Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Brehaut emerges for UCLA, Neuheisel
By Ted Miller
Is quarterback Richard Brehaut good enough to save UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel's job?
While it would be an exaggeration to say Neuheisel has gone all-in with Brehaut, it appears that Brehaut has put some distance between himself and Kevin Prince since Prince threw three first-quarter interceptions against Texas.
"He is our starting quarterback at this time," Neuheisel said. "There is no question about that."
Not a ringing endorsement? Well, how about this.
UCLA will need a big game out of Richard Brehaut if it hopes to upset Stanford.
"He's been terrific," Neuheisel said.
But Neuheisel, who has long been known to be hard on quarterbacks, and particularly hard on Brehaut, then added, "I still think he can continue to develop his understanding of how defenses play and how to get us to the right plays."
Still, Brehaut has given the Bruins -- and Neuheisel -- a chance. They are 2-2 after winning at Oregon State and a bowl game is not an unreasonable expectation.
Of course, Saturday's visit to No. 6 Stanford looks like a place where newfound momentum might peter out. The Cardinal beat the Bruins 35-0 last year in the Rose Bowl and are coming off a bye week.
"They were more physical than us a year ago and we're going to have to answer the bell this week to have a chance," Neuheisel said.
The Cardinal defense, in particular, has been stout and physical against the run. Stanford ranks No. 1 in the nation against the run -- 36 yards per game -- though this will be its first contest without stalwart inside linebacker Shayne Skov.
That suggests that Brehaut and the Bruins won't be able to rely primarily on their pistol running game. Brehaut will have to throw, and he's been solid if unspectacular doing that thus far. He's completing 55.7 percent of his passes with four TDs and, most importantly, no interceptions. He ranks 38th in the nation in passing efficiency.
Neuheisel said he's seen growth, particularly on the mental side of things. Brehaut previously was known for interrupting several good plays with an inexplicable gaffe. In fact, Brehaut often was unable to tell Neuheisel why he did something when he screwed up, which was not a good way to endear himself to his coach, who also oversees the QBs.
"His poise is at his best right now," Neuheisel said. "He kind of understands what we're trying to do. He's doing a nice job of keeping the ball away from opponent defenses."
Still, Brehaut probably won't have much luck throwing 50 times. The Bruins need some running threat, and they've been solid running the ball this year, with 214 yards rushing per game, which ranks second in the Pac-12. That's a critical strength-on-strength matchup. And for the pistol to work best, Brehaut has to be a threat to keep the ball.
"I wouldn't call him a running threat, but the thing is you still have to account for him," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "If you don't, he'll pick up a first down. He's athletic enough to pull the ball out and get positive yards."
Brehaut has rushed 27 times for 140 yards with two TDs. Solid but unspectacular numbers, not unlike his passing stats. Brehaut's improvement as a runner has been a big reason that he's eclipsed the more athletic, though injury-prone, Prince.
There are plenty of concerns for Neuheisel and the Bruins beyond quarterback play. For one, the defense has been mostly awful. It played better at Oregon State, but Stanford is no Oregon State. Further, the Bruins have a banged-up secondary -- five defensive backs are nursing injuries -- which is not a good thing when you're facing quarterback Andrew Luck.
Neuheisel is effusive -- as most coaches are -- when asked about Luck.
"A really, really complete and wonderful player. He's got it all," Neuheisel said.
It's obvious that Neuheisel doesn't have a QB on his roster who has it all (at least not yet; see talented true freshman Brett Hundley, who may still see action this year). But the question is whether he has a quarterback who has enough. And is that Richard Brehaut?