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Neuheisel's To Do List: Pre- Pac-12 Conference Play Check-In

So far, it hasn't been pretty for UCLA in Rick Neuheisel's fourth (and maybe final) year in charge in Westwood.
So far, it hasn't been pretty for UCLA in Rick Neuheisel's fourth (and maybe final) year in charge in Westwood.

At the conclusion to last year's debacle against Lame Kiffin and the Southern Cal Cheaters, BlueReign wrote up an absolute "To Do List" for Neuheisel for the following season. In short, his list was an awesome guide to assess whether or not Rick Neuheisel was taking our program in the right direction. There are five major areas Rick must succeed at or show significant improvement from the last three seasons to get a passing grade for this season.  As BlueReign broke those down, they are:

  1. UCLA football's identity
  2. An improved offense with fresh blood at offensive coordinator
  3. A staff of coaches that can get the job done, recruit well, and inspire confidence in the fan base
  4. The development and progression of the talent on the roster rather than the stagnation we've seen (such as in the WR corps), and;
  5. Stability and intelligent play at the QB position

I think everyone can agree that last year was a major disappointment.  So far, this season has pretty much been more of the same. Now, in terms of how this differs from the "Eye Test" the Neuheisel "To-Do List" is a measure of the entire season and program, whereas the "Eye Test" assesses the Bruins' performance in each individual game.  They go hand-in-hand.  If you're failing the "Eye Test" then you won't be doing so well here either.

Now in terms of why the "To-Do List" is vitally important, as BlueReign put it at the end of last season:

[Neuheisel] has [one] more year to fix things.  We’ve all been pointing to 2011 as the year we break through.  I don’t want to hear anymore excuses or rah-rah stuff.  Get it done.  If [Neuheisel] doesn’t deliver, it’s time for a new [head coach].

In other words, it's Rick's make-or-break season.  Time to put up or shut up. 

In our original check-up on Rick's progress on the "To-Do List" during the off-season, we saw some pretty low marks, which didn't bode well necessarily for Rick.  Now, it's time to check-in on his progress on this list since the out-of-conference games are done, Pac-12 play commences this weekend against Oregon State, and we're exactly one-quarter of the way through the season.

Let's break each criteria down after the jump.

1. UCLA's Football Identity - Grade: D-

Three games into the season and I'm still not sure what UCLA football's identity is. Actually, scratch that: it's a program marked by a conservative, playing-not-to-lose, seniority trumps skill mindset.  It's part of a diseased culture of mediocrity.  Our offense has improved somewhat, but we're still lacking an offensive identity, in large part because we don't have an established starting QB who can get into a week-to-week rhythm.  Mike Johnson is desperately trying to make his mark, but Rick's back-and-forth game on who he'll start at QB is hampering him. On defense, it's more of the same from last year: give opposing WRs a 7 yard cushion, sit back on obvious passing downs rather than pressure the QB, and the complete inability to tackle. In other words, nothing really has changed from last season.  The passing game has improved, so that's the only reason Rick doesn't get an F here. (Prior Grade: Incomplete)

2. Improved Offense with Fresh Ideas - Grade: Incomplete

Allegedly, Rick realized that the F-back was extremely neglected last season and brought in Jim Mastro from Nevada to specifically coach that position, which was supposed to translate into getting exciting play-maker Anthony Barr the ball more often and in open space. So far, we've still barely seen Barr.

Likewise, Rick replaced Norm Chow with Mike Johnson, an offensive coordinator with NFL experience running a passing offensive attack.  It already seems apparent that Johnson is frustrated with the limitations that Neuheisel's conservative play-not-to-lose mindset has imposed on him.  We've seen Shaq Evans on more than a few occasions and Taylor Embree less, which is definitely addition by substitution.  When Rick wasn't forcing his favored QB into the starting line-up, the Bruin passing attacked looked much more potent with Brehaut at the helm, with the occasion deep shot to stretch the defense.  Those are some positives, and in every game, we've put up at least 20 points.  That said, Rick needs to take a step back and let his OC do what he's paid to.  Maybe, just maybe if that happens, we'll finally see what this offensive unit can do he last few seasons. (Prior Grade: B)

3. Improved Coaching Staff Able to Win, Recruit, and Inspire Confidence - Grade: F

Mike Johnson, despite not having the name recognition that Norm Chow has, is an improvement.  When he's had the chance, he's opened the offense up and let Brehaut play the role of gunslinger.  He's also supposedly an awesome recruiter.  So far, so good, right?

Except this team is ultimately run by a Donahue-sycophant who wants to play not-to-lose, rather than taking chances and going for the win.  So far, Rick has shown us that he is unable to generate wins, and while our recruiting is solid, Rick has completely lost the support of Bruins Nation, if not the entire UCLA community and the football team. After this past weekend's complete failure at the Rose Bowl, it's safe to say that Rick does not inspire confidence in anyone (except for the U$C fans who are surely enjoying our program's inability to take advantage of their situation) any longer. (Prior Grade: C+)

4. Player Development and Coaching Talent Improvement - Grade: F

Kevin Prince either played his mind out in the past, has regressed, or is being played injured.  His arm strength is nowhere close to where it used to, he's locking on to a single receiver, and his accuracy is just down-right atrocious. That's not the same KP we first saw as a redshirt freshman who led us to a 7-6 season in what many believed was the first season toward a march toward competitive respectability for UCLA football.  Whatever it is, it's on the coaching staff (be it talent regression or playing a kid injured).

