UCLA: Josh Smith

Shabazz MuhammadKelly Kline/Getty ImagesShabazz Muhammad hopes to take UCLA to new heights in the coming season.

LOS ANGELES -- The basketball season is still four months away, but Shabazz Muhammad can already feel the pressure starting to build.

Muhammad has been at UCLA less than two weeks but has already seen the people pointing at him as walks by and heard the whispers about how he and his fellow freshmen would be the guys to pull UCLA out of the college basketball doldrums.

Muhammad is used to that kind of attention having been the top high school recruit in the nation for most of the past year, but the stage suddenly became a lot bigger when he arrived at UCLA to begin summer school on June 25.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Muhammad
Courtesy Scott KurtzShabazz Muhammad says he felt the pressure right away when he stepped onto the UCLA campus, but he plans to be a leader for this team.
During the recruiting period, everyone fantasized about the potential monster recruiting class, with Muhammad joining Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams. After all four signed with UCLA, giving coach Ben Howland the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, the fantasy turned to speculation about just how good UCLA would be.

But fantasy and speculation turned to reality once those four players stepped onto campus. Even though they could barely find their way from dorm rooms to class rooms and practice facilities, they were looked at as the guys who would lead UCLA back to the college basketball promised land.

“I could feel the pressure right away,” Muhammad said. “There’s been a lot of talk about this class and what we’re going to do for UCLA, but now we’re here and we have to go out there and prove ourselves. It’s a great opportunity for us, but it’s also a lot of pressure.”

Anderson, Parker and Adams also used the word “pressure” several times when talking about arriving at UCLA. A certain amount of pressure comes with the territory of being named the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, but the pressure for these guys is different.

UCLA has a storied tradition with 11 national championships and a place on the Mt. Rushmore of college basketball programs, but the Bruins are in the midst of a downturn. They missed the NCAA tournament last season for the second time in three seasons and haven’t made it to the second week of the NCAA tournament since a run to the Final Four in 2008. Add to that a Sports Illustrated report last March that painted the program in an unflattering light and you have a program on the brink of sliding into oblivion.

Yet somehow Las Vegas bookmakers list the odds of UCLA winning the national title at 15-1. Only Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky --- teams that made deep runs in the NCAA tournament last season -- are more heavily favored. The arrival of Muhammad, Anderson, Parker and Adams is a major reason why.

“All of us know that they had a down year last year, so they brought us in here for a reason and that was to win,” Adams said. “We know there is going to be pressure because we’re expected to do big things. It’s going to make us better because we don’t want to be embarrassed by pressure. It’s going make us dig down and fight.”

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Grades: Oregon 49, UCLA 31

December, 2, 2011
Kevin Prince completed 13 of 26 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. He was hot and cold, however, missing badly on several passes and making other that were nice. Nelson Rosario had six catches for 98 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown catch at the end of the game.

Derrick Coleman broke one long run, but the Bruins never really seemed to get their ground game on track. they had 160 yards, which is 30 yards below their season average, but coughed up the game with three fumbles on running plays. Oregon turned those into 21 points.

A very average day for both lines. the defensive front four had some standout moments and hurried the quarterback effectively, but gave up way too much against the run. On offense, the line gave up four sacks, equaling the season-high they gave up last week against USC.

You can't get a very good grade when you give up 571 total yards, including a season-high 352 on the ground. The Bruins did score a defensive touchdown on Patrick Larimore's interception return and held Oregon to six of 17 third down conversions. Unfortunately Oregon converted four fourth downs, including two for touchdowns.

Another solid night of punting for Jeff Locke, who averaged 48.2 yards on four punts and put two inside the 20. His kickoffs were a bit shaky, however. Tyler Gonzalez drilled a 44-yard field goal on his only attempt. Taylor Embree had his best punt return of the season, but Josh Smith couldn't get going on kick returns. Punt coverage team was outstanding, but kickoff coverage gave up a big 40-yard return.

This one has nothing to do with game strategy, play calling or schemes, but rather class and integrity, which is how Rick Neuheisel has handled a very difficult week. He's as genuine a person as you'll find in the coaching profession and we don't have the heart to send him out with anything less than a perfect grade.

