We can delve into all the details around Bruins' upcoming matchup against the Beavers but none of it is going to matter of Chuck Bullough's unit doesn't figure out how to tackle. We can talk about Bullough's vanilla schemes, implore him to mix it up and get aggressive, but none of that is to work, if Bullough's unit is not coached up in fundamentals of basic tackling.
Tackling should be UCLA's one of most important concern at this point of the year. If they don't get this right or revert to the form that made them look like above average unit against Houston and Texas, this season is going to be lost. Yet unfortunately due to injury issues, Bruins have not been spending time during practice partaking in live tackling drills. This was one of the main topics in Coach Rick Neuheisel's post practice interview session yesterday at Spaulding:
I am not sure where I fall on this issue. I think there are strong arguments on both side. I totally understand Neuheisel's decision to not deploy live tackling drills since we are basically down to a true freshman at MLB, a hobbled Akeem Ayers, thin secondary, and other injury issues all over the team (more on that later in the post). Yet, I also think there is an urgency about needing to get these issues resolved through practice. It's not comforting to me when I hear the coaches are just "talking" about the need to tackle and working on addressing it.
I am not sure how effective their "teaching" is going to be if they don't actually get to work through it during practices leading up to game days. Would be interested in hearing others thought on this specific topic because I am not sure if there is a clear black and white answer on the topic. More after the jump.
As CRN mentioned the performance was mixed as the offense was trying out "some wrinkles" and "things." Guess Wednesday is the day to experiment with new wrinkles at Spaulding. It will be interesting to see if we actually see new twists on game day. Jon Gold posted the following bits immediately after practice:
* Richard Brehaut looked better in the short game today than yesterday, but had some overthrow issues when they went deep. He had a couple very nice tosses to Josh Smith and Ricky Marvray, but missed Nelson Rosario deep, had a bad Rosario drop, and there were some route issues. On one long play, it looked like Brehaut wasn't even throwing to Smith, who ran a completely different route.
* Ricky Marvray had the play of the day with a beautiful one-handed grab - truly one-handed, just stuck it up there and snagged it - but also had a bad drop.
* The surprise of the day to me? Very late in practice, with the twos running against a hybrid of the first and second defense, Jerry Rice Jr. caught a pass and absolutely tore off down the field. I'm not saying to expect anything from him or that he should be in the rotation, but that was a heck of a play.
Here are Peter Yoon's notes essentially echoing the same points. Yoon also reported that Ayers has been hobbled by a "severe case of turf toe":
Ayers said he has been battling through a bruised shoulder and a severe case of turf toe and that the turf toe -- which causes acute pain and swelling in the joint of his big toe--has been harder to shake because of all the planting and change of direction required in football.
"The toe controls this whole body right here," he said. "This is my first time having it and I heard people talking about turf toe and I'm like ‘How are you going to let your toe hold you out? You should be able to continue what you're doing.' But it's a big thing. It feels like it just holds the whole body together."
The injuries both happened during the Texas game in Week 4, Ayers said. In the first four games of the season, he dominated with 29 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In the four games since, he's had 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one pass breakup.
It leads us to the same question we had around Kevin Prince. If Ayers wasn't 100 percent why did the coaches use him so heavily in our last two games? Why not give a young guy like Isaiah Bowens some shots? I don't buy the excuse about young guys having a tough time to catch up with Bullough's schemes (they don't seem to be too complicated because most of us can sniff it out just by watching it on TV). Anyway, Ayers is apparently now "close to 100%" and "expects to return to form" against Oregon State this weekend. Hope that is the case.
Gold takes a more extensive look at our injury issues this season:
The result: Out of 22 projected starters going into the season, just nine have started every game.
The result: UCLA is 3-5 and reeling after three straight losses.
"People out in the world don't understand how frustrating it is," UCLA junior safety Rahim Moore said. "You don't have your starting defensive end Datone Jones, who worked his butt off - me and him roomed up in the summer to get our bodies right, eat healthy, get ready for the season - and he goes down in the first week of practice. Sheldon Price goes down (for two games), and he had a great opening season. Prince, Maiava. All our guys.
"We need those guys."
"I don't think it's a depth thing," Moore said. "Look, guys need to grow up fast. Too many excuses about guys being young. I once played as a freshman, and I never used the excuse of me being young. I was accountable and being a grown man. These guys aren't freshmen anymore.
"You're a ballplayer. You're a Bruin. Go out there and do what you do best."
Speaking of no excuses, we haven't heard much of it from Richard Brehaut who is getting "comfortable" with every start:
Brehaut talked about how he is getting better at making the right reads but needs to focus on the execution part of it as evidence in his missing of Embree on a deep route and of Jerry Johnson on a slant route v. Arizona. Brehaut also needs to work on being more decisive in terms of keeping the ball and getting some yardage out of his mobility (he is mobile enough). From the LA Times:
In his two previous starts, he was handing off significantly more than keeping it. When Brehaut does carry the ball, it has usually come near the goal line. Four times he has hung onto the ball on plays inside the 10-yard line, two of which resulted in touchdowns.
"I think he just has to be a little bit more decisive and trust his instincts," Neuheisel said. "When you're trying to follow rules, like a guy learning a golf swing, you get a little mechanical. I think he just has to use his eyes and trust himself."
I think lot of that will happen organically once he gets more and more comfortable with added reps. Perhaps the most interesting nugget re. Brehaut is the following comment from Josh Smith in the OC Register:
"He has a great arm, it's really strong," Smith said of Brehaut. "I like that he trusts us to come down and make those plays for him. Even if there's pressure, he knows I'm going to be at a spot and he can zip it there. You can't coach that."
We saw that on Saturday. Can't wait to see how Brehaut builds on those moments against Oregon State.
The consensus among those around the Valley Football Center -- whether it's said on or off the record -- is that the offensive line is a bunch of nice guys. And that is precisely the problem.
"We've gotta have some tough guys, guys who are grinders," Cavanaugh said."I look at some of the guys we've had -- Gregg Peat, Adam Speer -- these guys could be as good as those guys, it's just how they approach the game. ... "We've got a lot of nice guys. I'd like to see the nastiness."
Center Alex Linnenkohl, a three-year starter, is convinced the nastiness is there. Somewhere.
Linnenkohl said the difference in finishing and not finishing blocks, and being nasty instead of nice takes just "a second and a half more of blocking."
Uh, I sure hope their character transformation doesn't materialize at the expense of Chuck Bullough's defense (although my stomach is already turning thinking about it). Hope whatever the coaches are "teaching" wrt to tackling produce results for the Bruins on Saturday.