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Spaulding Roundup: Injury Update, Tackling Debacle, Crunch Time For Chow & Other UCLA Notes

Let's start the week by checking in with the latest injury report because the Bruins got really banged up this past Saturday. The news out of Spaulding is not good. From the Daily News:

Sophomore wide receiver Jerry Johnson and sophomore F-back Damien Thigpen were hurt in Saturday's game. Thigpen suffered a broken clavicle, and Johnson broke his ankle. Thigpen already had surgery, and Johnson is waiting on a second opinion to determine if he needs surgery.

Junior middle linebacker Steve Sloan, who became starter because of the loss of sophomore Patrick Larimore (shoulder) last week, strained a hamstring and is questionable for this week's matchup with Oregon State.

That leaves UCLA with only freshman Jordan Zumwalt in the middle, with scout team linebackers Isaiah Bowens and Mike Schmitt backing him up.

The news re. Jerry Johnson is a bummer. I thought Johnson was really coming along in recent weeks. He was showing lot more aggressiveness and heart we have seen from Nelson Rosario the entire year. Hopefully he has a full recovery this off-season and can better guidance from a new position coach heading into next season.

Sloan never really looked healthy when he was in. It will be interesting to see what Isiah Bowens can do. He always had the speed and size to play LB. Hopefully Clark Lea can bring him along this week. Either way given the guy in charge of our defense is so lost (or will be lost till he makes his "adjustments" in the second half), not sure how much hope I can have around our defense right now.

I am guessing there is a chance that we will see Rosario back this week. Although, I am not anxious to see him at the top of the depth chart right now. I rather see UCLA coaches working harder to get Randall Carroll and Josh Smith more integrated in our offensive schemes, and figure out ways to keep them on the field at the same time. The combination of Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario - two tall, slow, possession type of receivers - inspires zero confidence.

Moving back over to the defensive side, things have gotten so bad that Rick Neuheisel couldn't help mentioning that his players are simply not getting the job done when it comes to tackling. From the OC Register:

With the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter and Arizona facing a third-and-4 from the UCLA 37, Bruins linebacker Sean Westgate appeared to have Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott wrapped up for a 6- or 7-yard loss.

"They have to punt or attempt a long field," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said.

Instead, Scott broke free and picked up 3 yards. Arizona secured a first down on the next play to keep alive a drive that resulted in a touchdown.

In the third quarter UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers had Scott stopped for a loss on second-and-12. But again Scott broke away, this time throwing a 23-yard completion to the UCLA 23.

Seven plays later, Arizona went up 26-14.

Note Neuheisel didn't mention Sean Westgate and Akeem Ayers by name during his conversation with the reporters (Scott Reid from the OC Register brought them up). UCLA's entire defense was a joke in terms of tackling. We haven't see tackling this bad since the days of Larry Kerr and Bob Toledo's yearly defensive coordinators following Rock Long. Except for some decent plays from Jordan Zumwalt and Courtney Viney, the defense was an abomination throughout the day.

I realize folks are not feeling comfortable by pointing our Rahim Moore's mediocre performance (while Akeem Ayers seemed to quit on Saturday). However, I am not going to take anything back what I wrote on Saturday. Moore after getting incredible hype leading into this season has regressed as a junior. He has looked lost and confused on coverage and his tackling is not up to par for an "elite" "All American" safety. Both Moore and Ayers need to be reflective of their performances because they are the "team captains," who rest of the guys are supposed to follow. Right now while they might have shown good leadership off the field, on the field our guys look lost, confused and without any leadership.

Bruins are so banged up that they are not going to be able to work on their tackling at practice:

The Bruins tackled poorly against the Wildcats, as they did in the season opener against Kansas State. Neuheisel pointed to the expanded role of the young players as the cause of the defensive regression.

Improving tackling, he said, would be a challenge, as the Bruins are limited in practice unless they risk more injuries. But, Neuheisel said, "It's a major part of the game. We have to make a big deal about it this week."

I hope Neuheisel also makes a big deal out reviewing his team's play calling. From Blair Angulo's (a Bruin alum) report card on ESPNLA (emphasis added):

Another week, another batch of questionable play calls. Down five with nearly 10 minutes remaining, the Bruins had the ball at Arizona's 35. But the boo birds came down hard when a nine-yard loss and a pair of conservative calls forced a UCLA punt.

They are only going to get louder if the Bruins stay in their conservative shell for rest of the season.

The Bruins had four deep throws on Saturday. Two of them went for TDs. They might have had another TD if Brehaut had not missed Embree and on another occasion Brehaut essentially made a rookie mistake by a new starter. They need to make those kinds of plays a regular part of their package. Of course we are not asking to go deep on every down. It is a matter of balance and when those plays are called.

As for using our OL as an excuse, those guys despite their injuries had a solid game on Saturday (one of the few bright spots against Arizona). The OL didn't give up a sack until late in the fourth quarter. They were giving our offense more than enough time to get it going.  I think Bob Palcic is the only member of this offensive coaching staff who has done more with less. Wayne Moses has been adequate but he has had solid talent to worth with in Jet Ski, Derrick Coleman, Malcolm Jones and Jordon James.

As for rest of the staff the performance has been disappointing. It is clear that Anthony Barr has the talent to make things happen. Yet he is not being incorporated at the F-Back spot as effectively as he could be in relation to his potential. The production from TEs have been disappointing (and it is unclear who is exactly coaching them). Our WRs as chronicled through the entire season have been a disaster until the flickers of hope we saw this past weekend.

Norm Chow and the offense has an incredible opportunity to take a step forward this upcoming weekend. Oregon State is coming in with one of the worst defenses in the conference. The Beavers come in with the 7th ranked rushing defense (156.0/yards per game), 9th ranked passing defense (267.0), and 6th ranked overall defense (423 yards per game tied with Chuck Bullough's pathetic unit). It will be up to Norm Chow (who is in total control of coordinating this offense) to get the job done so that the Bruins can outscore the Beavers and at least make an attempt to turn around the season.

Chuck Bullough is a lost cause (Rick Neuheisel will not have any credibility if Bullough is retained at the end of the season). Our focus right now is on the other side. Next 4 winnable games - starting with Oregon State - should give us some answers with regards to whether Neuheisel should keep Chow as his OC beyond 2010.