UCLA: Kai Maiava

Five things to watch: Colorado at UCLA

November, 18, 2011
11/18/11
6:46
AM PT
1. SHALL BRUINS COME TO PASS?

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.

ColoradoUCLA2. A RUSH TO STOP THE RUN

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.

3. DEFENSIVE STRUGGLE

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.

4. COLORADO CONNECTIONS

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.

5. RAMBLIN' RODNEY

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.

Bruins Beat: Going bowling?

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
7:28
AM PT
If there were such a thing as the Bounce Back Bowl, UCLA would have long been eligible.

It turns out, however, that if the Bruins want to become eligible for post season play, they are going to have to bounce back from a loss one more time.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireOne more victory and Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins will be bowl eligible.
The Bruins are coming off a loss at Utah but each time UCLA (5-5) has lost a game this season, the Bruins have come back the following week with a victory. Keeping that streak alive Saturday against Colorado not only would make the Bruins bowl eligible, but it would keep them on track for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game.

"It’s incredibly important that we bounce back because of the Pac-12 race the way it is and our desire to play in the Pac-12 championship game and bowl eligibility on the line and everything," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "And with the seniors going out with their last game at the Rose Bowl, it all makes this a huge game for us."

The Bruins lost, 31-6 at Utah last week, ending a mild two-game win streak and stopping some of the momentum the Bruins had built, but the blowout loss doesn't necessarily mean UCLA is down and out. They rebounded from a 49-20 loss against Texas by winning at Oregon State the following week for their only road victory this season.

A week after a 29-point loss at Stanford, the Bruins staged a fourth-quarter comeback in a victory over Washington State. And after hitting the low point of the season in a 48-12 loss at Arizona, the Bruins responded by winning the next two weeks to take control of their destiny in the Pac-12 South race.

"We’re just the type of gang that never gives up," center Kai Maiava said. "We just hang in there, you know because things are going to get rough and that’s just the way football is and everybody realizes that. We just hang in, stick together and just come out fighting."

It's a good news, bad news situation if there ever was one. The good news is that the Bruins know they won't go in the tank just because they have lost a game. The bad news is that they've had to do it so often.

(Read full post)

Penalty reduction a focus for UCLA

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
7:58
PM PT
After getting flagged a season-high 12 times for 91 yards last week, penalty avoidance has been a priority in practice this week, especially along the offensive line.

UCLA incurred six false starts last week as they tried to implement a new silent count snap that didn't go very well.

"That can’t happen," said tackle Mike Harris, who had four of the false starts. "It puts us back five yards and I’m going to try to come back this week and give my team my all because they deserve it for me. It was just a bad game."

Coach Rick Neuheisel said the team has studied the film this week and taken the steps necessary to ensure this week's performance is better.

"We have been thorough in our investigation and our commentary on it," Neuheisel said. "There was some harsh criticism because it cost us. Our offense is such that we need to stay in rhythm and to go five yards back causes a lot of problems. We’ve done it a number of times, but it’s not something you want to do as often as we’ve tried to do against Utah."

One of the major problems with the silent count was Utah's use of a technique called "stemming." It's when the defense calls a change at the line and the offense mistakes it for the quarterback.

"The defense keyed on the silent count and they would say something like 'go' and I went off that call," Harris said. "I feel like as a whole line we didn’t play as well as we should have and I’m going to let that pass and we have two games left and I’m going to give it my all."

Center Kai Maiava said the offensive line simply had a bad game overall and is focused on making up for it this week.

"We were making mental mistakes and it was just dumb," he said. "We can’t make them again because first and 15 is way harder to convert than first and 10 and we’ve got to keep ourselves in the game. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot."

Maiava looking forward to Colorado reunion

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
7:25
PM PT
When Kai Maiava left Colorado, he didn't anticipate ever having to face his former team, but now he's got that opportunity and he wants to make the most of it.

Maiava, UCLA's center, and receiver Josh Smith, both transferred to Westwood from Colorado and will face their former team for the first time Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

And for Maiava, that means the chance to go head hunting for some Buffaloes players who remain close friends.

"I definitely want to get David Goldberg, that’s my homie," Maiava said, laughing. "And Tyler Ahles. That’s it on defense and I got a couple of more boys on offense. Two of them play d-line so I’m sure I’m going to run into them sooner or later and hopefully I get the better end."

Maiava acknowledged that Facebook, Twitter and text messages have been filled with trash talk all week, but that it was all in good fun.

