Let's hit the reset button again this am. For last few weeks we have seen the UCLA beat reporters working hard to weave the storyline about how Rick Neuheisel is losing control of the UCLA football program. We have had the LA Times making a big deal out of a frustrated true freshman's twitter post. We have had Trojan alum posing as OC Register reporter running wild with unverified face book musings of a frustrated parent's as some kind of legitmate news story. Piling on top of those nonsense Rick Neuheisel and our football program have had to deal with routine classless attacks from LAT's TJ Slimers on a weekly basis.
If the UCLA football program were truly "falling apart", it would have quit a long time ago and got blown apart in Arizona or in Oregon, and walk around like zombies at the Rose Bowl during their home coming game yesterday. Yet game after game, we see these guys battling away. While the defensive tentativeness, silly penalties often make me want to throw my remote into the TV screen, these guys keep fighting back every game. They almost pulled it out last weekend when ATV had a chance to put the Bruins ahead in a heart pumping win. They got it done yesterday when Sheldon Price, who has been deservedly criticized all season long, played a huge part in the game clinching interception. Price and Moore's efforts yesterday were the hallmark of a football team, that not only appear resilient, but united under Neuheisel's leadership in Westwood:
"It's called teamwork, man, and teamwork makes the dream work," Moore said. "That two-minute drill, we do that in practice all the time. That's the camaraderie we have with one another. I mean, Sheldon ran up to me and was like, `I love you, man. I love you, Rahim.' As a team, we've been through so much, to pull out this win is a blessing."
CRN offered up the following comment on UCLA's comeback after falling behind by a score of 14-23 without our starting QB:
"To keep coming back, to keep fighting like that, is easy to preach, it's harder to get done."
And than brings me to CRN's comments on Kevin Craft:
"He's been maligned," Coach Rick Neuheisel said of Craft in a television interview afterward, "but he keeps coming back, and that's what sports is all about."
Let's get something straight first. UCLA is now Kevin Prince's team (when he is healthy). Prince showed in the first half yesterday why Ryan and others were so hyped up about him coming into this season. Moreover, Brehaut's performance during that firs half series (more on that below) also vindicated Norm Chow and other observers who were steadfast in their conviction that Brehaut isn't ready to step up this season.
As fro Craft he had a solid day as a backup. He managed the game really well and allowed Chow to stick with his regular offense. However, at the same time there were spots when Craft showed why Prince is the starting QB for this football team. He missed an open Moya on 3rd and goal. His pass to Austin was slightly under thrown. Still it felt really good to see him get the win. Just like Sheldon Prince Kevin Craft is the picture of resiliency of this football program and proof how the players in this team have bought into CRN's leadership, despite some of nonsense the local reporters have tried to blow up out of proportion this season. More after the jump.
Going back to Brehaut it CRN is making sure the kid keeps his chin up:
"I got to hold onto the ball," said Brehaut, who also fumbled in his last play against Oregon State in the previous game. "I got to have a better thought in my mind. I have to take off running, I just can't hold onto the ball like that. Coach Neuheisel told me to keep my chin up, that he is still behind me."
Neuheisel, while not blaming Brehaut entirely, said, "Competition at this level requires a great deal of concentration and a great deal of preparation. . . . I told him I still had high hopes for him, and was still going to get him more playing time, but this is harder than he thinks it is right now in terms of preparing."
Brehaut will have his time before he is done in Westwood. I think the key for him right now is to take his cues from Craft and stay plugged in with the offense every which way he can. This means total concentration not just during practices but during every film sessions and meeting with Chow and Neuheisel when they are going over the offense.
As for other positives from yesterday let's start with the offense. Ryan laid out below how Nelson Rosario has emerged as a go to receiver in our rotation. Let's hope takes advantage of his confidence to maintain his concentration and focus. His emergence is also important for another reason. CRN can also offer him up as the clear example of what happens when a young player locks in with focus to kids such as Pressley and Carroll.
We now need a RB to step up. JetSki has fumbling issues. I wonder if some of this has to do with health. He hasn't been the same since he screwed up his ankle against Cal few weeks ago. Perhaps he is thinking too much when he is out there. He still does a solid job in terms of blitz pickup but he has to protect the ball. Obviously loved watching the Wildcat package with Milton Knox. Hopefully he gets into the mix even more in the remaining games. He looks a little unsure as a RB during regular formation but perhaps that will change if he gets more carries. Oh and welcome back Mr. Coleman.
I am not going to spend more time giving credit to the OL. They are clearly coming along and point to obvious sign of improvement from this past season. Anyone out there who wants to blather about this team not improving from last season, just has to look at our OL and the kind of time it is providing our QBs. They need to get better at run blocking but I am not too worried about it. Under Palcic's coaching it is going to happen over time.