Grades: USC 50, UCLA 0

November, 27, 2011
Kevin Prince actually had a decent game completing 21-of-33 passes for 261 yards -- his second most of the season. He missed badly on a couple of throws, however, and had one intercepted in the end zone. Nelson Rosario had seven catches for 118 yards and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

The run game was neutralized by the big deficit and UCLA only ran the ball 36 times for 124 yards -- it's second lowest ground output this season. Failing to score on fourth and goal from the one was a major setback and momentum changer for a team that prides itself on running the ball.

The offensive line had one probably its worst game of the season, giving up a season-high four sacks and failing to open running lanes. The defensive front had trouble creating pressure as USC quarterback Matt Barkley seemingly had all day to throw every time he dropped back.

Giving up 50 points and 572 total yards was embarrassing, but allowing Barkley to repeatedly pick apart the defense to the tune of 423 yards on 35-of-42 attempts was inexcusable. The Bruins' secondary had no answer for receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who combined for 25 catches, 337 yards and four touchdowns.

Punter Jeff Locke had a solid night with a 45.2-yard average, including two of 50 yards or more. He also put three inside the 20. the punt coverage unit gave up a 23-yard return, but was otherwise pretty good. Josh Smith averaged 25 yards on kick returns. Kicker Tyler Gonzalez never got on the field.

To have a team so ill-prepared for such a major rivalry game was an epic failure as was the inability to adjust the defensive scheme to slow the USC passing attack. Offensively, the grind-it-out game plan worked early but the Bruins had no contingency plan to try and come back once they got in a hole.

Five things to watch: Colorado at UCLA

November, 18, 2011

UCLA makes its living running the ball, but might be well-served to try and get the passing game going against Colorado. The Buffaloes have had several issues in the secondary because of injuries and suspensions and have used a different defensive backfield in each of the past five games. They rank No. 101 in the nation in pass defense and have given up 300 yards or more through the air in three consecutive games. UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has been up and down as a passer this season but against a struggling Colorado pass defense, it might be worth the risk of taking some chances.


The Colorado rushing attack hasn't been able to muster much this season with an average of only 110.64 yards per game on the ground, which is good for No. 104 in the nation. That doesn't mean much against a UCLA defense, which has allowed below-average running teams to dominate on the ground. San Jose State (No. 108 in the nation) had 202 yards rushing against the Bruins, Arizona (No. 117) had 254 yards rushing against UCLA, Arizona State (No. 75) had 201 and Utah (No. 79) had 224. UCLA is No. 95 in the nation against the run and must not allow another average team to run wild.


This game is a matchup of defenses that have had problems getting teams off the field and keeping opponents out of the end zone. Both are ranked in the bottom 13 in the nation in third down defense (UCLA is No. 115; Colorado is No. 107) and they are two of the nation's worst teams in terms of allowing first downs (UCLA is No. 108 in the nation, allowing 23.4 first downs per game; Colorado is No. 115 with 24.36 first downs allowed per game). Statistics such as those would point to a shootout looming, especially considering Colorado gives up 37.82 points a game and UCLA gives up 31.4. Colorado has given up 31 points or more nine times this season. UCLA has given up that many points five times.


There are all kinds of subplots going on in the game. Rick Neuheisel is facing the team that gave him his first head coaching job. UCLA receiver Taylor Embree is facing his father, Colorado coach Jon Embree, who is a close personal friend of Neuheisel. UCLA's Josh Smith and Kai Maiava transferred from Colorado so they will be facing their former teammates as will Colorado receiver Paul Richardson, who transferred from UCLA. Colorado will be trying to end a 22-game losing streak in games outside of its home state and UCLA is playing for bowl eligibility and to stay in the driver's seat for a berth in the Pac-12 title game. Add in the fact that it will be senior day--the last home game for UCLA's seniors--and it could become an emotional overload for many of those involved. Controlling those emotions will be a key to winning the game.


