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Spaulding Roundup: Practice News & Notes

Let’s begin this roundup by building on our Fresno files. I wrote last night about how it will be imperative for our offense and the special teams not to put Walker’s defense in short field situations. Another factor to look out for is how our defense responds on third downs:

After being among the best in the nation at third-down defense the past two seasons, the Bruins have struggled in that area through three games, and their defensive coordinator is trying to solve the problem.

UCLA allowed opponents to convert just 29 percent of third downs a year ago, but that rate has skyrocketed to 50 percent this season. Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said the target is 33 percent. He said he was unsure why the unit is having so many issues.

Walker's sense was that the Bruins may be facing more third-and-short situations than a year ago, and said that it's imperative that they get stops and get off the field quickly.

"This game will tell the tale," he said Wednesday, referring to Saturday's matchup with Fresno State.

My sense is that defense was constantly getting in 3rd and short situations against BYU was because our secondary was playing off the Cougar receivers, allowing Hall to carve them underneath. I thought the defense played much better against Zona on Saturday, especially considering how the offense was mostly ineffective and the special teams was constantly putting them in short field positions.

Speaking of the offense, per the OC Register there has been a “glimmer or two of hope” in this week’s practice:

This week has shined a glimmer or two of hope on the nation's 117th-ranked rushing team. Starting tailback Kahlil Bell might play Saturday, freshman Derrick Coleman appears to be improving, and offensive line coach Bob Palcic might finally have found his five best players.

"I saw a lot of nice things today and during this whole week of practice," offensive coordinator Norm Chow said.

This could be the week to parlay Saturday's gains into a reliable running game.

Fresno State is missing its two starting defensive tackles, Jon Monga and Cornell Banks. The replacements are all sophomores and freshmen, including Rancho Santa Margarita's Logan Harrell.

"We always want to run the ball," Chow said. "I don't worry about them too much. We've got our own set of problems."

As for problems, apparently Craft threw two ints (EJ Woods had both of these picks) in practice yesterday. So we will see how he performs on Saturday. If I am reading Chow right, I think he will stick with Craft and do everything he can not to burn Prince’s redshirt year. I think both Chow (and CRN) will do look to the long term future of this program at this point, and use this year as a big extended training period for next year.

Yet using this year as an extended spring camp doesn’t mean that coaches are letting up at practice. Instead the practices are getting more intense and physical per the LA Times:

The Bruins seemed frustrated and edgy Wednesday, with two fights during practice, one where offensive lineman Jess Ward smacked defensive tackle Justin Mann upside the head, then kicked him.

On Tuesday, Kahlil Bell screamed at fellow tailback Derrick Coleman, then shoved him.

Neuheisel said he didn't want to see any "cheap shots," but that the fights are "are a byproduct of getting after it physically."

Given the results from last two weeks, the players should be frustrated, fired up and show emotion during practices. Hopefully they can take some of that aggression out (in a smart and disciplined way) on their opponents on Saturday.