The Three Bears: Can Rick Neuheisel's Staff Find the Charm at UCLA?

Mike McCarverContributor IAugust 25, 2008

Third time’s the charm? For UCLA fans this season, that’s the hopeful mantra.

The roller coaster of the coaching search and quarterback wars is over, and the Bruins are preparing to face their first opponent under the Rick Neuheisel era in Tennessee at the Rose Bowl, 5 p.m. PST on Labor Day.

If you’ve been following things closely, you’ve watched as athletics director Dan Guerrero went through DeWayne Walker and Norm Chow, two options fans were excited about, only to settle on most everyone’s third choice, good ol’ Slick Rick.

You held your breath as Neuheisel went out to retain Walker and finish the dream team with Chow, introducing him to an ecstatic group of fans at the halftime of a basketball game in Pauley.

And, finally, you’ve eagerly read and watched as the dream team weighed its options at quarterback and whittled things down to its third-stringer, Kevin Craft. Anyone else feel like they’re Goldilocks? Hopefully this setup’s just right.

Fans at UCLA’s scrimmage Aug. 16 weren’t jumping out of their seats. Really, there wasn’t much to watch. Even when you consider that scrimmages are the worst places to assess a team’s status, the truth was apparent to even a blind man: The O-Line is in bad shape.

As soon as the ball was snapped, the crowd felt the pressure Craft was under like they’d been outfitted with 100-pound backpacks. Craft struggled in the first round of plays, while Chris Forcier began strong. Forcier connected with Nelson Rosario for three yards, then again on a 10-yard slant. Demonstrating some agile scrambling, he found Terrence Austin for a 17-yard catch.

The crowd was starting to murmur. It looked like this should be the guy. But after three more plays onto a 3rd-and-9, Forcier fumbled. So much for that showing. Not to mention he was facing the second-team defense. It didn’t get much better for Forcier as the scrimmage wore on.

After a few more rounds of failed offensive drills, the Bruins faithful finally saw what Craft was all about. For an offense that will likely see more blitzes than London did during the entire second World War, scrambling is not just key; it’s a fact of Bruins life.

It’s what made Cowan so effective against USC back in 2006. Sure enough, Craft pulled it together and gave the fans something to cheer about. After a PI call saved Craft from another painful exit, Craft completed a number of passes, and capped it with a run up the middle for the touchdown.

There are a lot of questions surrounding this team. With inexperience and injuries plaguing the offensive line, fans want to know if the defense can sustain the team long enough to overcome their six or seven ranked or near-ranked opponents.

The primary questions boil down to the thirds. Can Craft click with the offense and figure out what works? Will Chow be able to get the team in gear to compete against top-rated defenses and pull some tricks out of the hat while he’s at it?

No one can really tell right now. The true Blue, like myself, can only cross their fingers and hope that this time it’s just right, that the third time really is the charm.