Although Colorado's rushing attack isn't all that potent over all, the Buffaloes feature one of the premier all-around running backs in the nation in Rodney Stewart, who is the school's all-time leader in total yards with 4,670. He has 742 yards rushing and 525 yards receiving this season, making him the only player in the nation with at least 500 yards in each category entering this week's games. He also has 239 yards in kick returns and is coming off of a 181-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance last week against Arizona. He also passed for a touchdown in that game, so it's pretty clear that he can do it all and the Bruins will have to stop him to have success.

Tony Dye optimistic for return this week

November, 15, 2011
Tony Dye was happy just to have a numbered jersey again.

The senior safety, out since Sept. 17 because of a lingering neck issue, shed the red no-contact jersey Tuesday and said he felt great. Dye was scheduled to see a doctor to "revisit things," but indicated that he plans on taking the field Saturday in UCLA's home finale against Colorado.

"I've always wanted to come back, especially since we have a real shot at the Pac-12 championship," Dye said. "I really want to be a part of it."

Dye added that he and his family had discussions about the possibility of taking a medical redshirt and returning next year for a fifth season. But rest helped the numbness wear off to the point where he feels comfortable enough to play.

"I'm a competitor and I really want to be a part of this opportunity I have right now," Dye said. "Coming back [next year] would have been an amazing thing but I want to spend the time I have with them right now and try to get this W."

Coach Rick Neuheisel said he did not get a bad update on Dye, though he didn't necessarily keep an eye on him during practice. Neuheisel will gauge Dye's readiness by looking at the film.

Dye had started 28 consecutive games prior to the injury.

Other news and notes from Tuesday's practice:

-- Quarterback Richard Brehaut (leg), listed as probable on the team's injury report, received second-team reps and ran sprints toward the end of practice. "There's some pain but it's nothing that I can't get through if need be," Brehaut said. Aside from the minor pain, Brehaut said it was the best he's felt since he got hurt Oct. 8 in a win against Washington State. "There's still a little bit of rust on my timing of some routes that I've got to improve," Brehaut said.

-- Running back Derrick Coleman, who sat out most of the second half against Utah with a hip injury, practiced fully.

-- Freshman cornerback Anthony Jefferson, who underwent back surgery in the summer, has received clearance for full contact but Neuheisel said he wasn't sure if Jefferson is ready to play.

-- Sophomore safety Alex Mascarenas (concussion) went through drills in the red no-contact jersey.

-- Senior receiver Josh Smith, who played at Colorado for two years before transferring to UCLA in 2009, said he might feel emotional when he lines up against his former team on Saturday. "There's definitely going to be some emotional ties because a lot of those guys were like family to me. Me personally I still remember the fight song, so it's going to be weird. ... But we're going to be yelling the UCLA song loud and proud all day. There will be guys on the other side who I'm familiar with and I can't wait to get a shot at them because it's all love." Senior center Kai Maiava transferred to UCLA from Colorado in 2008.

First look: Colorado at UCLA

November, 15, 2011
So many subplots are in action this week as UCLA prepares to face Colorado Saturday at the Rose Bowl, but really the only one that matters for the Bruins is the chance to gain bowl eligibility and keep control of their destiny in the Pac-12 South division.

So Rick Neuheisel going up against the school that gave him his first coaching job and receiver Taylor Embree playing against his father, Colorado coach Jon Embree, and Josh Smith and Kai Maiava facing the Buffaloes for the first time since transferring from Colorado are really side stories.

ColoradoUCLA"We’re in it," Neuheisel said. "And we are excited about trying to stay in it."

The Bruins (5-5, 4-3) need to defeat Colorado (2-9, 1-6) to make that happen.

At first glance, it appears that it should be no problem. The Buffaloes are a rebuilding team that hasn't won on the road since Oct. 27, 2007--a span of 22 consecutive games. They are ranked No. 101 or lower in the nation in six major statistical categories and have given up 29 points or more in 10 of thier 11 games.

Still, Neuheisel said the Bruins can ill afford to look at those numbers and look past Colorado.

"We would be absolutely foolish to consider that anything other than motivation for them," Neuheisel said. "This is going to be a slugfest. This is going to be a team that plays with reckless abandon that has nothing to lose that’s going to come here excited. And we’ve got to match fire with fire."

