Know Your Foe: UCLA

This definitely hasn't been a banner season for the UCLA, but sure enough with a home win over ASU this weekend the Bruins will tie the Sun Devils for the Pac-12 South lead. What can ASU expect from its next opponent? Devils Digest invited Publisher Tracy Pierson to answer those questions and others by ASU fans on the Sun Devils' next opponent.

Is it a given that Rick Neuheisel will be gone at the end of the year and if not what scenario could keep him in Westwood? Who are some of the viable candidates mentioned to replace him?

At this point, from what I've heard from sources, Rick Neuheisel won't be the head coach at UCLA next season. Now, I've also heard those same sources speculate that if he won out, beat USC and looked respectable in the Pac-12 Championship Game the UCLA Administration would have a dilemma on their hands, but that's an unlikely scenario.

With Neuheisel still UCLA's coach it wouldn't be appropriate for me to specifically discuss potential candidates, but I've heard that UCLA is now prepared to do what it takes to hire a big-named coach if Neuheisel indeed needs to be replaced.

Where do you think Neuheisel went wrong over the years that has caused UCLA to struggle?

Like with anything, it wasn't just one thing, but a combination. His program is disorganized. There isn't enough of a tough mentality instilled in the players. He didn't recruit an elite-level quarterback until Brett Hundley, which appears to be too late.

He made some poor assistant coaching hires, and perhaps the one that did him in the most was Norm Chow, who is way past his prime (as I think Utah is discovering also). He adopted an offense based on the Pistol, without a quarterback well suited for it. He recruited well but hasn't developed the talent. To his credit, Neuheisel does many aspects of the job very well, and he's well-liked, but if you don't get it done on the field everyone liking you will only take you so far.

Why has UCLA been so hot and cold this season and in recent years for that matter? How much of that inconsistency do you put on the coaching staff and what share of the blame do the players get?

First, I wouldn't say UCLA has been hot and cold this season. They've generally been cold, and then hot for one game, last week against Cal. I think coaching is the major contributor to inconsistency.

I also would cite inexperience, youth and injury in Neuheisel's first few years. Trying to distinguish what share of the blame goes to coaching and what should be hung on the players is always a difficult one. Should the coaches ultimately be responsible if the players are lazy and unprepared? I don't think players can ever be completely absolved from blame, but I tend to place most of it on the coaching. Even though UCLA had very good recruiting classes in recent years they still haven't been able to land a quality quarterback. Do you see that as major factor that has plagued the Bruins?

As I said above, yes. I could easily have seen Neuheisel's fate being different at this point if he had an elite-level quarterback at UCLA right now. But you have to also take into consideration that at least some of the blame might be placed on the lack of development among the quarterbacks at UCLA. Richard Brehaut was the #9-ranked quarterback nationally in 2009.

I think the biggest mistake in quarterback recruiting was bringing in just one prep quarterback (Brehaut) over two seasons. Once Neuheisel saw the level of what he had in Prince, Nick Crissman, and then Brehaut, he should have brought in two or three more, to optimize his chances of finding someone better.

Do you believe that QB Kevin Prince is capable of beating the ASU defense with his arm or does he stick to his running abilities to make big plays?

It's not an either/or situation. Prince definitely has the capability of beating ASU's defense through both passing and running. As we've seen, he can run, and he can pass adequately enough to complement UCLA's running game. Even if, though, UCLA's offense is capable of putting some points on the board through a balanced offense, I don't think it will be nearly enough to overcome how many points ASU's offense puts on UCLA's defense.

How would you evaluate the UCLA defense thus far in 2011? Have you been disappointed with their performance?

It's not even disputable. UCLA's defense has, really, played one good game -- last week against Cal. The biggest disappointment of the season for the team as a whole has been the performance of UCLA's defensive line. And that's been because of a combination of things -- poor play, poor coaching, poor personnel decisions...just about everything. The defense as a unit has vastly under-achieved, and it's done so in a very passive, bend-and-don't-break style, which is mind-numbing to watch when a defense isn't succeeding. Who are some players that may have flown under the radar for the UCLA this year but have been pleasant surprises?

Probably the defensive player of the year for UCLA is defensive back Andrew Abbott. He's a former walk-on who has been thrust into a starting cornerback spot because of injury, and also is the starting nickel back. He's been very good in coverage and in run support. The 6-8 tight end Joe Fauria has made a big impact in every game that UCLA has chosen to throw him the ball. It's one of the biggest mysteries of the season, that there are many weeks that UCLA seems to forget about Fauria.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Eric Kendricks is now getting more snaps at the weak side spot over veteran Sean Westgate, and he's a future star. Safety Stan McKay, who didn't even make the two-deep at either safety position going into UCLA's first game this season, has played beyond expectation since having to fill in because of injuries -- better than those who were ahead of him on the depth chart.

Can you talk about the renovations the Rose Bowl is about to go through and how will it benefit UCLA? Is it impossible to overstate the importance of that stadium as a recruiting tool?

The renovations, while they look like they'll be very nice, don't look to be something on the scale that will impact recruiting really. Most of the marked improvements will be seen in the upscale fan experience, with improved luxury suites and lounges. The Rose Bowl, right now, has pretty nice player facilities in terms of locker rooms, etc., that were updated a few years ago.

What kind of advantages does UCLA have in their matchup with ASU aside from home field advantage?

I'll be getting into that in-depth in my game preview Thursday. I think the one clear advantage UCLA has is its rushing game against ASU's rush defense. UCLA, as it has done all season, will try to exploit that, dominate possession, hold onto the ball, keep ASU's offense off the field, shorten the game, and keep the score down. Because of its potent running game, that's been its tactic for every game and there's no reason to think UCLA will depart from it this week.

The last two games for UCLA have been polar opposites in performance. Is it anybody's guess what kind of Bruin team we will see on Saturday or do you feel that with a possible shot at the Pac-12 South championship we will see the team that played well against California last week?

UCLA clearly did play better last week against Cal. But it also greatly benefitted from a Cal team that, well, was inexplicably horrendous in a couple of areas that determined the game. Cal's quarterback, Zach Maynard, threw three bad interceptions which led to 17 UCLA points. And then, amazingly, Cal looked like they had never defended a zone read before, allowing Prince to tuck and run and get the edge repeatedly. I don't expect ASU to be as accommodating as Cal. UCLA definitely cleaned up many of its mistakes against Cal, but even it plays a clean game, I see ASU's offense looking more like Arizona than Cal against UCLA.

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