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Spaulding Roundup: Forward Progress

Looks like we are not the only ones who saw progress on Saturday. Ted Miller from ESPN also forwards the hope mantra by suggestions Bruins are “getting better”:

This may sound strange, but UCLA is getting better: As in most competitive games, there were a lot of "what ifs" in UCLA's 36-31 loss to Fresno State -- such as what if freshman running back Derrick Coleman didn't fumble on the Bulldogs' 10-yard line? Or what if the defense didn't yield a nine-minute, 86-yard drive to kill the clock thereafter? But the Bruins' performance suggested there's hope even at 1-3. Hope, first of all, in that Washington State is coming to town next weekend. Moreover, it appears that the Bruins will be able to find at least a few more wins inside the conference and thereby avoid making Rick Neuheisel's first season a complete train wreck. The most encouraging number was 234 yards rushing. A run game will help QB Kevin Craft feel more comfortable. On the downside, as the offense has improved, the defense has regressed.

Joining Miller was Kurt Streeter from the LA Times, who also noticed “real improvement” in the Bruin’s performance on Saturday:

Compared to what it's been so far this year, the running game was a juggernaut. In the season's first two games, the Bruins rushed for a total of 38 yards. Last week they had 115 yards. This week they had 234, much of that coming from freshman Derrick Coleman, a kid who despite a late fumble that helped doom his team for good in the fourth quarter, looks as if he'll be a difference-maker as the years go by.

And the quarterback? This contest proved that the forward pass still exists in Westwood, even if it's not exactly something that'll make good defenses shudder. Kevin Craft, foggy-headed and unsure most of this season, stood in the pocket with a good bit of calm, 11 times out of 20 hitting his mark. He finished with 150 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Then there was Terrence Austin, who almost single-handedly made the difference for the Bruins. Austin had 250 yards' worth of kickoff and punt returns, a wonderful afternoon that none on hand would have ever forgotten if he hadn't had a 100-yard kickoff-return touchdown negated because of a UCLA holding call.

These were good signs for the Bruins. Real improvement. The defense, expected to be the foundation for this team, was another matter. Fresno State rolled up 443 yards and appeared unstoppable on the most important third-down conversions, all of which left Bruins defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker shaking his head. "It was unfortunate we wasted a nice performance by the offense," he said. "If the defense plays better, we could have won this thing."

Speaking of the defense, Dohn reports that UCLA coaches will reexamine their nickel package and “explore options” this week in practice:

"I think some teams are able to take advantage of some man-coverage situations," Neuheisel said. "We probably have to disguise our man coverage a little bit more."

UCLA used redshirt freshman Courtney Viney as its nickel back, but the blame does not fall solely to him since other players are also getting beat in nickel packages.

Meanwhile, Walker said he would explore options during the early part of practice this week.

"We've got to go back and look at it again," Walker said. "We have what we have. Now, we just have to go back and improve."

Again like we have preached with every facets of this team, we will also urge patience with our defensive coaches. Based on what I am reading from Walker’s comments, I think he understands that our defensive performance has to improve as the season goes along. Particularly I imagine he feels a little competitive pressure given the improvement we are seeing on the offensive side of the ball. Hopefully the offense’s continued improvement will have an impact on the defense during practices and move them to upgrade their performance on Saturdays.

While we mention about the offensive improvement at the macro level, at the micro level CRN talked about Derrick Coleman’s bright future at UCLA:

Running back Derrick Coleman fumbled on the 10-yard line during Saturday's decisive drive, and Neuheisel said that he spoke with the talented freshman after the game and told him to keep his head up.

Coleman was going to the right on the play, but Neuheisel said the ball was in his left hand -- it should have been in his right -- and was too low on his body, leading to the fumble.

"I told him to don't worry about it," Neuheisel said. "I think he has a great future, and I want him to understand the importance of ball security, but I want him to know he will have a great career here."

Neuheisel also talked about the need for Kevin Craft to stretch the defense and throw down the field:

"We'd like to have some more chances where we just throw it down the field," Neuheisel said. "Deep throws. We haven't really taken our shots down there yet, and I'd like to see us develop some of that."

Craft's longest completion of the season is 32 yards, and that came on tight end Ryan Moya's catch and run against the Bulldogs. That is also the Bruins' only pass play of more than 30 yards this season.

"I still think we can get better throwing the ball down the field," Neuheisel said. "It's going to take some real work with Kevin and the wide receivers, and get the wide receivers to get off press coverage and so forth."

It’s nice to know Ben Howland is not the only head coach at UCLA’s major revenue programs who can offer frank and constructive  public criticism while offering words of positive encouragement at the same time for the players in his program. Neuheisel’s comments on Coleman is just one example why we continue remain upbeat about the forward progress we are noticing in this program as we follow it on a day to day basis.