"When I first found out [we we're playing them], I was just laughing," Maiava said. "Me and Josh were looking at each other like ‘that’s crazy’ because we never thought we would play them and we’re getting the chance and we have to make the most of the opportunity."

Tony Dye optimistic for return this week

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
8:33
PM PT
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
11/15/11
6:28
AM PT
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.

(Read full post)

Upon further review: Neuheisel on SJSU

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
8:08
PM PT
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.

(Read full post)

Five things to watch: San Jose State at UCLA

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
10:29
AM PT
1. THE EFFORT

There is little doubt that UCLA should win this game, but sometimes being an overwhelming favorite can lead to a lackadaisical effort. The last time the Bruins were a big favorite was against Washington State last season and the Cougars led, 28-20, midway through the third quarter and were at the goal line with score tied at 28-28 in the fourth quarter before a Bruins goal-line stand followed by a length-of-the-field drive secured the victory. If the Bruins don’t put away the Spartans early, you know they are looking ahead to the Texas game next week.

2. THE SNAPS

Center Kai Maiava has been suspended from the game because of a violation of team rules, so sophomore Greg Capella will make his first start at center. Capella was the backup center last season and struggled with the shotgun snaps in practice, routinely sending low snaps that often hit the ground before reaching the quarterback. In his only game appearance — against Texas — he had a bad snap. Capella started at guard in the season opener and performed well, so blocking doesn’t figure to be an issue, but there’s a lot more going on at center. He’s the trigger point for the offense, which will be firing blanks if the snaps are bad.

3. THE DEFENSE

UCLA’s defense left last week’s 38-34 loss to Houston embarrassed and ashamed at its performance. Poor tackling was a major issue for the Bruins, with defenders failing to wrap up ball carriers and allowing many extra yards. They also got out of position and failed to properly communicate. In short, it was a disastrous performance and the defensive players have vowed to redeem themselves. If some of those same issues crop up again and San Jose State seems to be getting yards it shouldn’t, it could mean a long-term problem is brewing for the Bruins.

4. THE QUARTERBACK ROTATION

It’s a 99 percent certainty that Richard Brehaut will start, but coach Rick Neuheisel is again playing coy about if he’ll also use Kevin Prince and, if so, how much. Complicating matters is that Prince is coming off of a shoulder injury suffered last week at Houston and has been limited this week in practice, especially in throwing drills. Prince has proven injury prone in his career, so it doesn’t make sense to risk aggravating his sprained shoulder in a game that UCLA should win going away no matter who is at quarterback. Also, it will be interesting to see if freshman Brett Hundley makes his debut. Neuheisel has said Hundley will play in packages this season and this lower-tier opponent might be a good spot to test the waters with him.

5. THE SCOREBOARD

Certainly you’ll want to watch the score because if UCLA doesn’t win this game by at least three touchdowns, then there is definitely something amiss in Bruinland. San Jose State is a team that has lost 11 consecutive games and 26 of its last 29. The Spartans haven't won against an FBS team since 2009, and has lost its last five games against current Pac-12 teams by a combined score of 235-40, so if UCLA isn’t gradually pulling away and having its way with the Spartans, it’ll be a sign that UCLA is in for a long season. A loss would be the most embarrassing of Neuheisel's career. But the other reason to watch the scoreboard is because it’s brand new. Part of the $152-million renovation underway at the Rose Bowl is a 30-feet tall, 78-feet wide, state of the art video board at the north end of the stadium and a vintage scoreboard at the south end.

Greg Capella trying to snap to it

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
8:28
PM PT
With starting center Kai Maiava suspended from Saturday's home opener for a violation of team rules, sophomore Greg Capella will slide over from his position at guard and take over at center.

But that's not as easy as it sounds in UCLA's offense because UCLA runs out of a shotgun formation the majority of the time, meaning snaps are a crucial part of the scheme. And Capella, who was the backup center last season, struggled at times with shotgun snaps -- sometimes sending them high and sometimes sending them low.

He had a pretty clean practice Tuesday, but some of the bad snaps returned Wednesday, a couple of times causing coaches to pull Capella out of the lineup. He stayed after practice to work on his snaps and said he's not concerned.

"I worked hard on it all summer," Capella said. "I had a little bit of problems today, but I think I worked them out after practice with coach [Jim] Mastro."

Capella said his issues arise when he rushes his snaps because he's trying to get to his block quicker. He said he just needs to slow down a bit.

"I don't follow through," he said. "But I’m going to work hard before and after practice with the snaps so I’ll be fine."

