After the UCLA Football team’s Saturday scrimmage at Drake Stadium, Bruin fans should have reasons for both confidence in, as well as pessimism towards the beleaguered offense. The first team, in spite of playing without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, performed unexpectedly well against the Bruins’ second-string defense. Unfortunately, the Bruins couldn’t make it off the practice field without losing yet another starting offensive lineman to injury.
Center Kai Maiava, the captain of the offensive line, sustained a fractured ankle on just the third play of the scrimmage. After he recovers from surgery, the most recent estimates have him sidelined until late October/early November. Depending on the speed of his rehabilitation, he could still return for the last three or four games of the regular season. Bruin head coach Rick Neuheisel said, "I have full confidence [Maiava will] work his butt off so he can be back for our last three games." Ryan Taylor, who was the starting right guard in place of concussed Eddie Williams, now shifts inside to replace Maiava at center until Williams returns to practice.
If nothing else, the starting offensive line for the Bruins will be seasoned and large (averaging over 315 pounds each). After factoring in the injuries, suspension, academic ineligibilities, and religious mission that depleted the line, UCLA will trot out five redshirt seniors against Kansas State in Sean Sheller (LT), Darius Savage (LG), Taylor (C), Eddie Williams (RG once he returns from his concussion), and Micah Kia (RT). Mike Harris, suspended for the first week after violating team rules, may replace Sheller at LT after the Kansas State game.
Considering the Bruins already have a patchwork O-line as they are also missing starting LT Jeff Baca to academic ineligibility and/or a stress reaction in his foot, as well as the suspended Harris for the Sept 4 Kansas St. game, UCLA fans have to be at least little worried about the existing lineup’s ability to protect an already-injured Kevin Prince and opening holes for their new Pistol offense.
Prince watched the scrimmage from the sideline as he continues to recover from a strained oblique that prevented him from throwing a football. “It’s like any muscle strain,” Prince said after Friday morning’s practice. “It’s not as common as something like a pulled hamstring or something like that. These things take time so we’re just trying to stay patient with it and continue to treat it everyday.” Since the scrimmage, Prince has returned to practice, and has started throwing the football again, but still isn’t pain-free yet.
While Prince played spectator on Saturday, backup quarterback Richard Brehaut shone with the first team as he tossed three touchdowns against one interception for 186 yards. In spite of posting impressive stats, Neuheisel qualified his praise of Brehaut. “He’s got to work harder to eliminate the little things, keeping track of down and distance, keeping track of protection,” the Bruin coach said, “but certainly he’s come a long way in terms of understanding the offense and throwing the ball down the field.”
6’5” junior Nelson Rosario stood head and shoulders above the other receivers by hauling in four catches for 80 yards with a touchdown, including a dazzling one-handed grab for 39 yards. Christian Ramirez had three receptions for 52 yards. Wideouts Randall Carroll and Taylor Embree each found the end zone on passes from Brehaut, while F-back Anthony Barr caught a TD toss from City College of San Francisco transfer, Darius Bell.
Although his skill set is more geared towards that of an option QB, Bell drew mixed reviews from those who watched his performance in Saturday’s scrimmage. Brehaut’s stronger throwing arm makes him a better pocket passer, but Bell’s quickness on his feet provides a change of pace to the offense, and could factor into the evolution of the Bruin Pistol as the season progresses. However, Bell’s up-and-down performance (4-8, 28 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) on Saturday indicates that he may still need more development to acclimate to Division one college football. Regardless of Prince’s health, Bell will remain a backup for now.
Malcolm Jones led the rushing attack, scampering for 59 yards on just 11 carries. The true freshman sprained his ankle on the last play of the scrimmage, and has been sporting a walking boot ever since. He should return to practice in a few days.
Johnathan Franklin forgot to gas up his “Jet Ski”, as he took six rushes only ten yards. Derrick Coleman, the bulldozer of the tailback trio, could only muster three yards on two carries. The running game received limited attention, as the coaching staff was clearly more concerned with assessing what it had in the passing game with Prince on the sideline.
Jones looked the most athletic of the three tailbacks that played in the scrimmage, but he isn’t expected to start. The more experienced Coleman or Franklin should get the nod, depending on who shines the last week of practice before the games begin. In spite of the disparity in their performance, offensive coordinator Norm Chow stated he thought all three backs performed well.
On the defensive side of the ball, Neuheisel commended the play of stud linebacker Akeem Ayers and strong safety Tony Dye, who reeled in an interception. Dalton Hilliard also brought down a pick, and has displayed occasional flashes of brilliance in fall camp thus far.
Unfortunately, linebacker Glenn Love sustained a stinger in the scrimmage, and come Monday, had to don the dreaded red non-contact jersey. His neck/shoulder should recover in time for Kansas State, but is second on the depth chart to Sean Westgate on the weak-side.
Josh Smith, the Colorado transfer who has battled knee and groin issues all spring and summer long, brings some hope and life to UCLA’s special teams, as he scored the first touchdown of the scrimmage from a kickoff that traveled two yards deep into the end zone. Needless to say, Smith appears healthy and ready to contribute in Westwood.
Stop the presses, but 2009 All-American placekicker Kai Forbath missed the scrimmage’s first field goal attempt of 39 yards! Forbath later atoned for the miss by nailing subsequent FGs from 42 and 37 yards away. Nothing to sweat here as “King Kai” strives to become the first back-to-back Lou Groza award winner since Sebastian Janikowski accomplished the feat in 1998-99.
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