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Sunday Thoughts: Bullough/Palcic's Moments, Chow/Neuheisel's Adaptation & Other Macro/Micro UCLA Notes

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Let's this post with a bit of a sober note. If you have visions of 10/9/8 win regular season dancing through your heads STOP. Stop right now and exit BN. We don't want to see the kind of knee jerk nonsense we saw flooding various UCLA online communities (including the comment threads of BN) right after the loss against Stanford after experiencing the opposite end of the spectrum yesterday afternoon in Texas.

This is why I have to kind of roll my eyes at all the articles and posts about Rick Neuheisel getting a "signature win" in Austin. I think it would be smart for all UCLA alums, students and season ticket holders to make sure we do our best to maintain our perspective, stay even keeled as we ride through rest of the season hoping Rick Neuheisel will methodically build on the significant improvement from last season (which looks even more tangible give how impressive Temple has looked in the early going this season).

I think I will start with expanding on the points made last night concerning Rick Neuheisel's words as the head coach of UCLA. I have no idea whether yesterday's victory is going to stand out as a "signature win" (even though it was UCLA's first road victory over a top-10 team since the 1998 season when Cade and co beat Arizona in Tucson). However, what we can certainly discern is the unquestioned leadership of CRN:

First of all, you must credit Rick Neuheisel, no matter how much that pains his myriad critics. He could have lost his team, but instead he refocused the Bruins. The only explanation for that is leadership. The Bruins were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10, but demonstrating clear physical superiority on the road against Texas -- it wasn't the turnovers that did in the Longhorns; it was the Bruins -- suggests that any conference team that takes them lightly might be in trouble.

So naturally it was CRN, who was quick to put cold water on anyone getting deluded with unrealistic expectations for rest of this season:

Could this year's UCLA-Texas game eventually propel the Bruins into the national scene? And what about Neuheisel? Could this be the springboard he needs to finally make good on his 2008 hiring promise that the football monopoly in Los Angeles is over?

"Time will tell," Neuheisel said. "I've been here before. You don't have to look very far into my resume to know that I'm the ugly duckling. But you keep believing good things will happen and if you work hard enough, they do."

That was Peter Yoon from ESPNLA talking about "signature win" although he slipped in misinformation and myth about CRN concocting that infamous "monopoly ad" in his first season as the UCLA head coach.

I still have no freaking clue where the Bruins will end up. In my ballot that I just submitted for our Pac-10 power poll, I voted UCLA as the 7th best conference team at this snap shot of time because I am still not sure whether we have what it takes to put together a consistent effort as an inexperienced team, and win tough games in Berkeley, Eugene, Seattle and Temple. I hope our players continue to play with that chip on their shoulders and prove skeptics like yours truly wrong. More on those guys and their coaches after the jump.

Chuck Bullough's Defense

Speaking of proving skeptics wrong that is what defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough has done for two straight weeks. His defense is now somewhat on fire. They got started early when sophomore FS Dalton Hilliard laid down a crushing hit early in the first quarter. It wasn't just Dalton laying the wood all over the field. Tony Dye continued his All Pac-10 level play yesterday by destroying Texas Longhorns at DKR.

Then we had Sheldon Price, who has clearly taken multiple steps forward in his sophomore season. Price perhaps had one of the best days a Bruin CB has had in recent years in terms of shutting down his guy and just absolutely locking down his ma with one fierce tackle after another. He had at least couple of huge stops on 3rd and short situations. The development this young man has gone through in last two years is nothing short of remarkable and a testament to our S&C coaches, our DB coach and Bullough.

IMO the play of Bruin defensive backs last two weeks has been a big factor in allowing Bullough to get aggressive with his blitzing schemes. And boy he is getting liberal in bringing the heat. He unleashed younguns like Cassiush Marsh and Keenan Graham on the Texas OL, making them look totally hapless. Speaking of hapless, I think it's the ultimate statement of respect when the Longhorns ended up having to double team Akeem Ayers. Think about that for a minute. A LB was getting double teamed by an offense with a compilation of some of the best talents in America.

As for Akeem, my suggestion for everyone right now is just to sit back and enjoy him for next 8-9 game. He is gone. I just don't see how UCLA coaches can put together a good argument for him to stay if he keeps playing at the level he is operating at right now. At this point Akeem is probably a top-15/20 pick and positioned to be (fingers crossed) next impact player  at the NFL representing UCLA.  So let's enjoy him like we did Brian Price last season. UCLA will never replace someone like Ayers, but as a team we are only going to get better as players get even more accustomed to this scheme and talent level keeps going up in Westwood.

Palcic's Savage Line

What else there is to say at this point. While Chuck Bullough gets the game ball on defense, Bob Palcic gets it on offense now proving why he is one of the best in the entire game. Let's think about this for a minute. UCLA rushed for 193 yards on 32 carries in the second half vs. Texas, gaining over six yards per attempt. That is not just getting it done. That is utter domination of one of the best rushing defenses from last two years. And Palcic is doing it with a group of guys - "the Filthy Five" - who as has been widely discussed in recent months have gone through a lot of adversity as a unit.