Colorado is coming off of its best performance of the season, a 48-29 victory over Arizona. yes, that's the same Arizona that embarrassed UCLA, 49-12, on Oct. 20.

Colorado running back Rodney Stewart had a season-high 181 yards rushing in that game and also scored three touchdowns. The 5-foot-6, 175-pound senior is the school's all-time leader in career yards with 4,409 and his 3,486 yards rushing are second on the school's all-time list.

Stewart is also a weapon as a receiver with 36 catches for 525 yards this season and needs 77 yards receiving to become the 27th player in NCAA history with 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in his career. He also threw a touchdown pass last week.

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Five things to watch: California at UCLA

October, 28, 2011
UCLA was demoralized in its last game and the Bruins will have sat on that embarrassing 48-12 defeat at Arizona for nine days by the time they take the field against Cal, so the early going in this game will tell a lot about the mindset of the UCLA players. The players say they still have pride and expect to come out with fire and energy that will show their resiliency. But if things don't go well in the first quarter and UCLA comes out flat and uninspired, that will be a bad sign not only for this game, but for the rest of the season. That would be a pretty clear indication that the team has simply given up. UCLA has shown character by following each of its first three losses with victories, but last week's loss will be much more difficult to overcome than the previous three.

The Bruins will play without five suspended players for the entire game and will miss a sixth for the first half. Receivers Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray along with defensive lineman Cassius Marsh will sit out the entire game and offensive lineman Albert Cid is out for the first half because of their roles in a brawl last week against Arizona. The receiver corps is a particular issue because the Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith will be the only receivers with playing experience this season available for the game. Jerry Rice, Jr. is coming off the scout team to fill in and Jerry Johnson is expected to come back from an ankle injury that has kept him out almost a year, but Smith and Rosario will certainly need to stay near the oxygen tanks when they are on the sidelines. Marsh's absence is significant because the defensive line has struggled this season and he has been one of it's better performers.

Cal features one of the top receiver tandems in the country with Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. Allen leads the nation with 129.43 yards receiving per game and Jones averages 85.57. That will put a lot of pressure on the UCLA secondary, with cornerbacks Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott in the thick of that battle. Price is still recovering from a knee injury and tried to play through it last week, but clearly wasn't at full speed. UCLA has struggled against the pass at times this season, giving up 244 yards per game through the air and top-flight receivers such as Juron Criner of Arizona, Marquess Wilson of Washington State, Markus Wheaton of Oregon State and Tyron Carrier of Houston have all had big games against the Bruins. Now they have to face two elite receivers and prevent both from breaking out.

Last year when these teams met, UCLA was on a roll running the ball, having averaged 322.3 yards rushing in the three previous games but California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast devised a defensive scheme that nullified the Pistol attack and became the blueprint for UCLA opponents the rest of the season. The Bruins gained only 26 yards rushing in that game and averaged only 128 yards on the ground the rest of the season. UCLA has a more diverse offense this year, but will rely heavily on Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman and the run game this week because of the receiver shortage. Cal is No. 27 in the nation against the run this season, so if Pendergast again draws up an effective plan, it could turn into a long day for UCLA.

Keeping an eye on coach Rick Neuheisel may prove a worthwhile endeavor in this game. Publicly, he's handled a difficult week with class and dignity, but you have to wonder what's really brewing under the surface. On game day, he'll be exposed by the heat of the battle. It's doubtful much will change. He's usually pretty animated and emotional on the sideline, but look for subtle differences. Does he appear stressed? Are his players responding to his coaching? Are they listening to him? Is he yelling as much? Also try and steal a glance of the athletic department brass. Athletic director Dan Guerrero and senior associate athletic director Bob Field may give away their thoughts about Neuheisel and the direction of the program with their expressions as the game progresses.

Josh Smith bracing for expanded role

October, 26, 2011
Josh Smith will stick close to the oxygen when he is on the sidelines Saturday against California--if he ever makes it to the sidelines, that is.