Quarterback Richard Brehaut says there is more to playing center than just snapping the ball. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line and makes all of the line calls, which might be just as important as the snap. But Brehaut isn't worried about having a different center.

(Read full post)

Tuesday practice quick hits

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
9:29
PM PT
  • Offensive lineman Jeff Baca practiced with the team for the first time since surgery to repair a broken ankle in March. Baca, who sat out last season because of academic suspension, is considered UCLA's top offensive lineman. He worked sparingly with the first team at weak side tackle and coach Rick Neuheisel said Baca may play Saturday against San Jose State. "It’s really a conditioning thing," Neuheisel said. "He has not played football now for a long time. He had a brief fling in spring ball, but that didn’t last long and he didn’t play all last fall, but he’s chomping at the bit to get back in there."
  • Baca's return would help shore up the loss of center Kai Maiava to suspension for this game. In Maiava's absence, Greg Capella will slide over from guard and start at center. Chris Ward will start at one guard and, if Baca is ready, he'll likely take over at tackle and move Sean Sheller to guard. Albert Cid will play the second guard if Baca is not ready to go.
  • Linebacker Glenn Love was scheduled to see a doctor Tuesday night to determine the status of his dislocated shoulder. "He's feeling much better. He's chomping at the bit to get in there so we'll see what the doctors say."
  • North Carolina transfer Brandon Willis, who enrolled in classes Tuesday, rejoined the team and practiced in full pads, getting limited reps with the third string at defensive tackle. He is trying to get a waiver from the NCAA that would make him eligible to play this season, but Neuheisel was unsure how long it would take. "I know that we’re going to try. I know it would be a great thing for Brandon and I think having sat for as long as he sat and really not doing anything wrong on his part, I think it would be a neat thing if the NCAA would allow it to happen, but that’s in somebody else’s hands. Because he doesn’t get the year back, I think it’s the right thing to do but we’ll wait and see what smarter guys than I think."

Video: Kai Maiava talks suspension

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
7:42
PM PT
UCLA center Kai Maiava has been suspended from Saturday's home opener against San Jose State because of a violation of team rules.

Here, he talks about the suspension:

Practice report: Camp ends, dog days begin

August, 24, 2011
8/24/11
6:45
PM PT
UCLA officially broke training camp Tuesday night, with players who live off campus moving out of the dorms and the practice plan starting to focus on the Sept. 3 season opener at Houston.

But that doesn't mean things are getting any easier on the field.

For the second consecutive day, the Bruins endured a grueling practice in hot weather. Wednesday's practice included conditioning drills sandwiched between the 11-on-11 drills and the two-minute drill.

"We have to make sure people understand that we have to make this difficult," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We have to make it hard because it’s going to be hard in Houston. We’ve got to push through. Everybody’s tired in college football and you can’t give in to it and for the most part we didn’t."

A few tidbits:
  • Offensive lineman Chris Ward was at practice on crutches and in a walking boot a day after leaving practice with sprained ankle. He said it was not a high ankle sprain and that he is day-to-day.
  • Receiver Taylor Embree had an MRI on his ailing right calf that showed some fluid behind his knee, but no structural damage. He did some light running Wednesday and said he expects to return at full speed by Monday. "I’m relieved," he said. "I was a little bit worried that it might have been a blood clot or something along those lines. But it’s obviously a relief that it’s nothing serious."
  • Defensive lineman Cassius Marsh and center Kai Maiava got into a scuffle that ended with Marsh throwing his helmet to the ground and uttering some choice words toward Maiava, but things cooled quickly. "This is that time of camp where tempers are short and guys who are very competitive are going to go head to head and you are going to have some flare ups," Neuheisel said. "It’s just important that it doesn’t spill over."
  • Those not expected to get playing time in the season opener wore scout team jerseys for the first time as the Bruins began to install the game plan for the season opener. Nick Crissman and Darius Bell split time as the scout team quarterbacks, though Maxwell Schuh wore jersey No. 7--the number of Houston quarterback Case Keenum.
  • Punter Jeff Locke, who looked good the last two days as a field goal kicker, badly hooked a 31-yard attempt at the end of a drive in the two-minute drill.
  • Receiver Nelson Rosario sat out of practice because of illness. He later tweeted that he threw up several times during practice.
  • Linebacker Isaiah Bowens, who missed the last two days because of a family matter, returned to the field and resumed his duties as second-team middle linebacker.
  • The football team from Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention facility in Malibu, watched practice and received a motivational speech from former UCLA and NFL safety James Washington, now the Director of Scholarship Development at UCLA.