My big complaint from the offense is unfortunately the seniors. We need Logan Paulsen to wisen up. He had a huge play yesterday but once again he committed stupid penalties that hurt the team. Seems like he has hurt the team with one dumb penalty for 3 straight weeks. It just shouldn't happen from someone who is looked up as one of the senior leaders in this team.
Moving over to the defense. While Price and Moore were the obvious stars from the defensive side, lot of issues remain. Washington's offense racked up 5.95 yards per play against Bullough's defense. While Bullough did mix in some blitzes later in the game (which yielded results) they looked throughly confused and on their heels at the outset. Chis Polk ran for 132 yards in 15 carries against our front 7 tearing them up every time he was touching the ball. Polk almost made it look too easy and I have to wonder why Sarkasian (the so called young offensive genius) didn't stick with the running game to bloody up our defense.
The huge problem right now with our base 4-3 is that our front-4 is not generating much pressure on their own. Brian Price is a monster but he is not getting much help from the other three guys. So it's a matter of deciding when to bring in our LBs or SS to rattle the opposing QB. That depends on Bullough thoroughly scouting the offensive schemes and the tendencies of the opposing QBs. Once again I was surprised why we waited long to bring pressure on Locker who clearly looked uncomfortable when he got a little heat. In fact one of his "sacks" was pretty much Jim Evertesque when he went down sensing Datone Jones around him.
As for ATV he got burned couple of times yesterday. I think that has to do with his health. He has been dealing with a dislocated toe he suffered few weeks ago. While he is all right, he is clearly not 100 percent. Same goes for Reggie Carter who even though played a decent game yesterday doesn't look 100 percent either. So, I think it goes back to Chuck Bullough making sure his defense doesn't look predictable when they come out of the game.
That brings me up to the topic of James Washington, the commentator. I am kind of sick and tired of the cheap shots that I often see hurled towards James here on BN and other places. People need to cut that nonsense out. I understand that James's voice, words choice are often not perfect for TV. I think he knows that too. Well many would say that about the Big Red during his early years of broadcasting career.
I can sense in listening to James that he is making an effort to get better. If you listen to him very closely, he offers some incredibly valuable insights based on his observations from practice. Particularly he is frank and candid. Multiple times yesterday he called out Chuck Bullough for not scheming aggressively and not bringing pressure to rattle Jake Locker. That doesn't happen from vanilla, boiler plate commentators who are afraid to offer up criticisms of coaches because of fear of losing access.
Listening to him, I get to hear an impassioned Bruin who loves everything about blue and gold, and who is offering his exact words he would offer up to young defensive back in blue and gold. James is doing all right and in many ways I find him as enjoyable as listening as Petros Papadakis when commenting on Pac-10 football games. So let's cut the cheap shots out against James Washington and reserve them for morons like David Norrie who is somehow ashamed to let out his UCLA colors while offering up commentary.
Anyway, back to our game. The season is clearly alive. However, right now on BN we need to make this week all about Washington State. We can't afford to get caught up in bowl projections because all of that will be moot if we don't get it done in Palouse which has always been a brutal place for our Bruins. I hope our fanbase and our team will be locked into next weekend's game like it's an NCAA tourney game. We need it badly. We will have to wait to see the word on Kevin Prince. The word from yesterday was that he was being treated for concussion like syndrome. Prince was feeling all right and was gracious towards Donald Butler:
Prince, who sat out four weeks this season because of a fractured jaw, said, "I remember diving and then I was on the ground and not feeling too good. I'm feeling all right now. As far as I know, it was a perfectly legal hit."
Hopefully he will be ready to go at practices and pick up on the same rhythm and total command he was in of our offense. It looked like things have slowed down for him a little as he was going to his secondary receivers.
Lastly, speaking of gracious, CRN had this to say after the game:
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel stepped to the microphone as he does after every home game, and for the first time in weeks, he was welcomed with cheers.
His voice cracked, his hair messed, Neuheisel made a plea to all those who have jumped ship as one loss became five.
"For those of you who jumped off the bandwagon, I understand," Neuheisel yelled to UCLA's embattled fans. "I'm just asking you to get back on."
I think he is being too kind. I don't really want bandwagoning losers supporting our team, especially those who are openly talking about "throwing ... away" that last regular season game. We don't need those kind of "Bruins" here on BN.
If we can get Prince to come out in the same form and take care of business, we are going to find ourselves in pretty good shape on the eve of our last home game of the season. For now though, we just need to worry about Washington State and hope the team keeps building on the resilient spirit they have shown the entire season. Meanwhile, let's enjoy the ride.