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Spaulding Roundup - "We've Closed the Gap."

Coach Rick Neuheisel opened this week's press conference with a plain v-neck sweater.  I am disappointed, fashion wise, but for crazy quote wise, just keep reading.

The most out there quote of the day?

When asked about the "gap" with USC:

We have closed the gap more with SC. We got a chance to win a championship this week. That's closing the gap. We haven't had that chance in the past. We'll see where the gap is after the ball game, but the gap is closed. We're much closer to them than when we first got there. The gap has closed - I'm not sure if it's all the way done.

Neuheisel stated that the goal was always to have the SC game to be meaningful, and in that regard, in his mind, the gap has closed with SC.

Except SC doesn't do silly things like lose to Arizona on national television and get into brawls that everyone talked about the day after.  Also, as their season has gone on, their team has shown improvement, and we're stuck in a win-lose pattern.  So no, the gap hasn't closed.  Sure, we expected this team to be in contention for the Pac-12 South, but not the way we've nearly backed our way into the title game.

Crazy quote two, when asked about USC:

They are a very talented football team. They have a very good coaching staff and it's no accident that they improved. Especially when you see younger players playing when they get over the course of a season they're going to be much better at the end of the season. 

Funny, that doesn't happen on this side of town.  What a novel concept - younger players improve over the course of a season if you play them.  Huh.  (Side note: Ben Howland, check that idea out!)

Are Nelson Rosario and the wide receivers going to have to challenge SC down the field?

Our offense is predicated on controlling the line of scrimmage and being able to run the football. When people stack up against it, we either have to get the quarterback involved in the running game or we have to get the ball downfield... last week was a prototype of what we'd like to do. We were efficient throwing the ball. Our yards per attempt were a big number. We were able to run the ball effectively. It wasn't perfect but if we can have our way that's what we'd like to do.

Was Neuheisel expecting SC to be down a little longer?

No, and I've been on record that I can't concern myself with what sanctions will mean to their program.  You have to expect SC will always be very talented. They've placed an incredible amount of importance on the football program. We just want to be good with them and make this game as it is this time for champion stakes. When I got here it's the first thing I said publicly, it's the first thing I said to Pete Carroll, I want to play for more than just city championships - he didn't think it was possible, but here we are.

What about our road game problems?

We are a work in progress.  We are working to develop out of that, we got to be come a more tough minded team. If one side of the ball is struggling, the other side doesn't fret and continues to play hard and well and waits to catch fire. Unfortunately on the road that has not always been the case and we got to fix that, as fast as this weekend.

Will this game be played differently if UCLA has already locked up the Pac-12 South (Utah and ASU play on Friday)?

Absolutely not. I'm not even sure if I'll know what the score of that game is. We are trying to win this conference and we are trying to do it through the front door. If we get an opoortunity, that's all we can ask for. I'm excited for this chance.

More after the jump about Kevin Prince, Derrick Coleman, and UCLA/SC Memories...

One reporter (I suspect Jill Painter) was absolutely obsessed with Kevin Prince mentioning that Prince said something along the lines that he was given "permission" to run:

I wanted Kevin to know from the coaches standpoint the reason we thought he'd be so good in this offense is his ability to run. He needed to be a runner. There were times in the AZ game he was looking to get out of bounds. It was understandable with his history with disappointment and injury . Thankfully he took that to heart and took the permission slip and used it, and away we go.

There were overtures about not taking unnecessary risks. If you're running, You want to go get the yards, but you can't be the scrambling quarterback looking to take the hook slide, not the team we want to be.

In regards to Derrick Coleman:

He's overcome his disability in such a way that nobody notices his disability. He comes and grabs you on his shoulder so he can look, and tell you what you said when you're 35 yards away because he can read your lips. He has worked so hard and he has such a great attitude about it in terms of not being insecure in any way about it, it's really how phenomnal how little it impacts anything. It doesn't downgrade the accomplishment he has set for himself, he really makes it seamless. He has been a phenomenal success story for us and I hope he goes out with a bang.  He has been a joy, he's not only an accomplished running back, but he's also on special teams. He's one of those guys you'll be really sorry to see go.

Does he read the other teams lips when he's 35 yards away?

I have not, but it's a hell of an idea.

Our strategy has been blown!

What is Neuheisel's favorite thing about being the UCLA football coach?

It's home. It's where I grew up. I never imagined anything else in terms of my dream job, of being in a position to help take UCLA to the place where I think it belongs. It's been there before and there's more to achieve, and hopefully I get the chance to do it.

It's a beautiful, romanticized version of returning home after a long journey around the college and pro football coaching ranks... except he might not get that chance.

When asked if he ever thinks he shouldn't have said anything along those lines...

Oh no. I plan to be here the next 20 years and I hope to heck I get that opportunity. I am very aware these jobs are fluid and there are a lot of factors that those that make those decisions choose. I haven't let it be a distraction, I just do my best, I believe we are on a great path and I think great things are in store, not just this year but years to come and I hope to keep that momentum going.

Neuheisel probably doesn't read BN.

Does this game still push that button for Neuheisel?

This is the game. This is it. When you grow up a UCLA Bruin, you can't wait to play the USC Trojans. It's electric. There's nothing like being on that field, lining up against those guys when we're in ours. It's an exciting time, especially when we're playing for stakes, rather than just bragging rights in offices across the town.

Hopefully those uniforms are traditional Bruin Blue.  True Blue.  BLUE.

What's the sentiment as you see USC on the schedule?

This is what you come for. This is a huge opportunity for everybody involved for everyone to take that field - it's an honor. You've got to make the most of it, everyone's got to give their level best in regards to preparation, coming up with strategy, and executing the strategy. You have to picture the scene enough so you don't lose focus in the moment. Often young players get caught up in all the pomp and circumstance rather than the X's and O's. There will be plenty of emtion and it's exciting for everybody involved.

Mine is... BEAT SC OR ELSE.  We've beaten USC ONCE the entire time during my UCLA fandom.  ONCE.

What's the one SC/UCLA memory that pops into your mind?

My senior year. We were down 10-6 at halftime, found out that WSU had beaten Washington, knew if we came back and won we're going to the Rose bowl. Came back out there, scored 3 touchdowns, beat them 27-17. Going through that fourth quarter, knowing we had to bleed clock, churning out first downs, going out against great players, and beating them at the Coliseum for our return trip the Rose Bowl was something special. They're long lasting memories, you'd be foolish if you didn't spend your week wisely in preparation to make those memories.

That's better than my memory of the Coliseum.