Q&A - UCLA Style

In a series that we've done at various times throughout the season, we've approached the opponent publisher and asked them questions about the program they cover. This week it's Tracy Pierson, Owner and Publisher of Bruin Report Online. What does he think of the Bruins and the homecoming of former UCLA quarterback, Rick Neuheisel, as their head coach - especially with his ties to UW?

1. Who on offense is UCLA going to try and feature besides (Nelson) Rosario? Also, how serious is Kai Maiava's injury?

TP: Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree have now emerged as the go-to guys at receiver, but Norm Chow has really liked to throw to the two tight ends, Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya. Also, you can probably expect UCLA to try to get back-up running back Milton Knox some touches. Maiava's injury isn't serious.

2. What exactly is going on with the offense? Norm Chow obviously has a proven track record...there are some big names at WR and TE. It seems to me that people may not realize that the qb play is still terrible. Last year it was glaringly obvious but I think this year it's still a GIGANTIC issue. Is that accurate or is there much mroe going on? Are the WRs overrated? Weak O-line? What is the deal?

TP: The primary problem with the offense is a lack of experience. UCLA is starting a redshirt freshman quarterback who hasn't play football since his junior year in high school and then fractured his jaw this season. If UCLA had the luxury of plugging in an experienced, talented guy like Jake Locker at quarterback UCLA's offense would look quite a bit differently. How differently would the Washington offense look with Ronnie Fouch? You saw that last season. There aren't really "big names" at receiver that are "overrated." The offensive line is made up of inexperienced, young guys who are learning how to play. There wasn't much talent left over in the program after Karl Dorrell left.

3. Is Neuheisel feeling any pressure for the team's lack of performance in his tenure? He has recruited well but won less games per season than Dorrell was doing. Is there a reason for this as far as personnel is concerned? What has happened to cause the change in the defense's performance from the beginning of the season to now? (12.67 ppg allowed in the first three victories versus 29.2 ppg allowed in the ensuing five losses) Is it strength of schedule or something else?

TP: Any time you lose five games in a row the coach is going to feel some pressure. There is a pressure to win again, of course, and criticism coming from the media and the fans. But there's no internal pressure from UCLA on Neuheisel. The athletic department realized that Karl Dorrell left the cupboard bare and that it would take at least a few years to re-stock it. There really are no comparisons being made with Dorrell, either. Dorrell, it was clear, was in over his head when he took over UCLA's program, but there is a lot of confidence that Neuheisel "gets it." In answering the questions of why the defense has fallen off, it was a combination of injury and then playing far better opponents. The defense was thin to begin with, and it suffered two big injuries – to Reggie Carter and starting cornerback Aaron Hester – and that was enough to make it vulnerable to the highly-explosive offenses in the Pac-10.

4. What's the general consensus down there about player conditioning and development under Rick's leadership? He has brought in some talent, but are they improving as players? Being coached up? Getting bigger and stronger?

TP: The feeling is that the strength and conditioning program under Neuheisel is a considerable improvement over Dorrell's. In terms of whether players are improving under Neuheisel, it's pretty clear that they are, and probably more clear since he's been forced to play younger, inexperienced players who probably wouldn't have gotten so much early playing time at another program that had a decent amount of upperclass talent. The young offensive line has made a huge jump in improvement from last season; Johnathan Franklin emerged as the number one running back this season and looks to be growing into a big contributor down the line; Kevin Prince, after being set back by the jaw fracture, has improved; Nelson Rosario, who has an issue with sustaining effort, had the game of his career last week. But, then, there are also many recruits Neuheisel has brought in that we haven't seen enough of yet since he's still just a year and a half into his tenure.

5. We know of all the reason a recruit would choose UCLA over some other schools; weather, location, hot women, decent academics, etc... Can you please share 2 or 3 negatives for recruits when considering UCLA? Something other than the obvious location too far from their homes, or what not.

TP: The primary limitation in recruiting is UCLA's academic admissions standards being higher than most other programs. The former director of Football Operations at UCLA, Randy Taylor, once sat me down and we went through the list of recruits in one year on the west coast who were considered UCLA-level prospects, and he determined that UCLA couldn't recruit 35 percent to 40 percent of them. The UCLA football program is dictated by a very detached academic side of the university that doesn't care much about football but only about UCLA's academic reputation. Probably the other biggest limitation stems from money; the state of California is in a well-known budget crisis, and UCLA notoriously doesn't invest liberally in its football program anyway. So, a limit on funds will always, in the long term, limit the quality of coaches you can hire, the facilities you can build, etc. Neuheisel has been able to work around that to a degree with arranging to hire Norm Chow and his current staff, but it's an on-going issue in UCLA's football program.

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