Chiccoa: There Are No Revelations

Columnist Charles Chiccoa sees nothing particularly surprising in UCLA's win over San Diego State. The fact that the offense in the second half generated worry was, well, not surprising. It's again clear, heading into Knoxville, it's all on the offense and Kevin Prince...

At least we got to play the opener. Early in the week it seemed like a 50/50 proposition. Can you imagine the slings and arrows from across town if UCLA (or whomever) had cancelled/rescheduled San Diego St., especially considering the shambles SC made of Dick Tomey's lame San Jose St. Spartans? I mean it's bad enough having to live with the imminent media coronation of the greatest Trojan of them all, Matt Barkley (Listening to Beano Cook this week could be hazardous to your health.)

Actually Kevin Prince's first-half performance was probably comparable to Barkley's vs. the Spartans (Since I never watch these designated Trojan sacrifices, I can't say for sure.) Prince did look better than in any practice I've ever seen. Then again, he wasn't going against the Bruin first-team defense. Unfortunately, his second-half performance was a bit Craftlike. So, with this perpetually worrisome offense, we still seem to be on hold. Better than last year? Of course. How could it not be? As for the defense, it looks as good as advertised.

Anyway, we always knew Tennessee, at their place, would be the first real "tell" for the season ahead. The defense will need to show real leadership in the hysteria that will be Neyland Stadium.

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It was a genuine shocker watching the Bruins fall two scores behind the Aztecs, especially considering SDSU now has a serious coaching staff. On the opening drive of the game, the defense twice bailed out the Aztecs with penalties on crucial third downs, then Defensive Coordinator, Chuck Bullough, much like his predecessor, chose to lay back in nickel coverage on a third and long, only to watch, horrified, as nickel back, Andrew Abbott, got beaten badly by talented wide receiver, Vincent Brown (who would account for half of the Aztec's total offense). Apparently Abbott should have had some help over the top, presumably from Rahim Moore. But since Moore would catch all three balls thrown directly to him, I guess you have to give him a pass here. Luckily Terrence Austin immediately set things right with a sweet kick-off return, after which, on the very next play, Johnathan Franklin cut back over the left-middle, running it in virtually untouched. Had the Bruins not answered so decisively, we may have been in for one of those unnecessarily agonizing grinders well into the second half.   

After the first two Aztec scores, the Bruins D basically stoned SDSU's offense; they barely ever crossed midfield and never once threatened the red zone. The Bruins forced eight punts in the next three quarters. In fact the Aztecs only remaining scoring chance came off one of Prince's interceptions. But Prince alertly cut off the defender, forcing him back inside where he tripped. After Prince's second pick, Norm Chow seemed to shut him down, giving him only a few safe passes while allowing Milton Knox and Damien Thigpen about a dozen carries between them. Knox looked good, getting 45 yards in eight attempts, while poor Thigpen wasn't done any favors as the Bruins basically used the kid to run out the clock. Hopefully, he'll see better days this season.

Derrick Coleman had a short but spectacular line: four carries for 69 yards, including that nice 29-yard touchdown (another cut back left that opened wide). Coleman is Chow's LenDale White: not as  big, but strong, with good feet, good vision and quick enough that he'll likely never have to line up at fullback. Franklin looked okay, especially early, but did seem to hesitate a couple of times at the line of scrimmage, something a lot of lightning quick backs do, but something Chow hates to see.

Taylor Embree was his usual excellent self, getting nearly 100 yards on six catches. He did appear uncharacteristically loose with the ball. In Knoxville, that near fumble inside the ten-yard line - the one they quickly validated on replay - would likely be ruled a fumble (Anyone still remember Tommy Prothro's classic blast at Tennessee when the Vols' Dewey Warren scored the winning touchdown clearly on the first bounce from the one-yard line? "Today ah am ashamed to be a suthernuh," he gravely intoned. )

Austin looked extremely sharp on kick returns, looked solid catching punts and, with his vision and moves in the open field, is beginning to remind me of Tyler Ebell. I can live with Terrence getting run down if he keeps breaking runs for 50 and 60 yards.   

It was no great surprise the offensive line seems vastly improved over last year's horror show, though Kai Maiava and Prince need to clean up the their center snaps. They looked bizarrely out of sink all night. When the O line finally shakes out, considering its size and new blood like Xavier Su'a-Filo and the rest, it might even conceivably become a strength.

There are, at the very least, three very good tailbacks and a huge handful of talented receivers. Which leaves only the old question of quarterbacking. Rick Neuheisel has said all along they would play the position better. But, again, how could they not? Prince will need to be solid for this team to be successful...which standard he easily surpassed in the first half. It's that disappointing second half that gives one pause. And it was no great surprise that Richard Brehaut emerged as Prince's true backup. He executed his only two pass plays smoothly, effortlessly, and I think it's by no means established just yet which of the two is more talented. Finally, one has to love the hang time Jeff Locke provides on both punts and kick offs, while Kai Forbath's accuracy beyond 50 yards is almost unprecedented.               

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If there will be 100,000 Vols fans drowning out our gutty little outpost of Bruin fans, surely the rest of the country will be supporting UCLA since Lane Kiffin has become almost universally despised. He didn't likely win over any converts while shamelessly running up the score on poor Western Kentucky, newly arrived in division 1A (or whatever the NCAA is calling their top 120 programs). Up 28-0, he tried (and failed) to convert 4th and 4 on his side of the 50. Of course the guy studied under the master, "Pile-It-On Pete."  

Even though they're only a touchdown underdog, I know there's a certain amount of Bruin fans dreading a beat-down in Knoxville. But I wouldn't base those fears on Tennessee's performance last Saturday. Jonathan Crompton is hardly scary, and the Bruin defense won't exactly be shaking in their boots facing him again. If they can hold the Vols running game in check, and Prince plays decently, the Bruins should have a shot here. The pressure on Prince will be intense, however. If UCLA loses its poise and gets run early...oh well. But if they can get off to a good start, and if they stay aggressive ‘til the end, we might just get that revelation.  


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