Sunday, November 20, 2011
UCLA turns its attention to USC
By Ramona Shelburne
It was either a symbolic gesture or mere coincidence. But moments before UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel walked into the crowded press room following the the Bruins' lopsided 45-6 win over Colorado on Saturday night, a Rose Bowl staffer changed the channel of the flat screen television which had been showing the fourth quarter of USC's 38-35 win over No. 4 Oregon.
Most folks in the room groaned knowing they'd miss the final minutes of the game. They also understood: Let the man have his moment. UCLA will need to start dealing with the Trojans soon enough.
"I didn't see much sun today, but I'm assuming it did come up," Neuheisel joked at the start of his weekly conference call Sunday night.
He was talking, of course, about the heavy rains that drenched Southern California on Sunday. But he easily could've been referring to the giant USC has quickly become this season.
The Trojans (8-2) haven't just improved over the second half of the year. They've grown into one of the best teams in college football, earning a No. 10 ranking in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.
"You're wanting to know if I'm surprised by how well they've come together? Not really," Neuheisel said. "They've got an experienced quarterback [Matt Barkley] which is such a huge place to start.
"He's had a magnificent year and he's got some real talent to throw to. They've certainly had some holes to fill with respect to their offensive line, but they've done that well. The offense is on all cylinders especially with the quarterback being as efficient as he's been."
For the first time in a long while, UCLA can almost say the same.
No one is putting Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince in the same class as Barkley, who just might have played himself into Heisman Trophy contention the last few weeks, but Prince had his best game as a starter Saturday -- completing 15-of-19 passes for 225 yards and four touchdowns and running for 84 yards -- and seems to have finally figured out how to succeed in the Pistol offense.
"When Kevin really decided he was going to run, I think that opens up a lot of things, a lot of the possibilities of the offense," Bruins offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "There came a certain point in the season where he said, 'I'm going to go. I'm going to go and do it.' And when he did that he started playing better."
USC will likely be a huge favorite when the teams play this Saturday night at the Coliseum. The Trojans have won 11 of the last 12 meetings between the schools. Neuheisel's Bruins have lost by scores of 28-7, 28-7 and 28-14 the last three seasons.
The Bruins, though, are just one win away from a trip to the inaugural Pacific 12 Conference championship game and two wins away from a Rose Bowl berth. The winner of Saturday's game will win the Pac-12 South Division title outright, although USC is ineligible to compete in the conference championship game because of its NCAA sanctions.
"SC has a great brand and certainly is going to be formidable regardless of the circumstances," Neuheisel said. "But if we take care of what we can do and do the things we're capable of doing, whether it be on or off the field, we can be a formidable entity as well and I'm hellbent to get that accomplished."
KEEPIN' IT OLD SCHOOL
Neuheisel said he has heard nothing about either team changing up the recent tradition of both teams wearing home jerseys in this intra-city rivalry game, despite some internet chatter that there might be a change this year.
"No one’s told me anything. We’re blue and gold as far as I know," Neuheisel said. "I’ve heard the rumor, but I have no indication of that. ... I love the home uniforms. I think it’s one of the classic games in college football."
BREHAUT 'CLOSE' TO READY
Neuheisel said that backup quarterback Richard Brehaut is "getting closer to being ready to play" but that he wasn't sure he'd be ready this week yet. Brehaut returned to practice from a broken ankle two weeks ago, but didn't play at all in Saturday's win.
"Richard could play now, but he's not at full speed," Neuheisel said. "I didn't want to put him out there and have him limping around. When he's fully healthy we'll get him going again. But this was an opportunity for Nick Crissman to get a chance to play and it was fun to see him in there."
Neuheisel says he expects linebackers Sean Westgate and Isaiah Bowens to play Saturday. Both suffered concussions against Colorado.
"I’m counting on it," he said. "But with those injuries you have to let them take their course"