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Spaulding Roundup: Instilling Confidence

Let’s start our Sunday roundup with a HT to our colleagues at Canal Street Chronicles, New Orleans Saints’ bloggers who are currently on the run from Gustav. Please join us in extending thoughts and prayers to Saintsational and everyone else along the Gulf Coast, who are bracing for what could be another disaster. My heart goes out to the resident of New Orleans for what they have had to go through in last few years. Let’s hope for the best assuming this time everyone is well prepared to deal with the worst.

On to football. Brian Dohn has an extensive write-up on CRN’s path to UCLA:

During a far-reaching interview in which Neuheisel spoke of his 1984 Rose Bowl MVP performance against Illinois while battling food poisoning, of his on-field success as a coach at Colorado and Washington, of the myriad off-field troubles and seemingly everything in between, nothing brought a bigger smile to Neuheisel than the tale of Biscuit, a.k.a. Lonzell Maddock.

Maddock was Rainier Beach's backup quarterback and close friend of starting quarterback Junior Lologo. Once, before a game, Neuheisel asked Maddock why he was so lethargic. Maddock said he did not eat all day.

"(Neuheisel) started bringing sandwiches before the games for the quarterbacks," Haley said. "That would be the pregame meal with the quarterbacks. They would go over things and eat sandwiches."

In the 2004 Metro League championship game, Lologo was injured in the fourth quarter.

Maddock then drove Rainier Beach for the winning touchdown with 53 seconds to play.

"Boy, that was great to see," Neuheisel said. "I was so proud of him."

Witcher (Darren Witcher, Rainier Beach DC a the time - BN Ed.) said it was the confidence Neuheisel instilled in Maddock that made the drive possible. Terry Donahue, Neuheisel's coach at UCLA and the person who gave Neuheisel his coaching start, said he understood how that could happen.

IIRC this is the first time Dohn has brought up Neuheisel’s experience as a QB coach at Rainier Beach. This is something we have discussed number of time since last December. Particularly of note Dohn notes while Neuheisel’s critics sneered at this experience as nothing but a “PR stunt” they forgot to notice how he came back for a second year at Rainier Beach, even after settling his lawsuit with University of Washington.

In any event, I thought these comments from Donahue were interesting:

Donahue, who lobbied for Neuheisel to get the UCLA job, said he knew immediately Neuheisel was coaching material.

"By nature, he's one of those guys that is fortunate enough to have the psyche and the mind-set that everything is always going to be OK, regardless of the circumstances," Donahue said. "It's a tremendous strength of his. He doesn't easily get down or discouraged. He doesn't see the dark side of things.

I just wish Donahue felt the same way when he hired Bob Toledo over Rick Neuheisel as the OC following 1994 Rose Bowl. If Donahue had gone with Neuheisel at the time, perhaps neither UCLA nor Neuheisel would have to endure the consistent traumas (interrupted by a 20 game winning streak courtesy of number 18) of last 13 years. Oh well. Better late than never I guess. In Neuheisel we are getting a coach who has been humbled by mistakes, has paid his dues, and now more than ever will appreciate the opportunity UCLA has given him to lead this program back to where it belongs.

Moving on to the day to day stuff, Chris Foster from the LAT reports that Craft is getting more comfortable:

Chow continues to work on Craft's decision making but said, "I've seen tremendous improvement the last few weeks. All he has to do is manage the game. Make sure the game moves along, that we're not offside, we don't drop balls, we don't fumble balls. Just take care of the movement of the game."

Craft has done that before. He was not flashy at San Diego State, but he did lead the Aztecs to two victories during a 3-9 season, completing 69 of 121 passes for 737 yards and four touchdowns.

Neuheisel said he had seen Craft improve through a difficult transition.

"I can't even imagine how tough it was, getting here and trying to find your classes while learning a completely new offensive system," Neuheisel said.

"Then to be thrust into a position where you have to take the bull by the horns and act like you're the leader of a team."

In that article Foster tries to concern troll by pointing out that “transfer quarterbacks have had limited success in the Pacific 10 Conference.” As examples of successful QB he offers up the names of two QBs from Southern Cal -  Brad Otton (Weber State) in 1995 and Tim Green (El Camino College) in 1984 – who were the last JC transfers to win the Pac-10 title. What Foster forgets to mention that no person with a functioning brain is expecting UCLA to win the Pac-10 title with Craft. As we have discussed all off season given the realities facing this program in terms of overall talent level and its schedule (arguably the toughest in the Pac-10), a winning season would be an incredible accomplishment.  So it’s foolish to bring up those names to compare Craft.  And in terms of JUCO QBs, one name that might be applicable here is – Aaron Rodgers – arguably the most prolific QB Tedford developed as a HC at Cal, who arrived at Strawberry Canyon as a totally “ignored” JC transfer from Shasta.

So the expectations Foster tried to impose on Craft is kind of absurd (and not based on logic). Thankfully as reported by the OC Register our coaches are doing what they can to take the pressure off Craft:

Chow figures to take some pressure off Craft by giving him some easy throws early. He might sprinkle in a trick play or two later. Not that he gave away his game plan, but he indicated that Tennessee's defense might have talent, but it's not big on deception. That might help Craft figure out what he's doing.

"I think they like to play where they just cut their kids loose, let them get after you," Chow said. "Those are the hardest kinds of teams to play, because you're not exactly sure scheme-wise what their point is, what they're getting at. It makes it hard."

While Chow has been working on to make Craft more comfortable, Walker has been preparing to deal with the Clawfense:

Walker is miles ahead of Chow, largely because he has better players. He also has had the advantage of facing Chow's offense, which bears a lot of similarities with what he expects from Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson.

The scariest thought for the Bruins is that Tennessee might employ a spread, five-wide receiver set, testing the lack of depth in the UCLA secondary.

"Shoot, I may have to suit up if they do that," Walker said.

Motivation shouldn't be an issue. Most of the Bruins' players have been excited about this game since the spring. It's not often you get a Southeastern Conference school visiting your home stadium on national TV with a chance to prove you're better than people think.

I think the key here again goes back to confidence.  I get the sense that the coaches have done everything possible to instill a measure of confidence that we haven’t seen in this program for years. 

There is no question Tennessee will be the favored team tomorrow with more blue chip talents on both sides of the ball. There is no one expecting our guys to pull out a victory (for good reasons). However, if our guys stay calm and execute the plan coaches have prepared for them in last three weeks, they will have an opportunity not just to win the game, but at least to start the process of establishing the foundation for long term success at the Rose Bowl. While our coaches and players maintain their confidence, we will have to stay patient.