Neuheisel holds little stock in the exchange

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
7:06
PM PT
The UCLA football team practiced in shorts and shoulder pads for the first time Wednesday and things didn't go exactly as planned as problems with the shotgun snap marred the session.

Backup center Jake Brendel, a true freshman, was responsible for many of the gaffes but starter Kai Maiava also had issues connecting with the quarterbacks, stopping several offensive plays before they began.

"Far too many center-quarterback exchanges on the ground and you can’t play football that way so that’s going to be a huge order of business as we get going," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "It’s the first day of pads and live contact and all that, so that certainly probably added to it, but we’ve got to be sharper with the football and handle our business in that regard so we have to really pay a lot of attention to it."

Shotgun snaps are an integral part of the Bruins' offense as the quarterback lines up four yards deep on every play in the Pistol formation, but when the centers are sending the snaps high, wide and low on a regular basis, it tends to slow things down quite a bit.

Brendel's presence was supposed to shore up the depth lost at the position when Ryan Taylor graduated. Taylor started every game last year Maiava was injured and he rarely missed a play all season. Greg Capella, Taylor's backup last season, also had problems with shotgun snaps in practice and in his limited game time and has moved to guard this season.

Maiava has been solid the first two days in camp, but Wednesday was a bad day for both centers, who had mishaps on close to a dozen snaps.

"Certainly in playing some new centers, that led to what we’re doing," Neuheisel said. "But we’ve got to do a better job. There’s no reason and no excuse for not being able to handle the ball. It’s a four-yard pass."

Asked how he planned to get that part of the offense shored up, Neuheisel hinted at sending the centers out to the practice field until all hours to get things down.

"Practice, practice practice," Neuheisel said. "And then maybe some more practice. The good thing about this time of year is there is no 20-hour rule. There is no limit to how many times we can practice that so we will take advantage of the opportunities."

Depth chart review: Offensive Line

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
4:17
PM PT
With UCLA preparing to open fall camp on August 8, we will break down the depth charts at each position in order to look at how the Bruins stack up heading into this season. We've previously looked at quarterbacks and defensive line. Now we move to the offensive line.

Current depth chart:

TACKLE

Sean Sheller (Sr., 6-5, 304)

Connor Bradford (Jr., 6-6, 275)

GUARD

Jeff Baca (Jr., 6-4, 305)

Casey Griffiths (So., 6-4, 284)

CENTER

Kai Maiava (Sr., 6-1, 318)

Greg Capella (So., 6-3, 292)

Kody Innes (Fr., 6-4, 291)

GUARD

Chris Ward (So., 6-4, 330)

Wade Yandall (Fr., 6-4, 328)

TACKLE

Mike Harris (Sr., 6-5, 326)

Brett Downey (Jr., 6-7, 290)

(Read full post)

UCLA has questions, the answers are TBA

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
5:45
PM PT
NeuheiselChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesRick Neuheisel will face many questions about his job security on PAC-12 media day.

Questions abound when it comes to the 2011 UCLA football team, and there will be plenty of questions directed the way of Coach Rick Neuheisel concerning the direction of the program and his future within it.

The real answers, of course, will come during the season when we find out if the Bruins can improve upon their disappointing 2010 season, but we’ll start hearing from Neuheisel and the other coaches in the newly aligned Pac-12 Tuesday during the annual conference media day.

Here, we take a look at some of the biggest questions facing UCLA:

1. HOW HOT IS NEUHEISEL'S SEAT?

This is guaranteed to be the topic of the day when it comes time for Neuheisel to address the media on Tuesday. Each coach gets 15 minutes in front of the reporters and cameras and it could very well be the only topic Neuheisel discusses.

In his first three seasons at UCLA, his teams have gone 4-8, 7-6 and 4-8. Last season injuries played a significant factor, but there is no getting around the fact that UCLA left a sour taste in the mouths of their fans by losing six of seven games to close the season and going 2-7 in conference.

Neuheisel is 8-19 in conference games as UCLA’s coach and the Bruins have finished no better than eighth in the Pac-10 in Neuheisel’s three seasons. UCLA has only two victories against teams that ended up with a winning record (Tennessee and Temple in 2009).

Neuheisel has gotten a pass for the first three years because he has been rebuilding the program, but outside pressures and calls for his job are going to come early and often if he doesn’t get things turned around this season.

2. WILL THE NEW COACHING STAFF GEL?


Neuheisel cleaned house as far as the coaching staff is concerned. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson and defensive coordinator Joe Tresey replace Norm Chow and Chuck Bullough while Inoke Breckterfield (defensive line), Jim Mastro (Tight ends/F-backs) and Angus McClure (special teams) are also new to the staff.

