Let's start our Thursday by checking in with practice reports from yesterday. Apparently the vibe this week has been a little different. From Jon Gold:
* One of UCLA's best practices in a long time ended with head coach Rick Neuheisel shouting, "Hell of a football practice out there boys!" About 100 percent reversal from the Wednesday practice before Stanford.
That's good news but I am sure all of us here (including yours truly) will have the cynical antennas up. We will have to see how the guys and the coaches respond on Saturday. Nevertheless, here are Coach Rick Neuheisel's comments yesterday:
As you can see Neuheisel once again mentioned how he was "pleased" with practice. Neuheisel mentioned his guys were "running around" and "excited" about Texas and that he was "excited" about his team was "preparing." Peter Yoon from ESPNLA provided the following bullets from Wednesday:
-- Running back Derrick Coleman completed his concussion protocol and was in full-contact mode. He took regular snaps with the first- and second-team offenses. He missed last week because of a concussion and strained neck suffered against Stanford and was limited to non-contact Tuesday. Neuheisel wouldn't name a starter at tailback, saying only that Coleman would be "in the mix" with Johnathan Franklin, who had 158 yards rushing last week against Houston. Freshman Malcolm Jones will also get carries, Neuheisel said.
-- Receiver Taylor Embree was again limited by a strained hip flexor, but Neuheisel said he expected Embree to start against Texas.
-- Offensive lineman Micha Kia returned to action, working with the first and second team. Kia sprained his ankle last week in practice and did not play against Houston, though Neuheisel said he could have gone in if needed. Neuheisel said it would be a game time decision if Kia or Mike Harris starts.
I am sure coach Bob Palcic appreciates having both Harris and Kia available for his rotation. Kia has had a good start to his senior season, while with Harris our OL probably had the best game of this season to date on Saturday. We will need contributions from both of them if we are to have any kind of prayer on Saturday. More after the jump.
"I feel like we're really jelling as a unit right now all we have to do is keep executing, keep on making sure the little things don't bite us in the butt later," Taylor said. "I feel like if we can do that we can be a pretty good little outfit."
Now he is finally headed to Austin.
"I think it's going to be a very exciting time for these guys to go out there and really get a taste of what the state of Texas is about, really how it is down there," Taylor said of his teammates.
Ryan Taylor has been the focus of lot of local coverage in LA because as of right now in terms of players, he is the only connection we have to Texas. Don't forget WR coach Reggie Moore is also from Texas (Houston). Perhaps his group will give an inspired effort after not really living up to their potential in their first three games.
BTW speaking of the receivers, you all should really listen to last night's podcast. Ryan brought up an excellent point that we haven't written a lot about yet early in the season. It's interesting that despite having so much speed and athleticism through guys like Josh Smith, Randall Carroll, Ricky Marvray, and Damien Thigpen, we have not seen any kind of bubble screen passes for our WRs. You'd think calls like that would really jump start our passing game, but it would also help the confidence of Kevin Price. I guess lot of it has to do with how much confidence Norm Chow has in our receivers (who have been less than spectacular from the very first play this season). Let's hope the trend changes on Saturday.
Despite the presence of former All-Big 12 honorable mention kick returner Josh Smith, UCLA will continue to go with junior Taylor Embree as punt returner for the foreseeable future.
Embree is the more sure-handed of the two and is a capable runner. He had a 31-yard punt return against Houston and is averaging 10.3 yards per punt return, fifth in the Pac-10.
"We had a couple of different plans against Houston with their punt formation, that wide punt formation," Neuheisel said. "We were going to come after them a little bit.
"It's not that we've lost confidence in Josh, it's just that Taylor does a good job back there. Taylor is the better receiver of punts, but certainly Josh gives us some explosiveness with his legs."
As badly as I want Smith (or even Carroll/Thigpen) to get his shot at punt return, I appreciate where Neuehisel and the coaches are coming from on this point. Plus Smith has been banged up a lot since spring. Still I think ultimately it will be up to our special teams coach to teach and develop kids like Smith and Carroll to harness their speed and athleticism and turn them into dependable returners. This is another area we'd like to see improvement through rest of the season.
Moving over to the defense, Chris Foster writes about Chuck Bullough going with his base defense against the Longhorns:
The Bruins played a boutique defense against pass-happy Houston with five defensive backs on the field nearly every play. UCLA probably will play more of a base defense against the balanced Longhorns, who have an offensive line that averages 308 pounds.
"Playing both end and linebacker puts me in a position where I can make plays all over the field," Ayers said.
With Ayers at defensive end, freshman Jordan Zumwalt saw time at strong-side linebacker.
"We're just trying to find mismatches," Bullough said. "Whatever we find, we're going to exploit."
Well, we will certainly be tracking how Bullough handles the Longhorns defense on Saturday. Peter Bean from Burnt Orange Nation actually had some interesting thoughts on the podcast last night about Garrett Gilbert and the Texas offense struggling this season with conservative defenses. He mentioned how Texas Tech and Colorado got pressure on the Longhorns just by rushing 4.
I think Bruins will have to attack the Texas defense (agreeing with both Ryan and 03rdn9) by mixing it up and having it both ways. If the Bruins stick with the same look from their base defense without lot of changeups and blitzes to attack a young QB, then we are going to have issues. Anyway, I can't emphasize enough. If you really want to become informed about our schemes and matchup, you really really should listen to the podcast. It's much better than any cr*p you get to see on College Gameday.
Lastly, we have some special messages from Austin (via Burnt Orange Nation):
Is there any one here that can put together a response to that? :-) I know we got teachers here on BN. Who can put together a response before the team takes the field on Saturday?