Smith, a senior wide receiver and kick return specialist, figures to get a lot more action than usual because of suspensions handed down to four of UCLA's wide receivers. Smith and Nelson Rosario are the only two receivers with significant experience who will be eligible to play Saturday so they will be on the field as much as possible. Add in Smith kick return duties and it could be an exhausting game.

"I’m imagining myself out there very tired," Smith said. "Very tired."

Smith said he's preparing for different roles and studying different plays and formations because he will be counted on to help pick up the slack left by the absences of Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray.

"I’ve got to pick the guys up this weekend," Smith said. "The workload has been taxed on my shoulders this week. Not too many plays off the field and that’s a good thing, but at the same time, you know, the work gets endless."

As with many receivers, Smith is often vocal about wanting to get the ball more. He has six catches for 158 yards this season--his 26.3 yards per catch average leads the team--but could double his receptions total on Saturday.

"I never knew that it could make a 180 spin like that," Smith said. "This is probably one of the biggest opportunities of my lifetime right now and that’s what I’m looking at it as."

Not knowing exactly how it's going to go, however, has him a bit concerned.

"I just have this vision that a kick return just happened, I just got my helmet knocked off, I’ve got to find a way to suck the air in and get back in there for the next play," he said. "And they call and play for me right after the kickoff return, so now I’m all beat up and I’m grabbing the grass out of my face mask and gotta figure out where I’m lining up."

Juggling receivers because of suspensions

October, 25, 2011
Even regulars at UCLA practice needed a roster to tell who the players were on Tuesday.

Four regulars in the receiver rotation, Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray have been suspended from the game for their parts in a bench-clearing brawl Thursday at Arizona so all four were in scout jerseys in practice.

Embree was wearing No. 11, Evans had on No. 21 and Marvray wore No. 1. Carroll wasn't even in an offensive scout jersey. He was wearing number 21 in the defensive blue. He had been working a bit as a defensive back in recent weeks, but Tuesday was the first time he spent and entire practice on defense.

Aside from the identity crisis, it also made clear just how thinned the Bruins' receiving corps will be when UCLA faces California Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

"We are always in football dealing with attrition," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "This is just an unusual amount of attrition at a particular position. So we’ve got to figure out exactly how to play the game and how to still have all the things you need as an offense to impact the defense and that’s what we’re working on."

The suspensions leave Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith as the only eligible receivers with significant experience. To pick up the slack, Jerry Rice, Jr. has been promoted from the scout team and Jerry Johnson, out for the last year while recovering from a broken ankle, will make his return.

Neuheisel said he hoped Johnson, who had five catches in a limited role last season before the injury could play about 15 plays.

"If we could get 15 plays from him, that would be a great help to us and I think we can get that," Neuheisel said. "I know he’s doing everything he can. He made a couple of plays today. I know this, they have to cover him and they have to respect that he can run."

Rice, a walk-on who has never played, also figures to contribute.

"Jerry Rice will play every play if you ask him to," Neuheisel said. "He just needs an opportunity and now he’s got one and we’ll see how he does. I’m excited to watch him."

F-back Jordon James could also get some time as a wide out and Neuheisel said Anthony Barr, out for the last three games because of a knee injury, will practice Wednesday and could be available for Saturday's game. The good news is that in Rosario and Smith, the Bruins will have two of their top three receivers for the game. Rosario leads the team with 30 catches for 558 yards and Smith has 158 yards receiving--third most among wide receivers-- and is averaging a team-best 26.3 yards per reception.

"We’ve got enough guys who have made big plays here to still play a complete football game," Neuheisel said.

The only caveat is that Smith may have to relinquish his kick return duties because he is going to be on the field for more offensive plays than usual. Smith is averaging 23.5 yards on kickoff returns.

"He certainly is a weapon back there, but we also believe Jordon [James] can do that job and do it well," Neuheisel said.

Upon further review: Neuheisel Sunday call

October, 23, 2011
Coach Rick Neuheisel addressed the issue of his job security with his players over the weekend, telling them that they need to keep the focus on the field if they are to make this a successful season.

"I told them only that our job is to focus on what we can do on the field and to forget all that outside stuff," Neuheisel said Sunday during his weekly conference call with reporters. "Nothing can be accomplished by worrying about that stuff. We do the best we can and we have to have the right mindset to go forward and the mindset has to be about playing a complete football game and enjoying playing with one another and looking forward rather than looking backward."