The obvious big hit here is the WR corps.  Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, Rick's chosen starters (for reasons that are beyond me) continue to be inconsistent.  For senior starting WRs, their lack of focus and attempts to become Brian Poli-Dixon Jr. are inexcusable, especially in light of the promise they showed early in their UCLA careers.  Josh Smith was a feared return man at Colorado.  Except for an occasion long return, he's never looked like a threat to break one.

Players at UCLA simply have not gotten better under Neuheisel.  If anything, many guys at key positions have regressed and that's a major strike against Rick.  It almost makes you wonder what would have happened if Andrew Luck decided to be a Bruin.  Would he still be the Andrew Luck? I doubt it.  He'd probably be Drew Olson II, a good, if unspectacular QB. Or, better yet, if alleged backpack thief Paul Richardson had stayed at UCLA, would he be one of the leading WRs in the nation?  We all know the answer to that: nope, he'd be sitting on the bench next to Devin Lucien, Randall Carroll, and Shaq Evans while Rosario and Embree get all the reps. (Prior Grade: Incomplete)

5. Stability and Intelligent Play at Quarterback - Grade: F-

As I mentioned in the initial off-season check-in post (emphasis added):

This might be the most important key and one that Rick is doing the absolute worst in. What our offense needs to maintain any kind of rhythm and remain effective is stability and intelligent play at QB. We don't need the second coming of Troy Aikman, Gary Beban, or Cade.  We need someone who can go out every week, play smart, play within the offense, minimize interceptions, and have the ability to throw the deep ball every so often to stretch the defense.  Kevin Prince showed some of that ability as a redshirt freshman, before injury after injury set his UCLA career off the rails.  Richard Brehaut has, at times, shown the same ability.  The problem is that with Prince being injury-prone, UCLA has gone back-and-forth between the two, destroying any sense of continuity at QB.

Rick needs to pick one QB, one that will stay healthy and can stay at the helm the entire season.  Is Kevin Prince the best QB on the roster, right now?  Probably.  Is he the answer?  Probably not.  The smart move would be to spend fall camp developing Brehaut and grooming him as the starter.  He has the ability and, unlike Kevin, has shown the uncanny knack for being able to finish a game without landing on the trainer's table. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Kevin sacrificing his body for UCLA and I think that makes him a great Bruin and he deserves all of our praise and appreciation.  That being said, he's a kid who has been injury-prone, ever since his senior year in high school.

Umm, Rick, I hate to say it, but I told you so. In fact, things are much worse than I initially thought: not only is Rick being coy with the media about the QB situation (at least through the first three games before Prince forced his hand by throwing three interceptions in one quarter against Texas), he was apparently not telling his own QBs a lot of information, much to the annoyance of offensive coordinator Mike Johnson and new starting QB Richard Brehaut.

The end result against Texas was Brehaut having to come in, with Johnson not having a set game plan in place, using a QB who did not get the majority of the reps with the first team in the practices leading up to that game.  If Brehaut started, those three interceptions likely don't happen.  Maybe one, but certainly not three.  Texas wouldn't have been spotted a 21 point lead and we would have been in the game.

And like in the original post, I want to make a note to the fanboys: like I said before, Brett Hundley is not the answer this year.  He's a freshman who is still getting used to the speed of the college game.  He's shown the talent and the ability that will one day lead him to be UCLA's starting QB during spring camp, but that day isn't this season.

Think about it. Has QB problems really been the reason we're not competitive?  With Brehaut under center, we put up 34 points against Houston.  Had Kip Smith not shanked a few kicks and had our defense done something, anything then we would have walked out of Houston with a road win.  Was QB to blame for the totally flat effort against SJSU?  Nope, that was a total fail by the entire team (except for Derrick Coleman), especially the offensive and defensive lines getting abused by the much smaller, less talented SJSU front-men. Without Kevin Prince completing passes to Longhorn defensive backs in UCLA territory, that game against Texas would have been much different.

Richard Brehaut has not been the problem.  At least so far.  Maybe he goes out and lays an egg against Oregon State, but to burn Hundley's redshirt, without giving Brehaut a shot to take charge of this team and without giving Mike Johnson a shot to build an offensive scheme around Brehaut (who has the stronger arm and is widely considered the best passer on the roster) is lame.

Since Rick has totally mismanaged the QB situation this season, being wishy-washy and unable to pick a guy and stick with him as the clear leader, he gets a F-.  Yes, F-.  It's pitiful.  (Prior Grade: D-)

With that, fire away with your thoughts.