Rock bottom, these are the UCLA Bruins. UCLA, meet rock bottom.
The Bruins are in a tailspin with the toughest part of their 2010 football schedule still on the horizon. The team looked inept as ever in a 35-0 drubbing on Saturday at the Rose Bowl against Stanford, and the players haven’t even been bogged down by the start of class yet.
At this still-young stage of the season with offensive juggernauts Houston and Texas on tap for later this month, UCLA can salvage some semblance of pride if they can win seven of their final 10 games. After their miserable performance at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 11th, confidence in the program is so low that even the most ardent Bruin fan quietly wonders if Pac-10 doormat Washington State is still a beatable team?
The Kansas State defeat on Sept. 4th was supposed to be a game in which the Bruins took their lumps, but also a valuable learning experience back to Los Angeles that UCLA would apply towards their conference home opener. If the lopsided score against the Cardinal is an indication, any lessons went in one ear hole of their gold helmets and out the other.
UCLA is a team with so many problems, this article could simply provide a bulleted laundry list that would be several pages long. Instead, let’s delve into some key issues, starting at the top with a quarterback who is about as durable as a Faberge egg.
If he’s not missing valuable practice time in training camp with a strained oblique, Bruin starting QB Kevin Prince is dealing with an aggravation of a shoulder sprain he initially suffered in last December’s USC game.
Many UCLA alumni have done an about-face on their opinion of Kevin Prince in the last two weeks. The look in the sophomore’s eyes throughout the Stanford game, one in which he completed only six passes for 39 yards with an interception and a comical fumble that was ripped from his grasp and returned for a touchdown, was a combination of fear and bewilderment. His performance as well as his pocket presence did not inspire confidence in any Bruin loyalists.
The red zone picks, fumbles, and futility on third down are only part of the problem with Prince. The bigger issue is that he may be close to losing the support of his locker room after the alumni have already turned on him.
Rick Neuheisel faces an important decision this week that will likely affect his future as Bruin head coach. He isn’t sure which is better option under center moving forward: a gimpy Prince who always seems to miss practice with some lingering ailment, or a green Richard Brehaut who may as well have slapped an “airmail” stamp on many of his passes that flew out of bounds after Prince was pulled from action in the second half?
Because this dead horse needs to be beaten, the UCLA players and coaches are still making horrible mental mistakes that not only prevent scoring, but also infuriate fans and alumni. Here are but a few miscues from the Stanford game, as there are literally too many to mention.
- UCLA had a third down and seven with about 13 minutes left in the first quarter. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow decided a draw play to plodding running back Derrick Coleman from their own 13 yard line would be an effective way to move the chains. The ensuing three-yard gain would result in the first of many punts by Jeff Locke. Chow’s stock has taken quite a hit since his salad days with Pete Carroll at USC last decade.
- Punt returner Taylor Embree caught a second-quarter punt inside the five-yard line instead of letting it bounce into the end zone for a touchback, which would have given the Bruins better field position at the 20.
- The most unconscionable gaffe by the Bruins was with seven minutes left in the first quarter. Coach Neuheisel called a timeout right before a third-down incomplete pass by quarterback Andrew Luck which would have set up a fourth down punt situation. Immediately after the break, UCLA then had to call another timeout because Josh Smith was inexplicably lined up forty yards back, ready to return a punt…on third down.
Pop Warner coaches have had more control of their team of 11-year-olds than CRN did last Saturday.
One would think that a team with an ineffective offense but a stout defense would want to give the defenders as much time to rest as possible? Not in Westwood, where the no-huddle offense only serves to bring the punting unit to the field quicker than ever.
Kevin Prince’s repeated three-and-outs gave Bruin defenders little opportunity to catch a blow between series, causing defensive tackle David Carter to vomit on the sidelines…in the first quarter! I can understand puking late in the fourth quarter or in overtime of an intense game, but this ugly moment reflects poorly on Head Athletic Performance Coach Mike Linn, who should have his players in peak physical condition at this stage of the season.
Neuheisel told the media earlier in the week that he was going to prevent fatigue in his defensive starters by rotating his underclassmen in more. Naturally, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh had the Cardinal diligently practice their no-huddle offense, which repeatedly caught Bruin personnel either in frantic transition or forced the Bruin head coach to burn timeouts to avoid getting penalized for having 12 defenders on the field.
Perhaps CRN should dial down his strategic transparency with the press before it costs him his job? There’s a reason that secretive coaches like the NFL’s Bill Belichick amass Hall of Fame careers in spite of being evasive with reporters.
- Malcolm Jones needs to move up the running back depth chart immediately. The true freshman is shifty with fresh legs, he doesn’t shy away from contact, and he moves the pile when he runs. The running game isn’t the Bruins’ weak link, but Jones could turn it into their strength along with Johnathan Franklin. Derrick Coleman’s 230-pound frame would make him ideal for short-yardage situations, but Franklin and Jones should get the majority of reps outside the red zone.
- If Prince practices this week, he should start at QB. However, if Richard Brehaut practices with the first team while Prince spends yet another week nursing his injuries, then Brehaut should be under center against Houston on Sept. 18th. At this stage, Bruin fans have seen enough of Prince to know that he’s not the next Troy Aikman, especially when he doesn’t get practice reps. UPDATE: After looking at X-rays of the quarterback's sprained shoulder, Neuheisel has stated that he will start Prince against Houston on Sept 18.
- Dietrich Riley performed well when he replaced Aaron Hester at cornerback, who has been known more for making plays with his mouth to this point. Riley is another true freshman that is part of the Bruins’ rebuilding process which is fast becoming a theme for UCLA’s 2010 season. With high-octane quarterbacks in Houston’s Case Keenum and UT’s Garrett Gilbert coming up on the schedule the next two Saturdays, Riley should be a mainstay in the Bruin secondary moving forward.
- The offense needs to play with better discipline, make plays while avoiding crippling penalties (looking at you, Ricky Marvray), and sustain drives so that key defenders aren’t so exhausted that they’re regurgitating their lunch before halftime.