Neuheisel's job status has been the subject of rampant debate since Thursday's 48-12 thrashing at Arizona in which the teams engaged in a bench-clearing brawl just before halftime. Neuheisel admittedly entered this season on the hot seat and Thursday's performance seemed to seal his fate.

Athletic director Dan Guerrero said he would not fire Neuheisel during the season, but that hasn't stopped the speculation the coach is going to be let go as soon as the season ends.

"That’s for someone else to talk about," Neuheisel said. "My focus is strictly on the task at hand, which is trying to get our team ready to play a great game against Cal and see if we can’t get our third conference win."

Other highlights from the call:

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UCLA season may now be beyond saving

October, 23, 2011
Normally after a loss such as UCLA's 48-12 embarrassment at Arizona on Thursday, a football team will try to regroup and put it in the past as quickly as possible.

This loss, however, is one that will haunt UCLA for the rest of the season.

The blowout loss stained the program for many reasons, may very well cost UCLA it's next game because of the brawl-related suspensions and all but assured that coach Rick Neuheisel, if he makes it through the season, will do so as a lame-duck coach.

To lay such a colossal egg when the team entered the game in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title is the type of bubble-bursting defeat from which a team may not recover. To try and recover with a coach who probably won't be around much longer is pretty much asking the impossible.

"We just weren’t expecting to be in this predicament that we’re in right now," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "It’s frustrating. It’s pretty bad. It doesn’t remove our goal of winning the Pac-12 South and playing for the championship, but it’s definitely a step backwards."

Lost in the fiasco at Arizona desert is the fact that, mathematically, UCLA is still in the driver's seat for the Pac-12 South title. Should the Bruins win out, it would mean victories over Arizona State and USC, the two teams ahead of the Bruins in the standings, and give UCLA the head-to-head tiebreakers over those teams.

Anyone who watched UCLA's meltdown, however, realizes that the team on the field Thursday night resembled anything but a conference-title contender. They gave up 573 total yards against a team that hadn't defeated an FBS team since the last time it played UCLA.

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What to watch: Washington St. at UCLA

October, 7, 2011
Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, nicknamed "The Lobster," has passed for 1,335 yards and 13 touchdowns and has the Cougars ranked No. 4 in the nation in passing offense at 379 yards a game. One of the best ways to disrupt that would be to get some serious pressure on him. Lobbestael is a senior, but he doesn't have a ton of game experience and can be rattled. The problem is, UCLA has only three sacks this season--fewer than all but three teams in the country. The Bruins may have to blitz more in order to create problems for the Cougars. Washington State is giving up 2.5 sacks per game, so the Lobster can be had.

UCLA's secondary will be stretch to its limits by Washington State's spread offense, which uses four receivers in its base package. The Bruins are thin back there with cornerback Sheldon Price out for the second consecutive game with a knee injury, safety Alex Mascarenas sidelined with a concussion and safety Tony Dye limited by a neck injury. They will get Vanderbilt transfer Jamie Graham more involved, which is good because the Bruins will need all the bodies they can muster. Expect to see a lot of nickel packages and even some dime against a Cougars' receiving corps that feature three receivers with 19 or more catches and five with 100 or more yards receiving. Leader Marquess Wilson is fourth in the nation with 137.5 yards per game.

It's no secret that the Bruins will try to establish the run game as they do every game, even more so against a Washington State team that gave up 437 yards rushing against the Bruins last season. Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman each had career bests in rushing last year against the Cougars, Franklin with 216 yards and Coleman with 185. It was the only time in UCLA history two backs had 180 or more yards in the same game. It won't be easy to repeat such success, but Washington State is inexperienced along the defensive line, so the Pistol's zone reads could give the Cougars problems. Of note, however, is that former UCLA defensive line coach Todd Howard is now at Washington State so he might have some helpful hints on stopping UCLA.

