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Spaulding Roundup: UCLA's 2011 Spring Game

<i>Photo Credit: </i><a href="" target="_blank"><i>Scott Wu</i></a>
Photo Credit: Scott Wu

After four weeks of ups and downs on Spaulding Field, the Bruins finished their spring practices with the Spring Game last night at Drake Stadium. After a period when observers had seen promise from the squad, and the new coordinators were focusing on changing the mindset of the team, the team came out and performed in a manner leading Coach Neuheisel to make another of his now-familiar postgame addresses to the estimated 6,400 fans that came out last night. Complete offensive stats available via Gold's blog @ the Daily News.

One encouraging sign from the offense, as described by ESPNLA's Peter Yoon, was their aggressiveness, both in the variety of sets and formations as well as in taking shots downfield. Unfortunately, while that effort and playcalling is there, the execution has not quite caught up. To be fair, the absence of a majority of the projected starters on the O-line have had a significant effect on the course of practice throughout the practice period. Coach Neuheisel's postgame speech touched upon this:

"I know it looked a little rough with that offensive line," Neuheisel said, adding the Bruins were without four linemen, three of whom are projected starters.

With that said, Coach Johnson was not willing to lay all the responsibility at the hobbled line's feet:

...Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said he was surprised by how inefficient the offense was, noting that its issues went beyond the line play.

"I don't think we were sharp as a group," Johnson said. "I don't think we threw the ball well. I don't think we caught the ball well. We have to work hard in the offseason to develop the timing in our passing game. I think that's the one area we have to improve in."

Jon Gold added this quote from Johnson in his postgame report, responding to a question asking whether he was pleased with the offense last night:

"No, not at all," a stern Johnson said after the scrimmage, which took place at UCLA's Drake Stadium with the Rose Bowl under renovation. "I don't think we carried what we had been doing in practice to the game-like situation. ... I don't think we played on offense with the sense of urgency and the tempo with which we've been practicing. That's part of the process we have to go through. We have to make sure we carry what we do from the practice field to the game."

While the offense had its issues, there were some good moments from that side of the ball. The Quarterbacks, Brehaut and Hundley did get a few good throws, which should bode well for the summer and fall, when we can hope for a healthy line to protect them. The game displayed the trend throughout the spring toward the offense balancing out after a 2010 season heavily tilted toward the run, while still preserving a strong running game. Several of the running backs saw playing time, including Anthony Barr - after being given time at the position earlier in the spring. Here is Gold's graf on the running game last night (emphisis mine):

The running game was a little off-and-on, but Johnathan Franklin looked great. Franklin had four carries for 50 yards, including a 39-yard jolt that included two perfect cuts and a lot of speed. Jordan James added seven carries for 45 yards and Malcolm Jones had three carries for 25 yards, including a plowing 18-yard run. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the amount of action that Anthony Barr saw, getting six carries for 22 yards. He was in the game an extensive amount, and it's pretty clear to see that he's someone that they want to see succeed.

The coaches have been unwavering in retaining Johnathan Franklin as the starting running back entering the season - his performance during the spring has done nothing to question this - but Barr is the kind of athlete that has to see the field in some manner, and it will be interesting to see how Johnson is able to utilize his talent in the coming months.

With all of the talk about the offense, the defense hasn't gotten much love. Like last Tuesday's post-practice scrimmage, the defense led the way in this one. Gold saw the defense playing well overall, but with a couple of things to work on (such as the LB's in pass coverage, and Riley missing a few tackles - while making some nice hits). After the scrimmage, Sean Westgate described the change in philosophy that Coach Tresey brought to the defense:

"With the new defense Coach Tresey is having us run, we get to play fast," Westgate said. "If you're going to make a mistake, do it fast. It really allows our playmakers to do what they do and make plays."

Whether it is a result of the injuries plaguing the O-line, youth or simply an unbalanced talent level between the units, the defensive reserves are dominating the second and third team offenses. Gold, after discussing the O-line issues, continued to write:

... and the fact remains that UCLA's second- and third-team defense is far ahead of their offensive counterparts. With emerging players in backup linebacker Eric Kendricks - who had three tackles and two pass breakups - defensive back Tevin McDonald and a loaded defensive line that goes three deep, the Bruins defense toyed with a much more raw offense. "I felt like our defense really played well," senior linebacker Sean Westgate said. "Our ones did really well - minus a few run plays that gashed us - and our twos and threes played phenomenally."

To end this on a positive note, I'll close with Jon Gold's takeaway from the scrimmage. The Bruins are now done with Spring practice; organized practices will resume in August. GO BRUINS!

The biggest thing I got out of today: Once this offense gets any sense of itself - and that includes tempo and rhythm and swagger and fun - things could change for UCLA. The running game is twice as good as it was in 2009, when the team went 7-6, and if the passing game looks even a modicum better than it did today, and today is much better than the end of last year, then things are on track.