Let's start this Thursday with zeroing on our offense. We have discussed a lot this week about how our defense will have an enormous challenge on their hands dealing with the monster Tennessee OL. During the discussion we talked about how one of the keys for this game will be for Kevin Prince and the Bruin offense to do some effective ball controll and give their defensive counterparts adequate breather throughout the game.
So obviously there is going to be a lot of pressure on our redshirt freshman QB. He is taking all of this attention in stride and with casual (Cade like) confidence:
"The toughest environment I played in was in front of 6,000 people," Prince said.
That was during his junior year at Crespi of Encino, and the game was at Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks.
Add 100,000 people or so, and you have Neyland Stadium, or about double the size of the crowd at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
"I like being on the road. I like noise and hearing quiet. That's awesome," Prince said. "That's our goal to try to keep them quiet."
Not sure I mentioned this after the San Diego State game. One of the things I noticed about Prince last weekend was how he didn't get worked up after throwing his picks. I am personally nervous about how Prince is going to do this Saturday. I just don't think it is realistic for this kid to bring home a victory given the situation. Just think back how Cade did as a sophomore in Ann Arbor and in Knoxville. It wasn't pretty. However, fwiw his team mates sound confident in his ability:
``I'm not really stressing about KP,'' said Kai Maiava. ``He's a really composed quarterback. He plays with a lot of confidence. He knows the playbook from front to back. He'll be able to make his reads and calls, and we'll go from there.''
As do his coaches:
"He has that `it' factor, whatever that `it' is," Chow said.
Added coach Rick Neuheisel, "I think he's a mature young man. I think he's proved he can handle nerves because certainly there were nerves a week ago. I'm looking forward to watching him in this kind of environment. You know what? Sometimes you think about how big it's going to be and you get there and it feels just like football. That's what I'm hoping is going to happen."
For their part coaches are doing whatever they can to prepare Kevin for Neyland stadium. More on that and othe notes after the jump.
Coaches were blasting "Rocky Top" during practice yesterday to work the team through simulated "crowd noise." They were also working on precautions wrt to communicating on offense:
"We try to take every precaution," Bruins offensive coordinator Norm Chow said. "We'll use hand signals. We'll use different cadences and counts. You do the best you can. The noise isn't going to go away. It's a huge challenge and we need to embrace it. We'll welcome it."
Well another big part of the offense will be the chemistry between our offensive lineman. Sam Allen from the Daily Bruin penned a nice report earlier this week on our offensive line, in which Sam outlined couple of substantial issues the OL has to keep building on following the first game:
– Pass protection.
The Aztecs only sacked Prince three times, but he was pressured often. I expect UCLA to continue to use roll-outs to give Prince more time. They also may need to work out of maximum protection passing formations, like they did against San Diego State.
One good thing to note here is that, in general, Prince handles the rush well. Former quarterback Kevin Craft’s tendency to rush his reads and force throws under pressure only exacerbated the Bruins’ problems last year.
– Communication, chemistry on run-blocking.
This was a huge issue last season because the Bruins rotated so many different offensive linemen into the starting lineup. Now it seems that the Bruins have settled on a solid five. More repetitions and more experience will help. It’s important to remember that Maiava, Williams and Su’a-Filo had not played a game for UCLA until Saturday, and that Baca and Harris are both sophomores.
"It’s just about getting the feel for the game again," said Maiava, who sat out last season after transferring here from Colorado.
I think Sam's point about doing whatever it takes to pressure of Prince is huge. I loved what I saw from Prince in terms of his ability to roll out and throw passes to our TEs and FB. I will not be surprised if Chow has some plays designed in which he rolls out Prince to move the trigger point of our passing attack, enabling him to buy some extra time.
Of course another big marker for our OL would be to generate a consistent rushing game. That goes back to our pre-season goal of averaging at least 4 yards per carry. If we want to win on Saturday, that is a must. The OL will need to open up some holes for Franklin, Coleman, Knox (and Thigpen?) so they can pick up chunks of yardage putting our offense on manageable situations on second and third downs. Otherwise, if we end up in third and long situations with a freshman QB, it will be a long evening in Knoxville.
Lastly, speaking of the game outcome let's share some interesting productions. The boys over at All-Pac blog are expecting the Bruins to put up a fight. Sam is expecting a "game effort" from the Bruins:
In the end, I expect a game effort from the Bruins, but the margin for error is very small for Prince. I think the Vols will be a little too tough at Neyland Stadium, and a few UCLA mistakes should be the difference.
Prediction: Tennessee 31 – UCLA 20
I expect Tennessee to do a good job defending against the run and forcing Prince to try to beat them, which could spell trouble. He’s got a bright future ahead of him, but expecting a mistake free day this Saturday might be asking too much.
I see Tennessee having difficulty putting points on the board as well, especially if UCLA’s defensive line can control the tempo. This game should be one of those ugly battle-for-every-inch types, with Tennessee’s home field advantage and thirst for revenge giving them the edge.
Prediction: Tennessee 20 – UCLA 13
Both of those predictions sound pretty reasonable to me. But still I have to share this from Kyle over at Dawg Sports:
UCLA Bruins at Tennessee Volunteers: Now we know the real reason Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin; he used to be at USC, so he was brought in to Knoxville for the purpose of beating the Bruins. You know, sort of like Mark Richt was brought in from Tallahassee because the Florida St. Seminoles knew how to beat the Gators. (Hey, if I hadn’t mentioned it, skigator93 or Year 2 would have!) This game has disaster written all over it for the Vols, who are coming off of a huge (albeit largely meaningless) win and looking ahead to the big one in the Swamp, so a UCLA team that gained great confidence from last year’s season-opening overtime victory over the Big Orange is apt to sneak into Neyland Stadium and creep out with a Bruins win. (Warning: I virtually never call SEC/Pac-10 matchups correctly.)
Hmm. I wish I could sound confident about Kyle's prediction. I have got to think he is yanking the chains of his SEC rival here a bit. lol Right now though I remain skeptical about Saturday. The intangibles in this game - revenge factor, hostile venue, freshman QB - are simply not in our favor. Moreover, we just don't have the track record in our recent history (since 2001 at least) of pulling out a big time win at a big time atmosphere. I am just not seeing it.
I am hoping and praying Prince and col will make me eat crow on Saturday night.