Is the Spread a Glimmer of Hope?

UCLA's pro-style offense sputtered Saturday night in the Spring Game at the Rose Bowl, but then Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow went to a spread formation and the offense, including projected starting quarterback, Kevin Prince, started to click. Chow and Prince talk about the possibilities...

They were slogging their way through the spring scrimmage and it was not visually appealing or very stimulating. The UCLA Bruins' offense on Saturday at the Rose Bowl were often overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage, were dropping passes and fumbling away the football, running sloppy routes and on occasion the wrong route altogether.

Quarterback Kevin Prince missed his first six throws and was intercepted once. Coming off the field after one early series he was taunted by Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow. "When he came out I told him, ‘If this is too big for you we'll call off the jam,' and obviously he got mad at me, so he started playing a little bit better," Chow said, of the redshirt freshman.

But toward the end there, among the muck and mire, there was…what? Was that a glint, a glimmer? Was that something positive for the Bruins' offense to latch onto and learn from heading into what for them had better be a productive summer?

Perhaps, it was.

With the first-team offense on the field for its final series, Chow spread the field with four- and five-receiver sets in different combinations and the Bruins fell forward for a change.

Prince, who at some point this week is expected to be tabbed as the starting quarterback by Coach Rick Neuheisel, exploited the seams in the defense from the shotgun and hit his passes, short and quick; the drive ending with a 16-yard touchdown pass to fullback Tobi Umodu, albeit against a defense comprised of second- and third-team players.

The spread formations, Chow said afterward, are something the Bruins need to explore, and come the fall they could add elements to their drop-back passing game, installing and mixing in more spread to find a more consistent and efficient rhythm on offense.

"I think we've got to figure that out," Chow said. "We need to go back and look at all the tapes and try to figure out what this young guy can do and try to do that."

The Bruins' quarterback, Chow said, did appear more at ease with the spread formations.

"He performs better when there's a lot of people spread out. He recognizes that we can't get everyone blocked (in those formations). He did a nice job," Chow said.

"It gives him a little better look. The defenses can't load it up and he's smart enough that he understands where all the hot receivers are."

Prince, who completed 11 of 24 passes in the scrimmage for 134 yards with one touchdown and one interception, was by far the most consistent of the Bruins' quarterbacks through the 15 spring practices. But he also is familiar with a more open, spread-style offense, having run it in high school. "I'm way more experienced in the shotgun than under center," he admitted.

Freshman backup Richard Brehaut also ran a spread offense in high school, and the Bruins do have a deep corps of outside receivers to work with starting with senior Terrence Austin and sophomore Nelson Rosario. Running more plays out of the shotgun could also alleviate some pressure on an offensive line that struggled in protection last year and this spring; plays that required the quarterback to take a five-step drop were often doomed to failure.

"I think you just do what you have to do to move the ball," Chow said, when asked about implementing more spread into the offense. "I thought there were a couple of good runs in there. I have to look at the tape, but, you know, we couldn't consistently run it the way we were doing it. The problem with spreading them out all the time is it limits your run game as well. There are always problems, but I thought he handled it well.

"If we were in a game we would kind of mix it up a little better, but we wanted to see what we could do running the ball out of it, see what we could do spreading them out."

Prince does have a solid grasp of the Bruins' offense but the unit as a whole has struggled this spring, with reason. The first offensive line in the scrimmage was much different than what the Bruins are expected to field in the fall, with center Kai Maiava out with an ankle sprain and junior college guard Eddie Williams coming in, along with heralded freshmen Stan Hasiak and Xavier Su'a-Filo. There will also be two starters from last season, guard Darius Savage and tackle Mike Harris, both of whom were recovering from injuries, in the mix. They were without No. 1 running back Christian Ramirez on Saturday, as well as starting tight ends Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya and starting receiver Taylor Embree.

And, though Prince is confident working under center in a more conventional drop-back passing game and felt that the offense was improving and finding a rhythm through the scrimmage, more spread looks are an intriguing option.

"The advantage in the gun, really, is you can react," Prince said. "You can see who is coming and you can react better. If you see a blitzing linebacker, you can just pick it up and throw, whereas he's in you face sometimes if you're under center. The main advantage is you can see the defense better and you can make quicker and easier decisions.

"We'll see it (the spread and the shotgun). I'm game for whatever Coach Chow wants. One of the main things he said to us on the goals for the spring was to figure out what we can and can't do, so if he feels that we can't do some things under center and puts us in the gun…whatever wins games, you know?

"That's the main thing."

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