Coach Rick Neuheisel had a chance to review game film from Saturday night's 27-17 victory over San Jose State and said Sunday during his weekly conference call with reporters that the main reason the game was so much closer than expected was UCLA's inability to convert on third downs.
The Bruins were four of 13 on third-down conversions and one of those came on an unnecessary roughness penalty on San Jose State when a Spartans player made a helmet-to-helmet hit on UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut.
"That was the most disappointing thing from the game offensively," Neuheisel said. "We didn’t do as well as we have worked and needed to be on third down."
Many of those problems came from inefficiency in the passing game. Brehaut completed 12 of 23 passes, but Neuheisel said that by his count, Brehaut should have completed at least five more passes.
"We should have never been anything less than 17 of 23 just by doing things that are simple," Neuheisel said. "Not things that they took away from us, just things that we didn’t hit. If you do that then the game is a different game because you’re out there for longer and you can start to wear things down."
Saturday after the game, Brehaut lamented some of his decision making. He said he tried to take too many shots down the field instead of dumping off to safety-valve receivers for short gains.
"I could have done a better job of finding my underneath option -- my third option," he said. "As a quarterback, I've got to learn that when it's third and long, just take that underneath route. You never know what's going to happen."
On the defensive side, Neuheisel said he saw some improvement over the opening-week loss at Houston, but said there are still issues that need attention, such as "playing faster."
"They have to when they see the ball, they’ve got to go," he said. "You can’t continue to play without urgency. I don’t know if it’s inexperience or what have you, but we’ve got to go. We have to see it and go."
Neuheisel didn't name any names, but hinted that playing time would be up for grabs this week.
"We have to continue to have competition to make sure the guys understand that in order to be in there they have to do things right," he said. "We’ll continue to create opportunities for other people to win more and more playing time."
Other highlights from the call:
Neuheisel said Kevin Prince was available but did not play because "I didn’t see a need to make that change especially given that he hadn’t had a whole bunch of practice and was nursing a sore shoulder." Prince started the opener against Houston but sprained his shoulder. Neuheisel said he would play both Prince and Brehaut against San Jose State, but Prince stayed on the sidelines the entire game. Neuheisel said both quarterbacks would be available for Saturday's game against Texas, but he hinted that he would not name a starter until game day.
With Kai Maiava set to return after serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules, the center position will be up for grabs this week. Backup Greg Capella had a good game Saturday and had no issues with shotgun snaps and Neuheisel said Maiava does not automatically get his job back. "There’ll be competition," Neuheisel said. "That’s not to say we don’t have a great deal of confidence in Kai, but Greg Capella had a great game."
The entire offensive line remains in flux. Tackle Jeff Baca returned from injury and played well in his first action since 2009, so he will be in line to start. That mans Sean Sheller would move to guard and Albert Cid, Chris Ward, Capella and Maiava will be competing for two spots. Mike Harris will stay at the other tackle. "We’ve got a nice problem with Jeff Baca back in the fold."
Punter Jeff Locke had one of the poorest performances of his UCLA career with a punting average of 33.5 yards. he also struggled a bit on kickoffs, failing to get touchbacks on any of his six attempts. Locke led the Pac-10 and was fourth in the nation with a 45.84 punting average last season and had 14 of his kickoffs go for touchbacks. He had offseason hip surgery, but Neuheisel said he was fine. "I would be concerned if it weren’t Jeff Locke," Neuheisel said. "Jeff is a proven guy and I think he’ll respond and come back and be the guy we’ve all come to really enjoy."
Conspicuously missing from Saturday night's victory was the traditional Neuheisel postgame speech to the crowd. At past home games, Neuheisel, win or lose, would address the fans with gratitude and promises. Saturday, he walked directly to the locker room after his on-field interviews, saying that the speeches became too much of a distraction because the media routinely reported what he said and how it was received by the fans. "I love the Bruins fans and wanted to share my thoughts with them whether we won or lost, but when it became an issue when it was going to be talked about in the media, it’s no longer worth that," he said. "It needs to be something that is just between them and I and when it became a media deal, the perception of what it was all about became something that I didn’t want to deal with anymore so we’ll do it whenever we feel the need to."