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Spaulding Roundup: Prince Update, Curing Fumbilitis & Staying In Offensive Rhythm

Bruins continue to prepare for Washington State with an eye on the health of Kevin Prince. The LAT reported Prince looked "sharp" in his return to practice yesterday while the OC Register described him as "alert." Prince still has to go through a "series of tests" this week before the UCLA medical staff clears him for Saturday's game in Pullman. Al Balderas has more on various tests Prince has to pass before taking a snap against Washington State:

Prince said he felt good after Tuesday's practice but understood the protocol that he's required to go through when coming off such an injury.

"I can tell them all I want that I feel normal but they won't believe me," Prince said of the medical staff. "I've got to prove it."

The tests are fairly simple and seem to be more time consuming than anything. A lot of them are geared toward testing Prince's memory skills.

"I'm sure she'll do the same stuff like make me count backward by sevens from 100 and stuff like that," Prince said.

"There is little crazy stuff like that. She'll tell you five words and you have to tell them back to her five minutes later.

"They take good care of us."

We expect nothing less. Prince's OL will also be looking to take good care of him (or Craft) on Saturday. Those guys have been a clear marker of improvement for our offense this season in the form of providing better protection for our quarterbacks. That was evident against the Huskies last weekend when our OL made both Prince and Craft comfortable as both of them were finding time to look for their second and third options.  From the Daily News:

"We're all on the same level now," freshman left tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo said. "Communication is excellent, right where it's supposed to be. We did notice on film that there were some broken plays and we still made them. As long as we keep doing our jobs, that can happen, even if the route isn't there."

Both Prince and Craft made plays outside the pocket after the Huskies' coverage broke down, and both quarterbacks were able to bide extra time to let plays develop.

The offensive line allowed two sacks, but one came under intense pressure, while the other was considered a coverage sack.

"When everyone talks about protection, they always just think it's with the offensive line," offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "It's the receivers running the right routes at the right depth, it's the quarterback reading the right coverage and knowing where to go with the ball, and it's the offensive line holding up and preventing penetration."

"It's a three-pronged attack that has to work together."

Bruins will count on the OL to help stay in the rhythm they got in during the fourth quarter against Oregon State and continued through the Washington game. However, they will need to really cut down on their fumble issues.More on that issue and other notes after the jump.

Offense coughed up the ball 10 times in its last two games (recovering 7 of those fumbles). In Corvallis some of those fumbles stunted promising offensive drives while last weekend two of them led to Washington touch downs. So coaches are giving extra emphasis on ball security during practices this week:

"We definitely need to institute ball security back in practice," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Compared to what took place a year ago, the turnover rate has been good for us. But it has reared its ugly head and we have to go back to making it a huge point of emphasis."

The biggest culprits are the team’s leading passer and leading rusher. Quarterback Kevin Prince has nine fumbles, losing four. Tailback Johnathan Franklin has five, losing two. The two are also responsible for 10 of the Bruins' 14 offensive touchdowns.

Still, Franklin, who has been nursing a sore ankle, did not return to the game after fumbling at the start of the third quarter against Washington. He has been the most consistent running back this season, with 510 yards rushing and five touchdowns

That leads Neuheisel, when asked if there will be changes in personnel, to say, "I’m not sure we're ready to make that decision."

"Most of [Franklin’s] fumbles have been when he was close to the ground," Neuheisel said. "But the last one against Washington, he got the ball yanked out of his hands. We have to make sure he treats that thing like it’s sacred."

The answer this week will be more drills. Neuheisel said he had eliminated the ball-handling drills earlier in an effort to shorten practice, but he will re-introduce them this week.

"We’ll have guys run the gauntlet machine and other drills," Neuheisel said. "We’ll also make sure the scout team is involved. They have to try to get the ball out. There will be great concentration on this during the week. We can’t lose the ball. It’s too important."

Well it will be interesting to see how Prince, JetSki and rest of their team-mates hang on to the ball on Saturday. One of the reasons I thought we struggled holding on to the ball in Oregon State was because the conditions might have been a little slick (I thought it had rained in Corvallis earlier in the day, but I could be wrong on that count). The fumbles last week were inexcusable though. JetSki (he is not the only RB who has had fumble issues this year either) has to focus and concentrate with the rock. Hopefully the extra drills during practices will get the guys more game ready for Saturday.

Going back to the offensive line the LAT reports of a little shuffle due to an ankle sprain by Ryan Taylor:

Guard Ryan Taylor is not expected to play this week after suffering what Neuheisel called a sprained right foot against Washington.

Taylor, who was wearing a walking boot while watching practice, said that X-rays showed no broken bones but that "two of the bones by my toe have separated a little."

Darius Savage and Jake Dean will compete for the starting guard spot and both may play against Washington State on Saturday.

Savage started seven games at left guard last season. He has spent most of this season on the field-goal and kickoff-return units.

"I was a little rusty today because I have been playing tackle the last two or three weeks," Savage said. "I have to get my steps more compact and playing inside is more physical, which I prefer."

Offensive line coach Bob Palcic said, "I had Darius and Jake alternating with the first team, giving them equal time. I need to make sure they understand the proper techniques and assignments."

I thought Taylor did a great job last two weeks stepping in for injured Eddie Williams. Ekbatani really struggled when he was asked to step in during the Arizona game. When Ryan took over the spot he seemed to stablize it. Hopefully Savage or Dean make most of this opportunity.And, no I am not going to offer any commentary on Stan Hasiak (who is back in LA) except to wish him luck and root for him to get it together in a tough freshman season (away from parents and family in Hawaii).

On other injury news it sounds like Jerzy Siewierski suited up and went through half of practice yesterday. He might be ready to contribute on Saturday. If that's the case it's great news for our D. We can definitely use his motor in front-7. Although, I am sure if he gets in on Saturday, it will be for limited amount of time. Also, the coaches are slowly working Aaron Hester back into practice:

Redshirt freshman cornerback Aaron Hester was back at practice Tuesday after missing much of last week with discomfort following his return from a broken tibia. His status for the week is still undetermined after he worked mostly with the scout team in practice.

"Hester was back working today, getting acclimated with the scout team," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We're seeing if he can gain confidence. It's really a confidence issue with him."

Again I don't think there is any need to rush him back. It looks like Sheldon Price is slowly developing confidence at the corner spot. This weekend presents another huge opportunity for the freshman CB to take another step. My preference at this point is to let Price keep gaining his confidence and take as much time as possible so that Hester gets completely healthy. Also, note I though Andrew Abbott did a pretty good job from the nickle spot last weekend against the Husky offense.

To wrap this up I think the key for the entire team will be to zero in on execution on Saturday. I think the game is going to present a huge opportunity for the entire team to show what kind of composure it can exhibit as an obvious favorite. While Washington State no doubt will have some intangibles on its side as it will try to take advantage of its best opportunity to pick up a conference victory, our guys should be able to come in and take control of this game from the outset if it wants to keep charging towards a possible post season. If our gus on offense can eliminate the fumbling mistakes, continue to protect our QBs, and stay on a rhythm it found itself in back in Corvallis, we will have a great shot to keep the MO on our side during our flight back from Pullman.