Neuheisel has cited a lack of chemistry among the coaching staff as a reason for some of the problems over the last couple of years so bringing in some different personalities could help resolve some of those issues.

Neuheisel, who is adding quarterbacks coach to his responsibilities, has worked with Johnson in the past, so that is a proven relationship and should help get the offensive braintrust on the same page—a place it couldn’t seem to find last season.

Tresey, the man in charge of the defense, is bringing a freewheeling, spirited style that should help the players stay more comfortable on the field.

3. WHO WILL PLAY QUARTERBACK?

It’s been the big question on the field since fall camp of last season and it will most likely linger all the way until the season opener Sept. 3 at Houston.

Kevin Prince entered last season with the job, but promptly got hurt in fall camp. He tried to play through it and was ineffective early in the season. When he finally got healthy, the Bruins got on a bit of a roll, but he then suffered a season-ending knee injury.

That gave Richard Brehaut a chance to show his mettle, and while he showed flashes of top-tier talent, he failed to overwhelm with his performance.

Prince, when healthy, is probably the best choice. While not a flashy talent with a big arm, he’s a respected leader with field smarts and the fortitude to win big games (at Tennessee in 2009, against Temple in the 2009 Eagle Bank Bowl and at Texas in 2010).

Brehaut is a talented athlete with a strong arm, but seems to keep himself at arm’s length from fully committing to becoming a top-tier quarterback. If the competitive fire lights and he becomes fully immersed in the competition, he could win the job this fall.

Waiting in the wings is freshman Brett Hundley, who is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future. He’ll be in the mix, but even though he participated in spring camp, is still probably a year away from getting enough of a command of the position to seize the job full time.

4. WILL THE DEFENSE BE AS GOOD ON THE FIELD AS IT IS ON PAPER?

Defensively, UCLA appears to be loaded from the front line to the deep safety. Defensive end Datone Jones, middle linebacker Patrick Larimore and safety Tony Dye are All-Conference caliber players. Cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price are both physical and quick. Interior linemen Cassius Marsh and Nate Chandler are as tough as they come.

Their defensive front goes 10 deep with talented experienced players. The linebacker crew is filled with gritty, blue collar workhorses and the secondary could be among the conference’s best.

Now, the Bruins must translate that talent into performance. Last year, many of those players were raw and inexperienced and the defense suffered. With a year of seasoning and on-the-job training, this is a unit that could carry the Bruins this season.

5. HOW WILL THE OFFENSIVE LINE HOLD UP?

The Bruins are deep at running back with 1,000-yard rusher Johnathan Franklin leading a group that goes four deep, and have enough speed and talent at wide receiver to make any quarterback look good.

But the offense will only go as far as the offensive line, and keeping that unit on the field has been a problem. Injuries and ineligibility made this a fairly shallow unit last season and things got off on the wrong foot in the spring when projected starters Jeff Baca, Kai Maiava and Sean Sheller all missed time because of injuries.

When healthy, this unit is at worst passable and at best very good. Staying healthy hasn’t been all that easy, though, and it will need to if the Bruins want to have success.

6. WHERE WILL THE BRUINS FINISH?

It’s media day, so we have to have a prediction, right?

The new conference alignment helps the Bruins in a big way. They are in the Pac-12 South and away from Oregon and Stanford, widely considered the top two teams in the conference (UCLA plays Stanford, but won't be in a division race with the Cardinal).

The South is wide open and it’s conceivable that the Bruins could win the Pac-12 South. Yes, you read that right.

In order for that to happen, however, everything would have to go right: The coaching staff has to gel, Prince has to stay healthy, the offensive line has to stay together and the defense has to take a step forward.

The chances of all those forces aligning are, admittedly, slim, so we’re going to shy away from picking the Bruins to win the South. We’ll say Prince stays healthy and the coaching staff has good chemistry, but the offensive line depth will be problematic and the defense will have a crucial lapse or two.

The Bruins finish 7-5, good enough for a second-tier bowl game.

Predicted Pac-12 standings:

NORTH

Oregon

Stanford

Washington

Oregon State

California

Washington State

SOUTH

USC

Arizona State

UCLA

Utah

Arizona

Colorado

SPONSORED HEADLINES

2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley369248307124
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
B. Hundley1607484.711
P. Perkins1345734.36
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
S. Evans4770915.19
D. Fuller4347111.04
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense196.6251.6448.2
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring36.524.112.4