UCLA: Nelson Rosario

Catching up with Tony Dye, Nelson Rosario

January, 22, 2012
CARSON -- A few hours after former UCLA tight end Cory Harkey took part in the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, four fellow ex-Bruins played in another college all-star game in Southern California.

Receivers Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, safety Tony Dye and defensive tackle Justin Edison all played in the first NFL Players’ Association Collegiate Bowl in L.A. on Saturday, held at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Edison performed the best of any of them, recording two tackles for a loss and a sack and impressing his coach, former NFL head man Dick Vermeil.

Known as the Texas vs. the Nation game until 2011, the NFLPA game allowed select underclassmen to participate and NFL scouts were not allowed to attend because of a rule preventing them from scouting such players at college All-Star games. But all teams are getting copies of the game film from the game, and, in past years, a number of the players who took part in this game ended up being late-round selections in the NFL draft.

UCLA has a history with players climbing up draft boards at this point the process. Last year, David Carter went without a Combine invite but got himself selected in the sixth round by the Arizona Cardinals after an impressive performance at the Shrine Game and at UCLA's Pro Day.

Rosario is hoping he'll see a similar fate the next three months. The 6-5 receiver didn't record a catch in Saturday's game and didn't appear to have any passes thrown his direction, but he maintained that playing in the game was a good experience for him.

As to his draft status, he said expects to be picked anywhere from the third to the seventh round in April after catching 64 passes for 1,161 yards for the Bruins in 2011.

Dye could have been eligible for a fifth year had he sat out the final few games of the 2011 season because of a neck injury and applied for a medical redshirt, but he chose to come back in time to suit up for the last two games of the regular season.

But he got hurt in the first quarter of the USC game, missed the Pac-12 championship game with an ankle injury and then missed the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl while academically ineligible.

He said he has "the lowest of expectations" for his draft stock but continues to be confident he'll be able to latch on in the league at a later point.

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.

UCLA football: One up, one down

November, 23, 2011
If UCLA is ever going to turn the corner and become a prominent football program, the Bruins must beat USC.

They know it, their fans know it and the college football world knows it.

The annual crosstown rivalry has morphed in recent years into a big brother-little brother beatdown, with USC winning 11 of the last 12 games against UCLA, and quite often in dominant fashion. During that time, the Trojans have risen to national prominence, casting a shadow that engulfs Westwood.

The Bruins are showing signs of progress this season and, helped in part by some favorable scheduling, will play USC Saturday with the Pac-12 South Division title on the line. A victory would help push the Bruins closer to the edge of that shadow.

"It’s vital," running back Johnathan Franklin said. "We’ve been talking about turning this program around and taking it to the top. If we can beat USC it gives us that stepping stone that we need to overcome. We haven’t beaten them in four or five years. We have to win and hopefully things will fall our way."

But UCLA clearly hasn't reached the top of the mountain just yet. A look at their results this season shows an up-and-down season dotted with a few good wins, a few bad losses and quite a bit of in-between.

If the Bruins are going to take down the Trojans this season, they will have to overcome inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, and the well-balanced offense that has developed over this season will be key. A look at both in one up, one down.

ONE UP: The offense

UCLA has made a concerted effort to balance its offense this season and the Bruins have done exactly that, averaging 199.6 yards rushing and 194.3 yards passing per game.

The passing yardage is up more than 50 yards a game over last season and, perhaps more importantly, UCLA is averaging an impressive 8.35 yards per passing attempt. That number points to an effective passing attack even if the overall numbers aren't exactly prolific.

"I think our run action is a little bit better," said receiver Nelson Rosario, who has career highs with 48 receptions and 890 yards. "We have a lot of safeties biting on stuff and people trying to commit to the run and stop the run so that’s been helping us a lot to get open deep."

The run game was UCLA's strength last season, but the passing game was ineffective at best. UCLA ranked No. 116 in the nation in passing offense and as teams began to stack up against UCLA's run, they had no answer. That is no longer the case as receivers Rosario, Shaquelle Evans and tight end Joe Fauria have emerged as valuable offensive weapons.

Of course it's all a result of Franklin, Derrick Coleman and quarterback Kevin Prince running the ball effectively and opening up things in the passing game.

"Our offense is one that is predicated on being able to control the line of scrimmage and be able to run the football," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "When people stack up against it we have to either get the quarterback involved in the run game or we have to be able to get the ball down the field and over the top of them as the safeties become more involved in the run defense."

And that's exactly what has led to UCLA winning three of their last four games during a late-season surge.

"Our passing game last year, I don’t know what it was," Rosario said. "We just went down a hole but this year we stepped it up a little bit more and hopefully it continues."

