperately need our offensive to continue that on Sat. It would be a huge psychological boost for our entire team and our crowd if our guys can go up on scoreboard first and preferably punch it it. What will not be fun if we go three and out in our first drive.
Agassi Strategy: Let me see if I can articulate this the right way. How many of you remember Andre Agassi's tennis game? Yes, Agassi was an extremely talented athlete (and we know the talent issue in our offense) who was one of the best in his game. But there is a particular aspect of his game/strategery that made him so effective. He always found a way to use his opponent's strenght and turn it against them. In those classic Sampras/Agassi matchups, Pete would serve up booming rockets and all Agassi would do is use the power and speed of those serves with perfect well placed returns. I think we have to think about something similar while we are on offense. We know how those guys have 5 star All Americans in every positions, who are going to come after our backs like raging bulls in a china shop. Well let's use their speed against them through screen plays and misdirections. We are not going to do much by running right at them. Why not use their speed and aggressive and find the perfect spots to counterpunch.
Minimize big plays: On defense it will have to start with minimizing big plays. They have their stable of productive running backs. The guy that comes closest to be their latest edition of Reggie Bush is Joe McKnight. Walker's troops will have to bottle up McKnight who can be dangerous both as a rusher and receiver. We can't have McKnight going off for huge plays because if he breaks one it has the potential to create that avalanche.
Blow up Sanchez: Mentioned this multiple times already this week. I am sure given how Walker schemed last two years this will be a point of emphasis. Our guys will have to come at this guy from all direction and drive him to the turf. They will need to get this guy's jersey dirty and it doesn't matter if they are getting sacks. They will need to attack him on every play (without committing silly penalties)
Mind games: No doubt those guys are going to be talking before the game and all game long. That's what they do. They will be taunting after their big hits. Our guys should lock in the image of Cowan's reaction to that deadly hit he took two years ago at the Rose Bowl. Get right back up like a warrior not giving them an ounce of satisfaction.
- Special Teams: Coverage, coverage and coverage. Can't let those guys get good field positions from kick returns. Everyone points to Craft needing a big game. We will need huge games from all of our kickers which will entail getting off deep kicks (a tall order given what we have gotten from Rotstein all season) and enough hang time (can't have Perez doing line drives) letting our coverage guys get down the field.
All of this is of course easier said than done. But we know it's been done before:
Photo Credit: LA Times
If we are going to win on Saturday, we will need to have some one new to step up and get immortalized as the latest Bruin legend. Who do you think it might be?
Any thoughts on other keys to a Bruin victory or should I say immortality?