This year's UCLA Bruin football team is talented and experienced. There is young talent. There are incredible veterans. For most positions on the team, blending the young with the "old" can be done pretty easily. At quarterback it cannot. Thus, a decision needed to be made. Would it be the hero of the Texas game and veteran backup to Brett Hundley? Or would it be the #1 2015 quarterback recruit in the nation, Josh Rosen?
Almost every person with knowledge of UCLA football was certain that Josh Rosen would be the starter on September 5th. But there was at least one person who didn't assume anything, and that was Jerry Neuheisel. As spring came and went, the coaches still had not named a quarterback. San Bernardino came and went, and still no decision. The issue wasn't that Josh wasn't living up to his "billing" as Coach Mora said today:
We haven't played one single snap of real football yet, but at this point, he's living up to that billing,
Instead, the issue was Jerry Neuheisel who made a real competition out of this and showed that he too could be the starting quarterback at UCLA. Some, including myself, having watched many practices, no longer assumed anything. Jerry and Josh could both run this team. They were both composed, got the ball out quickly, made good decisions, could scramble and run, and both could throw the long ball.
But a decision needed to be made, and according to Coach Mora, it was better not to wait until game week to do it. Mora seemed to heed the advice of Bill Walsh who had advised him about making these kinds of decisions saying:
The sooner that you can make it and let everybody acclimate to it ... you know the guy that's going to be the starter gets used to being the starter. The guys that are going to be in the huddle with him, get used to having him in the huddle. The guys that get told the disappointing news, settle into their role a little bit. Rather than creating distraction game week, or hurt feelings game week, or having to work the rough emotional issues game week, do it now... so everybody can be a little bit more comfortable when we come back Monday to really, really dig in to our preparations for that first game.
Josh is the starting quarterback, but as Mora said, Jerry made him earn it. To quote our own avtwvi:
Congrats to Josh...but also to Jerry for a great competition. The longer this thing played out, the more comfortable I was with the position. We were all pretty sure Josh would be our QB against Virginia since the day he signed with us, but Jerry made him earn it.
This competition was good for preparing Josh, as was going up against a very aggressive and talented defense. Mora talked about putting them both under pressure to see how they would do, and that they both did really well. He said he could see Josh handling the pressure better each practice.
Telling the news to Jerry was really difficult because, as Mora said, Jerry is such a great competitor and Bruin:
I don't think that you could find a better representative of what a student-athlete is supposed to be then Jerry Neuheisel. He is the epitome of a UCLA Bruin, he loves this school. It's definitely important to him that he represents this school, his school in a positive way.
Obviously, it was a very difficult thing for him to hear, but he handled it very, very well. I know he was extremely disappointed, he's werked very, very hard. He's done everything we've asked him to do and I have so much respect for him. This is a young man that we all love. I love Jerry, his teammates love him and respect him and trust him...
My hope is that someday I can be sitting up in the Rose Bowl stands, watching him as the head coach of UCLA.
That would be great. I would also love to see him working as a quarterback coach as soon as we no longer need him on the field. As Mora says, Jerry is a great leader, has the innate ability to lead (even getting the guys doing some two-stepping a couple years back), which he showed against Texas (leadership and probably a little two-stepping as well).
As for Josh, he asked Coach Mora if it was okay to call his parents and tell them the news. Yes it was.
As for the team, they began game prep for Virginia today. The press wasn't allowed in practice today so we don't get the usual awesome notes the beat writers have been preparing. But yesterday, the PAC-12 Network filmed Training Camp from the IM field - which looks like a great place to hold practice. At one point in the show, Coach Mora says "when Simon Goines returns", which sounds like great news. I hope someone follows up on that tomorrow. They also have some superb practice footage, interview Myles Jack, Paul Perkins, Jake Brendel, and Tom Bradley and have a very special piece on linebacker coach, Scott White. Here's a brief part of that piece:
As Coach Mora says in his interview in the show, this team is incredibly deep and experienced, but taking over the position for Brett Hundley really is a big deal. I am very pleased that the coaching staff didn't have to choose between the lesser of two evils. Rather, their choice was made difficult because both Jerry and Josh showed they were ready to run this very talented team.
Have a great evening, and as always ...