Chiccoa: Breathing Room

BRO football columnist Charles Chiccoa sounds almost Bluesy in his assessing the Bruins' recent play and Rick Neuheisel's status...

Raise your hand if you believed UCLA was heading for another heartbreaker when Arizona State went up 28-23 and the Bruins immediately fumbled the ball back to them; or when the Bruins were 3rd-and-29 after that offensive interference call on their last-chance drive; or when that poor ASU kicker, Alex Garoutte, lined up on the last play of the game -- poised for redemption after three earlier misses -- and missed once again! UCLA football, historically and contemporarily, has been so often underachieving, or just plain unlucky, that thoughts like this cannot help but settle in your unconscious (or conscious) mind. We'd almost forgotten what the joy of a big win felt like. But there it was on Saturday night…though perhaps not for all of us. (And you know who you are… but that's okay).

ASU may have been a bit overrated (certainly defensively) due to their extraordinary three-touchdown win vs. SC, but that game was in Tempe and this game was not. (The Sun Devils have lost three of four road games thus far.) Perhaps betting lines for college football need to be tweaked another point or so in favor of the home team. Like small children and old birds, not a lot of football programs travel well.

Except for Colorado, here, which should be a gimme, who knows how the Bruins will show at Utah and at SC? Or how ASU will show for the remainder of their schedule, which is certainly more favorable? It seems nearly inconceivable UCLA could hold SC under 40. What the Bruins could use most right now is two impressive wins and a "full steam of head" going into the Coliseum. And even if the Bruins finish 7-5, and Arizona wins at ASU, the Bruins still win the Pac-12 South with at least a (long)shot at Stanford or Oregon.

This whole question of Rick's future has been the number one issue since Texas, and no matter how categorically the sources of very credible people insist that Rick is dead in the water unless he "runs the table," some of us fans, quite understandably, still have our doubts. Anyway, I've never been a trusting fella. You'd think that if Rick somehow "miracles" the Bruins into the Rose Bowl, January 2nd, he's safe. But what if the Bruins win the next two, ASU loses one more, the Bruins play SC and either Stanford or Oregon respectably in the conference championship, yet still lose? Given that scenario, can we trust Guerrero to pull the trigger? With absolutely no inside information, but just my own gut feeling, I don't know. If Guerrero was going to decide Neuheisel's fate on the basis of his "body of work," "quality of play," or, bless him, "firing out!" why hasn't he acted earlier? And, of course, the ground under this program seems to be shaking almost daily. For instance, how could Neuheisel possibly survive a loss this Saturday in Salt Lake City? All this by way of asking: How fluid, exactly, is the Neuheisel situation? Just thinking about all this makes me slightly dizzy, makes me want to get up from the keyboard, go outside and breathe some fresh air. I'm so tired and bored waiting for the other shoe to drop. My new favorite words are definitely and unconditionally.

*****

It does look as if the Kevin Prince/Richard Brehaut business has finally been decided in Prince's favor. Short of another four-pick performance, the quarterback job belongs to him once again: relentlessly positive meets relentless persistence. You get the idea that Prince never doubted he'd win back the job, and sure enough events worked in his favor. Had Brehaut not had his leg fallen on, he might still be the man. And had Prince not responded so well, given the opening, Brehaut could've been back on the way to regaining the job. Which is not to say Prince isn't the right fit for the "Pistol," because he is. Brehaut is the better passer, but he's never been consistently good enough to move the offense as well as Prince has moved it these last two games on the ground. And Neuheisel has declared this team's identity is running the ball. In addition to being pretty big and strong, Prince also has good straight ahead speed, and he's beginning to show some running instincts we haven't seen much of before. Of course his effectiveness with the read option is making it easier for Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin to find running lanes, and to break off some longer runs. If not for all those back-breaking penalties, the Bruins would've had well over 300 yards rushing. Of course any discussion of the running game has to make mention of the offensive line, which, combined with Prince, Coleman and Franklin, the Bruin ground game is becoming a genuine force. Defensive coordinators may yet have to start burning the midnight oil in preparation for the Bruins' offense. (Who'd have thought it?)

Coleman's gone from being undervalued by the fans, to becoming the most improved player, to possibly being UCLA's most valuable player. No disrespect to Franklin, but Coleman has accomplished more than him with considerably less reps, and is now probably a better NFL prospect. He's been on a steady upward plane ever since the spring. Some of us had to rub our eyes and recheck our rosters to be sure number 33 was that Coleman we thought we knew. He was, and is, cutting better, finding daylight faster, moving the pile further. One can only guess at the work he's put in on his own to become the player he is today.

We all know Prince's passing skills have been sketchy at best, but he is showing improvement. He's still not sharp, not particularly accurate; he still lacks pocket presence; and he still needs to develop a quicker release and, like most Bruin quarterbacks, he never seems to go to a secondary receiver. But then Neuheisel isn't asking him to do that. It's pretty much all primaries and pre-snap reads. But 196 yards in only 17 attempts is nearly 12 yards per attempt, nearly 18 yards per completion. Not bad, even it's only one game.

Speaking of the passing game, I notice fans are finally getting off Nelson Rosario's back, finally giving him some props. Not that he seems like a guy who sweats what the fans say. Anyway, it's nice not having to read those silly comparisons of him to the immortal Brian Poli-Dixon. Nelson is bigger, stronger, probably faster, and generally more talented than that mope. He's also suffered through worse quarterbacking than Poli-Dixon. That Nelson seems finally to be looking to get more yards after catch is another plus. And we all know he can still do with a bit better focus and a nastier attitude.

*****

I don't know what more to say about the defense. The less the better I suppose. Just hope for the best. They did manage to force five punts, which is about all we can hope for now. They're a little improved, but only marginally. Joe Tresey is getting a bit bolder in contesting the line of scrimmage, and he's going to more man coverages since he may have copped to the fact his zone coverages are pretty much beyond the talents of his defenders to execute…or to even comprehend.

The defense still starts the game passively and in a fog. ASU's offense seemed to be on pace for about a 700-yard game after the first sixteen minutes. One particularly gruesome play saw the entire defense bite on misdirection while the only Bruin on the other side of the field, Sean Westgate, had his back to the play. The defense did have its moments, none bigger than their stop after Josh Smith's fumble, forcing a field goal from beyond Garoutte's range. At least Tresey's trying something different here and there, but it all has the smell of desperation, which shouldn't have to be. ASU gained 465 yards and 29 first downs. Andrew Abbott, Tevin McDonald and Eric Kendricks played okay. Westgate and Justin Edison retained their "honorary starter" positions, God knows why.

Even though the Bruins opened 7 ½ point dogs at Utah, we all know this is a winnable game. It's also a road game, and I don't have to recite this program's recent road history. But wouldn't it be nice if the Bruins finally responded well to the inevitable road pressures, showed some competitive class, and didn't put a damper on what could (and should) be a home field warm-up for SC the following week? If the Bruins can get a win, even some of us "bad fans" might deign to show up for the party.


Bruin Report Online Top Stories