Picking up from freesia's hoop's roundup, it's the busiest time of the year. This time of the year is incredibly fun when football team is clicking on all cylinders, which hasn't happened since ... well you know the story. Let's check in with the football happenings from Westwood yesterday.
The big story yesterday was Richard Brehaut's official return to Spaulding. Brehaut returned to practice a month after getting fracturing is lower left leg against Wazzu:
Brehaut was originally listed as being out 3-to-6 weeks after he was hurt on a quarterback keeper with just less than 10 minutes left in the first half against the Cougars, just three weeks after he assumed the starting quarterback position from junior Kevin Prince after Prince's shaky performance in a Week 3 loss to Texas.
"To be in drills, throwing some individual some routes, it felt good to be out there again," Brehaut said. "Definitely had some rust throwing routes. Just my timing - haven't done any of that in a month. But it's nice to be out here again, to put these pads on."
Brehaut, who estimated he was at about 80 percent of full health on Tuesday, has completed 66-of-119 passes for 935 yards and six touchdowns with zero interceptions in six games with four starts. Prince has performed admirably for much of Brehaut's absence, particularly in the last two games, both UCLA wins. Prince has rushed for a team-high 224 yards in wins over Cal and then-No. 19 Arizona State, while completing 20-of-35 passes for 288 yards and a score.
As Rick Neuheisel mentioned in his post practice presser, Brehaut is still "sore" and "rusty," which is to be expected after coming back from an injury like this. I don't think anyone here should get their hopes up that we are going to see Brehaut in a live game action any time soon. What is good though is to see him back and getting eased back into practice drills. Hopefully Brehaut will continue to get healthier and get us to a point, we don't have to worry about using up Brett Hundley's redshirt season. More after the jump.
Brehaut was not the only one retuning to practice:
- Safety Tony Dye, out since Week 3 because of a lingering neck issue, was practicing with the scout team, though he was wearing a red no-contact jersey. Dye, the team's leading tackler last season, is probably out for the season, but was testing it out just to be sure, Neuheisel said. "He wanted to play scout team today to see what he felt like, so I'm going to ask him. I don't know exactly what his situation is. He is pain free, but he has also been told that he needs to be pain free for awhile. So, I'm going leave that to the experts. It's just fun to see him nursing back to help."
- Defensive lineman Cassius Marsh, suspended for the last two games because of his role in a bench-clearing brawl Oct. 20 at Arizona, was back with the regulars in practice and is expected to play this weekend. He's listed at No. 2 on the depth chart at defensive tackle. "I'm just happy to be back and be off of suspension," Marsh said. "It hurt sitting out. It definitely develops a real appreciation for the actual game and makes you think not to take that for granted."
Those notes are from ESPNLA's Peter Yoon, who also mentioned that Dietrich Riley was not at practice yesterday, as he is going through more precautionary checkup measures from the medical staff (Neuheisel also talked about that in his presser). I like that Riley is not being rushed into action and our staff is using as much time and precaution needed before letting him back in practice.
Yoon also has an interesting post up about the Bruins' running attack. Yoon's observation is a simple but poignant up. Bruins win when they rack up over 200+ yards on the ground:
Ever since the Bruins switch to the Pistol-based offense before last season, running for 200 yards or more has pretty much dictated whether or not UCLA wins or loses. They are 8-1 when they rush for 200 yards or more over the last two seasons, losing only this year's opener at Houston.
They are 1-11 in games in which they haven't reached 200 yards rushing, with the only victory coming this year when they had 170 yards rushing against Washington State.
As noted by Yoon, the offense has been working well in last two games because of the combination of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, and the running ability of Kevin Prince. Prince is finally flashing some of the mobility he had shown earlier in his career, notably during the win against Texas in Austin, and also against Washington State in Pullman, about two years ago. The question here though is whether UCLA should be waiting till second quarter to plug in Coleman in the offense. I think it makes sense to go with Coleman early, particularly when we get near the red zone.
Also, this year our offense has been a little more effective at times because of some viable options developing at the receiving end:
This year's version, however, has another dimension to it: The downfield pass. Last year, after defensive coordinators got a hold of a few game tapes, they were able to shut down UCLA's offense because the Bruins had no threat in the passing game.
But this year, receiver Nelson Rosario has hauled in several long catches and with weapons such as Josh Smith and Shaquelle Evans blossoming into legitimate threats, defenses no longer can afford to focus on UCLA's run game because the Bruins make them pay if they do.
With 1,766 yards passing this season, the Bruins have already surpassed last year's season total of 1,693. And while the 196.2 per-game average isn't all that great, it's an increase of more than 55 yards per game over last season's 141.1. More importantly, however, UCLA is averaging 8.3 yards per attempt which is tied for No. 19 in the nation.
Now the problem here as we have pointed out throughout the season is that our players have not been executing at a high level. It took 9 games in his senior season for Rosario to FINALLY put together a complete game. Arguably Shaquille Evans and Josh Smith (when they were available) were not fully utilized. There is also the issue of Joe Fauria's talent being not optimized in this offense. So, it's nice that our offense has taken.
We will see what transpires in SLC this Saturday. Utah Utes has one of the toughest rushing defense - numbers wise - in the country (not just in our conference). The Utes rushing defense is ranked 10th in the nation (2nd in the conference), giving up about 95 yards per game on the ground.
The interesting thing here is that it doesn't appear that the Utes have taken on team, which uses pistol/zone-read as its primary set. I think it will be key for the Bruins to loosen up the Utes secondary early, using Fauria and Evans (as the Utes will most likely key on Rosario), and then use the pass to set up our runs. Not sure how effective it's going to be if we just come out with predictable run heavy offense early on. We will see I guess.