The Cougars are sure to remember that thrashing they took on the ground last year and will surely try to prevent a repeat by stacking the box with eight and nine players. That will open up things on the outside and it might behoove UCLA to throw some quick outs, screen passes and swing passes to playmakers such as Jordon James, Josh Smith, Shaquelle Evans and Randall Carroll in the flats. Another weapon the Bruins can use is size. Receivers Nelson Rosario (6-5) and Taylor Embree (6-3) and tight end Joe Fauria (6-8) will tower over the Washington State defensive backs. Cougars Strong safety Deone Buchannon is the tallest at 6-1 and the other secondary players are 5-10 or 5-11, so fade routes and seam routes could be quite effective.

Opponents have been shredding the UCLA defense on third down to the tune of a 54.79 percent conversion rate. that ranks No. 119 out of 120 FBS teams in the nation. It doesn't matter if it's third and one or third and 12, the Bruins have found a way to allow most opponents to convert. That number is a whopping 64.29 percent in UCLA's three losses this season. It drops to 41.93 in the Bruins' two victories, a number that would rank 75th in the nation if it were their season percentage. Washington State enters the game converting 46 percent of its third downs, which is a respectable 35th in the country, so the Bruins are going to have to hunker down on defense, stop some third down plays, stall some drives and get off the field.

Practice report: Tuesday quick hits

October, 4, 2011
The UCLA Bruins returned to the practice field Tuesday, licking their wounds from a 45-19 loss at Stanford and looking ahead to a game against Washington State that appears it will be much tougher than anyone might have predicted before the season.

The Cougars are 3-1 and coming off of an impressive comeback victory at Colorado. That's actually good news for UCLA, which practiced as if they were not taking the Cougars lightly even though Washington State went 5-32 the previous three seasons.

"I think our guys came to work and are looking forward to what promises to be a big-time game against a hot team in Washington State," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I know that they’re riding high and I know that their confidence is brimming because it’s been lean for them over the past several years and they’ve believed in Coach [Paul] Wulff’s mantra that the thing was going to turn and it’s turning. So this is going to be an inspired team that comes in."

Neuheisel is the right guy to be coaching in this game. He never has lost a game against Washington State having gone 8-0 against the Cougars in his coaching stops at UCLA, Washington and Colorado.

"All those games in the past are in the past," Neuheisel said. "It’s all about this game and this particular UCLA team against their particular Washington State team."

A few tidbits from practice:

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Passing game is better, but is it enough?

September, 27, 2011
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel has gone to great lengths over the last year in an effort to improve a passing game that was among the worst in the nation last season and when the Bruins came out with 310 yards through the air in their season opener, it appeared he had, indeed, made strides.

Richard Brehaut
Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireRichard Brehaut only attempted 11 passes against Oregon State in Corvallis.
Lately, though, that Week 1 performance seems more like a passing fancy.

UCLA has passed for only 145, 176 and 146 yards in its last three games, and attempted only 12 passes Saturday against Oregon State, bringing back memories of the one-dimensional offense that stonewalled UCLA’s season last year.

But a closer look reveals that while the passing numbers don't exactly make UCLA a high-powered attack, the Bruins are a better, more efficient passing offense than they were last year. They have 789 yards passing through four games this season--more than double the 327 they had through four games last season.

They are averaging 8.87 yards per attempt and 15.78 yards per completion—both very respectable numbers and up significantly from last year’s averages of 5.32 yards per attempt and 10.45 per completion.

They rank No. 14 in the nation in yards per attempt after finishing 114th in that category last season and they are No. 6 in yards per completion, up from No. 110 last season.

"When you’re averaging that much per attempt, I don’t worry about it," Neuheisel said. "If you can throw that little and average that much per attempt then that means we’re doing what we want to as an offense."

What Neuheisel wants to do is grind it out on the ground, control the clock and play keep away. He acknowledges that it’s not always pretty or exciting to watch, but argues that it is an effective way to win.

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Bruins win must-win game; Now what?

September, 24, 2011
CORVALLIS, Ore.--It might have been the victory that UCLA needed to save the ship from sinking, or it might have been just another Pac-12 road win against a team that will end the season with double-digits in losses.