If you watch our line, it is mindboggling to see how kids like Sean Sheller and Darius Savage are pushing around the Dline in the trenches. Just think about where those guys were in recent years demoralized and recovering from injuries. It is also clear the zone blocking scheme in the revolver formation has really enabled these guys to gel together as a unit and optimize their ability as a group. I never thought I see the day a UCLA offense would ram it down a Texas defense by running the ball 22 straight times. That is simply surreal. That brings me to the next point.

The Adaption of Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel

Coaches tend to be stubborn guys. It specially happens for guys like Chow and Neuheisel who have been so successful in developing quarterbacks and explosive offenses during their previous experiences at all levels of football. However, like any other profession, in football the coaches who tend to get an advantage of their peers, are the ones who are always look to adapt and find ways to innovate around the base templates of their philosophies.  This is why it is nothing short of fascinating to see how Neuheisel and Chow have gone about in adopting the revolver formation based on Chris Ault's pistol offense in Nevada.

It's usually the CEOs who are always looking ways to innovate and making sure they are adapting to the changing times, maintain their products' brand and then build on it. What is happening in Westwood with Chow and Neuheisel is a little bit of that. We talked about UCLA needing to develop an "identity" following the Stanford game debacle and it appears that is what these two have done.

We now have had two games in a row against top-25 teams (BTW absolutely annoying when our fans yell "over-rated" at vanquished opponents ... just save that for the Trogans please) where our offense rushed the ball more than 50 times. Yesterday we had more points (34) than passing yards (27). That is absolutely mindboggling involving two of the premier coaches who had championed the WCO/pro-set offense at the college level. Yet here we are looking at a Bruin football team, which is basically operating a power running offense. From Bruce Feldman on ESPN:

The really shocking part: the Bruins got this win by throwing for only 26 yards and 12 in the game's first three quarters. During one stretch of the game, the Bruins had 22 consecutive running plays. Twenty-two in a row?!? This is, after all, the offense piloted by the game's grand QB guru Norm Chow, the same guy who has produced six first-round QBs and three Heisman winners. It is truly stunning in this business of system guys to grasp the transformation that has taken place with Chow's offense this year. This is like Joe Paterno showing up on game day wearing gators or Jim Tressel wearing his sweater vest on the sidelines -- without a shirt underneath.

I am kind of liking it the same way when Ben Howland brought in his defense-first mindset in Westwood. Now, I don't think the coaches are giving up on the passing game. Not at all. Before the Texas game, I thought if we were to have a prayer Prince needed to pass for more than 200 yards. Well it turns out that UCLA coaches were not focusing on numbers but more on efficiency. Prince did complete 5 of his 8 attempts. What was interesting that few of his attempts came in fourth quarter when the defense loosened up and he  was able to get easy completions to Nelson Rosario for crucial clock eating third down conversions. I think as defense keys more on our running game and the DBs get preoccupied with our backs, it will open up more opportunities for Prince and allow us to have an efficient passing attack. In other words, Cho w and Neuheisel might be looking at building out our passing game by leveraging the strength of our running attack.

The Three Monsters?

Too early for any kind of title. However, it was beautiful to see both JetSki and Derrick Coleman respond to their own set of adversities. JetSki responded to that early fumble with a brilliant afternoon. While Coleman basically shut up all his critics by proving why the coaches have so much confidence in him and that he is more than just a blocking back. What I also really liked about Coleman yesterday was that he was running with a little violence and he was also constantly driving his legs to keep the pile moving and fall forward. That is not something we had seen from Coleman in his first couple of years in Westwood. Malcolm Jones' appearance was brief but it was productive during second half. Can't wait to see how they perform next weekend at the Rose Bowl.

Special teams

The special teams had a huge day. Josh Smith made his impact felt in his huge kickoff return in the second half. I thought Taylor Embree was solid in punt return, securing the ball, and also making good decisions in knowing when to get out of the way when ball was heading into the end zone. 

What else can you say about our kicking game? Okay so Kai was slightly human but he connected on other big ones. Jeff Locke was booming them all afternoon including the game setter that pinned the Longhorns deep, allowing Sean Westgate to deliver that bone jarring hit. Beautiful stuff.

Other notes

  • It's been fanshotted already. Prince "pulling rank" on our trainers was his Cade puking moment. It's cool that it already came in his second season as our starting QB.
  • Still ROFL at all the concern trolling about Prince not being mobile and not being able to run this revolver formation
  • Cory Harkey is a damn good blocker but man I wish he catch the easy ones on those third down conversions. Comeon Cory!!!
  • If you haven't done it yet, familiarize with the "legend of Rabbit's foot"!

Lastly, just want to end with a note on our students and younger alums. Wrote on Friday on the eve of the game, how I thought it'd be incredible for students and our newer alums who have experienced nothing short of a dark decade (with just some sputtering moments of Bruin greatness). It felt really good to see these images from Westwood. I really really hope what we experienced collectively as a community here on BN, out in Texas, all over the country, and in Westwood, is continuation of the steady improvement we have seen since CRN came to Westwood.

I don't think it will be a surprise if we have to endure more difficult moments in the coming year given how many challenging road trips are left on our docket. What I hope is our coaches and players continue to bust their rear ends in practices, get all the support they can from the Bruin Nation, and make us proud us both on and off the field. We are going to get there ... eventually. It's still a journey. Hope we all stick together through this.