ONE DOWN: Inconsistency

For every good action for UCLA this season, there seems to have been an equal and opposite reaction.

A win has followed every loss and the best wins have followed the worst losses. All but one of UCLA's five losses has been by margins of 25 points or more, but they've followed those with some of their most impressive performances of the season.

It's a strange phenomenon that has been difficult to predict or pinpoint other than just to say it comes from the growing pains associated with trying to get the program pointed in the right direction.

"We’re a work in progress," Neuheisel said. "We’re working to develop out of that."

The road has been especially unkind to UCLA this season. The Bruins are 1-4 away from home and have been outscored 79-18 in their last two road games. But after a 48-12 debacle at Arizona that proved to be the low point of the season, UCLA came back and reeled off it's only win streak with consecutive victories over California and Arizona State.

"I don’t know if I can put a finger on why that is," Prince said. "All I know is I’ve liked how we’ve responded when we’ve had adversity. But we can’t continue to have that pattern if we expect to achieve the goals that we want to achieve. We showed that we’re capable of winning back to back games and we’re going to have to do that again this week to get where we want to go."

Rock bottom fuels UCLA bounce back

November, 7, 2011
The mantra for the UCLA football team the past two weeks has been to stay focused on the present, but the Bruins are also keeping a bit of the past close by.

You'd think that the team would want to forget about what happened Oct. 20 at Arizona, where the Wildcats embarrassed the Bruins and the Bruins embarrassed themselves in a 48-12 thrashing, but UCLA sees that in a different light.

It didn't quite put the Bruins six feet under, though they were certainly in the ground at that point. But in the ground is where things grow and that's exactly what the Bruins started to do, using that disaster in the desert as fuel to propel the team to it's two best performances of the season in consecutive victories that put UCLA into a first-place tie in the Pac-12 South.

"Don’t ever forget Arizona," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "Arizona is something that you always keep in the back of your mind. You never forget that feeling. If you remember the feeling that we had in Arizona when we came out of that locker room, then it makes you play harder."

The way the Bruins have played the last two weeks is a testament to the character and heart of a team that had major question marks in those categories after showing neither in Tucson. The Bruins entered that game with a shot at first place, too, but came out flat, got flatter and then stained the image of the program by engaging in a bench-clearing brawl when they were down, 42-7.

It was, indeed, a rock-bottom moment that changed the attitude of the team.

"We just told ourselves we are better than that," receiver Nelson Rosario said. "We all know we’re better than that. We had no business going out and showing that display of football. We just came back out and worked hard the next week at practice. We practiced like we wanted it and like we were ready to win."

The Bruins believed they could still win even when few believed along with them. Irate fans flooded message boards and sports talk radio demanding that coach Rick Neuheisel be fired on the spot. Others wanted to blow up the entire athletic department and begin anew.

Even the eternally optimistic Neuheisel acknowledged feeling pretty low after the Arizona loss. It also made him more determined than ever to right the ship.

"In the coaching world, there are highs and there are lows and the lows, unfortunately are lower than the highs are high," he said. "It’s just devastating to put that many man hours in and fail. But, you have to rally back form that. And that’s what makes this game special, you get to rally back."

And rally back is exactly what the Bruins have done, getting themselves into a position that none has ever been in before: Playing big games with conference title implications down the homestretch of the season. It feels good, the players say. But getting to this point from where the Bruins were less than three weeks ago is just as satisfying.

"It feels good when somebody counts you out and you're down and you come back," cornerback Andrew Abbott said. "That’s the joy you get out of it. The joy is not about being out in front, it’s about being able to respond and that’s one thing I’m happy about is how we responded."

Not that anyone is satisfied just yet. The Bruins have a history of winning big games only to have just as big of a letdown. That's why the next game at Utah means so much more than keeping the Bruins in the conference title race.

A win in Utah would show, once and for all, that the Bruins are, indeed, a team on the rise.

"Next week is huge," Abbott said. "We can’t just plateau, we have to keep getting better. "The Bruins in the past would just plateau and say ‘Oh, we just beat a good team, whatever.’ We’ve got to try to beat everybody. Who says we can’t start a win streak around here. We can’t be content."

And, the Bruins can't forget what happened Oct. 20 in Arizona.

"It was a deal where everyone to a man on that team that day was embarrassed," Johnson said. "All you can do is come back the next week and fight...This game is played a certain way and unless you come out there and you fight and you do those things that good football teams do, you’re going to get that feeling we had in Arizona and we can’t ever let that happen again."

Upon further review: Neuheisel on Cal

October, 30, 2011
UCLA's rally cry for Saturday's victory over California was "Burn the Boats," a reference to a war story in which generals, invading by boat, told their troops that they had to succeed or die because the boats would be burned and there would be no way to retreat.