UCLA defeated Oregon State, 27-19, Saturday at Reser Stadium, in a victory that the Bruins had to have if they were to hold out any hope of a decent season, but a victory that still left you wondering if a decent season is, in fact, within reach.

On one hand, the Bruins went into a hostile environment and made some crucial stands to win their conference opener for the first time since 2007. On the other hand, it was a close game against a team that three weeks ago lost to Sacramento State, a football championship subdivision team, on the same field.

The Bruins made great strides in areas such as making big plays on offense and coming up with crucial stops on defense, but the big plays were few and far between and the defense still bent a little too much.

UCLA showed great promise in racing to a 21-3 lead, but also demonstrated a lack of a killer instinct against a winless team, letting the Beavers to get to within 21-19 and needing to stop a two-point conversion in order to prevent Oregon State from erasing that 18-point deficit.

"It may not have been pretty to a casual observer, but to a guy who is watching these guys fight and learn how to win, especially on the road, it was a great turning the page moment," coach Rick Neuheisel said.

True, no matter how ugly, this had to be considered a step forward for the Bruins. Two weeks ago, they probably lose this game and in that sense the Bruins might very well have turned a corner. Learning how to withstand a challenge by a team as desperate for a win as UCLA is part of the growing process.

It could very well be that UCLA's defense, in stopping two fourth-down conversion attempts as well as the potential game-tying two-point conversion, grew up a little bit and began to discover some of the identity it's been lacking to this point in the season.

But the Bruins also let Oregon State convert a third and six, gave up a 31-yard pass on third 11 and gave up a 12-yard pass on third and 12. Oregon State converted eight of 16 third downs, but only four of 11 after the first quarter.

"We got a little soft at time in coverage and third downs weren't good early for us, but we kept fighting and grinding and got the stops when we needed to," defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. "We definitely made some strides today. Slowly but surely we are turning into the kind of defense we think we can be."

The Bruins gave up a season-low 88 yards rushing, including only 10 in the first half, which should build confidence. But the fact remains that Oregon State's top running back didn't play in the game because of an injury and the Beavers quarterback was making his first career start.

"We got better as the game went on," linebacker Patrick Larimore said. "That's huge for us and our momentum and our confidence. We can build on things like stopping them on fourth down."

On offense, it was also a mixed bag. The Bruins came out clearly trying to establish the run and ended up rushing for 211 yards--the third time in four games they have eclipsed the 200-yard mark. But after getting some early big plays in the passing game, including a 62-yard pass to Josh Smith and a 22-yard touchdown to Taylor Embree, quarterback Richard Brehaut began misfiring on deep balls and the Bruins had to revert back to the grinding run game.

"We had big-play opportunities where they kind of happened the way we wanted them to, but we didn’t capitalize," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said.

And it's precisely those inabilities to capitalize that leave you wondering just exactly what this victory means. It seemed as if UCLA should have won this game in a rout, but Oregon State drove to the UCLA 22 with just over two minutes remaining before Sheldon Price knocked away a fourth-down pass to seal the victory.

We probably won't know exactly what this means for several weeks. UCLA has Stanford next week and nobody really expects the Bruins to upset the Cardinal, but we do know this: UCLA is 1-0 in conference and has a winning conference record for the first time at any point of any season since Neuheisel took over as coach.

It is only the third conference road win in Neuheisel's tenure. The other two were against Washington in 2008 (the Huskies finished that season 0-12) and against Washington State in 2009 (the Cougars finished 1-11 that season).

So it could be a watershed moment that gets the maligned Bruins and their head coach rolling in the right direction. Or, it could be just another road win against another bad conference team that seems headed for a dismal season.

Even Neuheisel was unsure of what the victory meant other than it was a victory and that is better than a loss.

"To go on the road and win, especially as the game’s fortunes changed and not give in to that, hopefully that’s something that as we look back will be a signature moment," Neuheisel said. "You can’t downplay how important it is to taste victory. If you keep pounding away and there is no recognizable result from it, it becomes hard. Hopefully we’ll capitalize.

"But we certainly can’t go back to a place where we think we’ve arrived. We’ve got a long way to go before we can call ourselves a good football team."



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