Lo and behold, the UCLA Bruins are the talk of college football.
Credited with what currently stands as Upset of the Year over then No. 7 (now No. 21) Texas, the Bruins have transformed what was looking like a lost season after two games into a bullet train of momentum, as the football squad heads home from Austin to gear up for Washington State on Saturday, Oct. 2.
The scheduling gods have presented the Bruins with a golden opportunity to hone and expand the “pistol” offense from the effective, albeit one-dimensional identity it took on in the 34-12 victory over the Longhorns on Sept. 25.
While offensive coordinator Norm Chow employed an attack that churned out 264 rushing yards, he knows that UCLA will have to improve upon the laughable 27 passing yards on eight attempts that quarterback Kevin Prince posted in the Texas victory.
Although the Bruins know not to take any conference opponents lightly, the stark inferiority of the Cougar defense likens this program to a competitive practice squad, against whom Chow and head coach Rick Neuheisel can tweak various elements of the pistol.
Not that Wazzu fans need reminding, but their team’s defense ranks No. 116 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring, allowing an average of 43 points per game.
The Bruins should be able to experiment and expand the pass play calling, hopefully building Prince’s confidence while balancing out the offense.
The more bullets that UCLA has loaded in its Revolver for the upcoming two-game road trip to Berkeley and Eugene, the better prepared the offense will be for Cal and Oregon.
Otherwise, tailbacks Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman, and Malcolm Jones can look forward to heavy doses of eight defenders stacking the box, ready to attack the run.
Prince needs to improve his chemistry with several of his weapons, namely tight end Corey Harkey and wide receiver Taylor Embree; the two offensive starters have combined for just five receptions in four games.
Washington State’s lackluster pass defense, which yields an average of 286 yards per game, should provide ample opportunities for Prince to connect with Harkey and Embree, along with his other options who have been more successful thus far.
Ricky Marvray has caught both Bruin touchdown passes and looks like Kevin Prince’s go-to guy in the red zone.
Coming off a first-quarter score against Texas, the redshirt freshman’s roller-coaster season appears to be trending upward.
The Bruin signal caller and Marvray need to perfect their timing on deeper patterns so that they can stretch defenses for big gains downfield.
A more explosive passing game will be necessary for UCLA to be considered dangerous, as opposed to merely an upset darling that caught Texas looking ahead to the Red River Shootout against Oklahoma on Oct. 2.
Neuheisel emphasized that UCLA had better treat the victory over the Longhorns as a learning experience: "If we can't learn the lesson from last weekend about people counting one team out, then we aren't very smart," Neuheisel said when addressing the notion of taking the upcoming WSU game lightly, as it is followed by what could be the most challenging two weeks of UCLA’s 2010 schedule.
The Bruins know they can’t get caught looking ahead to the Golden Bears just like Texas did with the Sooners.
If UCLA loses at home to the Cougars, all the momentum the team built will be lost and the historic victory in Austin will be all for naught.
The glory of beating UT in Darrell K Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium could only be eclipsed by the shame of losing to woeful Wazzu at the Rose Bowl a week later.
CRN needs to take the proper precautions to make sure the Bruins stay focused and determined at home as a four-touchdown favorite after being underdogs all year.
A great strategy to maintain the intensity in case the score gets lopsided would be to rotate in underclassmen with limited experience and get the newer recruits important reps in conference play in front of the home fans.
Opportunities to instill confidence in the Bruin reserves are rare in the middle of the rigorous college football season, but hopefully Neuheisel recognizes this.
Although UCLA left the Lone Star State relatively unscathed, All-American linebacker Akeem Ayers suffered a bruised shoulder.
The injury is considered minor and Ayers, who nabbed yet another interception, should be healthy for the game against the Cougars.
If the score gets out of hand, Ayers should be subbed out so that impressive true freshman Jordan Zumwalt can enter the game, make a few tackles, and assume a comfortable role in the Bruin defense.
Even the most optimistic Bruin fan knows that Ayers will likely get snatched up in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, so Zumwalt, his likely heir apparent, should be groomed for the job sooner rather than later.
Speaking of freshmen: Malcolm Jones should get a few more reps in light of a disappointing effort in the Texas game. After a performance in which the true freshman could only muster 12 yards on five carries, Jones should improve his yards-per-carry average against Washington State.
More importantly, though, the highly touted tailback from Agoura Hills can continue to focus on ball security so that he doesn’t fumble again when the Bruins head north in two weeks.
It’s an exciting time for UCLA, but fans shouldn’t get too overzealous.
Even though Bruin football is being talked about by every college pigskin pundit in the country in light of Saturday’s improbable blowout, this team is still just .500 and needs to win at least six more games to be taken seriously as a contender for the Pac-10 title, much less the BCS championship.
Nonetheless, the next week should be fun.