Know your foe – UCLA

In many ways UCLA and ASU mirror each other, not only in their 4-6 record but also in a season that has feel below expectations. What are the factors that have led to the Bruins' record? Is head coach Rick Neuheisel on the hot seat? Devils Digest invited publisher Tracy Pierson to answer those questions and others by ASU fans on the Sun Devils' next opponent.

Q: Sitting at a 4-6 record does it go without saying that the season has been a disappointment or is this what some perhaps predicted at this stage of the program?

A: It's a clear disappointment. Going into the season, most program observers were already discounting in that the team's final record might not be as good as many would expect, given that UCLA had a tough schedule. But most reasonable expectations were for a 7-win season. And that was even with considering the Texas game in Austin was going to be an almost sure-loss. It wasn't, really, the more-than-expected losses, but the way UCLA played in many of its losses, getting blown out and not looking competitive. Reasonable expectations were that the UCLA offense, under offensive guru types like Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel, would, at the very least, look considerably improved.

Q: Which player has been the biggest surprise and the biggest disappointment this season?

A: I don't know if you'd call it a surprise, because it was expected that true freshman linebacker Jordan Zumalt would be an impact player at UCLA given the talent he displayed in high school. But it was a bit surprising that, after middle linebacker Patrick Larimore went down with a season-ending injury, Zumwalt was able to come in and be so effective so quickly. Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been safety Rahim Moore, and it's probably not entirely his fault. After leading the nation in interceptions as a junior with 10, he was getting quite a bit of hype – and probably over-hype. He's been solid, but not spectacular.

Q: Who is UCLA's biggest weapon on offense and defense?

A: UCLA's most consistently effective player offensively is Johnathan Franklin. He's one of the better, lesser-known running backs in the west, and has been the primary reason UCLA's running game has been effective at times this season. He'll create positive yardage from not much room to run, and gain yards after initial contact. Defensively, when linebacker/defensive end Akeem Ayers is healthy and having a good day, he looks like a clear NFL player amongst college players. His issue has been inconsistency from one game to the next.

Q: What is the status of the UCLA offensive line? Are they healthy? How have they done against pass rush and Run defense?

A: The UCLA offensive line was hit with quite a bit of attrition heading into the season, due to injury, academic ineligibility, suspension and a Mormon mission. UCLA lost four of its top five OLs before it played its first game. Given that, the UCLA line, nicknamed the "Filthy Five," was pieced together from four seniors and one junior who all had a good amount of playing experience but had been set back some time in their career themselves by injury. With UCLA going to the Pistol and a zone blocking scheme this year, the OL has done well in run blocking, being road-grater types. But lacking great quickness, they've struggled in pass protection.

Q: What traits do you think ASU and UCLA share that keeps them from as perennial underachieving programs?

A: I actually think UCLA and ASU don't have that much in common, and are probably unique in their own method of under-achievement. I think the one commonality between the two, though, has been the lack of a clearly superior head coach over the last decade. It remains to be seen if Dennis Erickson or Rick Neuheisel can build a consistently-winning program at their respective schools, but you could safely say there is some definite uncertainty at this point. Then, go back through the most recent head coaches of UCLA and Arizona State and they didn't exactly have world beaters.

Q: Was this year's QB carousel at UCLA expected and does that increase Brett Hundley's chances of playing next year?

A: A quarterback "carousel" is never really expected. Most observers thought Kevin Prince, after the 2009 season, was poised to have a big year. But he's continued to struggle with injuries, and never got on track in 2010. With his latest season-ending knee injury, it's truly uncertain if Prince has the durability to be the long-term answer. Richard Brehaut is a true sophomore and has shown flashes, but he has a long ways to go, and there's some doubt of whether he has the capability of being consistently effective at this level. So, it provides a considerable opening for Brett Hundley, especially since he intends to graduate high school in December, enroll at UCLA in January and be out for spring practice in March. UCLA hasn't had a quarterback in its program with the potential of Hundley in many years (probably, actually, dating back to Cade McNown), and he's a good fit for the Pistol, a system that can optimize his running ability.

Q: Is the Neuheisel era expected to turn the corner and how warm is his hot seat?

A: For struggling football programs, everyone is always trying to find a "corner" to be turned. It makes for quite a few false corners. So, it's kind of futile to discuss whether Neuheisel is expected to turn one soon. He has the backing of the UCLA administration, and the seat wouldn't even get warm for the end of this season. Next season, though, is the one that many observers have been pointing to as the one where UCLA should have some pieces in place to put together a successful season. Neuheisel will have his own guys in the program, and have coached them up for four years, and the schedule looks favorable. So, it's safe to say that if Neuheisel doesn't have a clearly successful season in 2011 the seat could warm up.

Q: What is UCLA's outlook for next year in the new Pac-12?

A: As I touched on above, UCLA should have enough pieces in place to be successful in 2011. Instead of playing with so many sophomores, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen, Neuheisel will have a good amount of guys he recruited in the program as experienced upper classmen. Even if Neuheisel has some turnover on his coaching staff, there should be plenty of talent to be successful, particularly with a pretty favorable schedule and a conference that probably won't be as strong as it was this season.

Q: If ASU does (fill in the blank) they will almost definitely beat UCLA.

A: If Arizona State shuts down UCLA's running game, they'll beat the Bruins. UCLA's passing game is out-of-sync, and its quarterback is coming off a poor performance and a concussion. The Bruins will probably be pretty one-dimensional and challenge ASU's running defense to shut them down. If ASU does, UCLA won't be able to sustain drives and have to give the ball back to ASU's offense, which will be able to gain yards and score on UCLA's defense.

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