The win-or-die mentality worked. UCLA, with injured players all wearing shirts adorned with "BTB" in large block letters, dominated both sides of the ball in a 31-14 victory.

"You had to get the job done or that was it," coach Rick Neuheisel said Sunday during his weekly conference call with reporters. "That was the idea. And that’s where our football team was."

Neuheisel said he came up with the idea to have the injured players wear the shirts. The "BTB" writing was so large that it was conspicuous to anyone watching on television or even in the stands. Lots of guesses circulated about the meaning, such as "Back to Basics" or "Beat the Bears," but it turns out it was far more inspirational than that. Neuheisel hopes it will continue to be.

"I reminded them today that the boats are still burned," he said.

Other highlights from the call:

(Read full post)

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:

(Read full post)

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.

(Read full post)

Practice report: Monday quick hits

October, 17, 2011
UCLA held a night practice Monday, starting the session at about 6 p.m. and finishing at around 8. The accommodation had to be made because many of the Bruins' players have classes Monday afternoons. UCLA doesn't normally practice on Mondays, but did this week because the Bruins play a Thursday night game.

"Class schedule required a later start, but I was pleased with the way they came to work," coach Rick Neuheisel said.

The energy level didn't suffer much as the team showed fire and pep, especially early on. The fact the Bruins can get into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 South division with a victory Thursday has infused the team with a charge of excitement.

"Everybody is eager," receiver Nelson Rosario said. "We're ready. We know we're in a race right now and people are showing energy that they haven't previously shown. We know what's at stake coming up here."

A few tidbits:
  • Safety Tony Dye did not dress for practice after attempting to go on Sunday. Neuheisel said it didn't look as if he would be able to play Thursday and that they are still thinking about the possibility of redshirting him this season because of a nerve issue in his neck that creates numbness when Dye hits. "Obviously that’s dangerous and we’ve got to make sure that the folks that know do what’s right for Tony," Neuheisel said. "We just have to make sure what is the prudent thing to do as we go forward."
  • Neuheisel also ruled out cornerback Jamie Graham (knee) and safety Alex Mascarenas (concussion) from playing Thursday night.
  • Receiver Shaquelle Evans went full speed in practice and was out of the red no-contact jersey he wore Sunday, a sign that he has passed the concussion protocol and is OK to play Thursday.
  • Albert Cid and Chris Ward are locked into a battle for the starting strong side guard spot and they have alternated reps with the first team this week, but no favorite seems to have emerged. Said Neuheisel: "I like it when it’s close and I like when they keep clawing and trying and fighting for it and both become better players and consequently our depth gets better."
  • Johnathan Franklin appears to have regained an extra burst during the bye week. He had been nursing a bruised hip the last two weeks but flashed some excellent runs Monday night. After scoring on one run, he jogged back to the huddle and gave every offensive lineman a high five.
  • Kevin Prince had a bit of an off day at quarterback, throwing several interceptions in different drills. He had one in a red-zone drill where he threw into double coverage and Stan McKay picked it off, and another in the two-minute drill where Andrew Abbott picked off a swing pass in the flat and returned it for a touchdown. "There are some things we can fix, but the mistakes that were made were ones that are easily correctable," Neuheisel said. "We just can’t turn it over. That’s the key. We’ve got to keep working within his comfort zone to make sure that’s the case."

Grades: Midseason report card

October, 17, 2011
Instability at the most important position has been the story of the season, with Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut shuffling between starting roles. As a result, neither has been able to find much of a groove. Both have played well at times and the passing numbers are up nearly 100 yards a game over this time last season, but the quarterback play must get more consistent if the Bruins are to remain in the Pac-12 title race.

Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman have been the standouts of the UCLA offense this season, with a combined four 100-yard games in the first half. Franklin, with 509 yards, is on pace for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season and Coleman's six touchdowns are already a career high. Jordon James has emerged as a valuable pass-catching threat as an F-back.

Nelson Rosario has made his share of highlight-reel plays, tight end Joe Fauria has become a valuable weapon in the passing game and Josh Smith has shown flashes of electric playmaking ability, but inconsistency has plagued this unit. The dropped passes are down from last season, but there are still too many, and it sometimes feels like the receivers aren't giving a 100 percent effort.

This unheralded bunch has played admirably through the first half, paving the way for a rushing attack that is 28th in the nation with 194 yards a game. The pass blocking, while suspect at times, has been better than anticipated as UCLA quarterbacks have been sacked only four times, the ninth fewest in the nation. Losing Sean Sheller to a broken arm was a setback, but getting Jeff Baca back at around the same time helped offset that loss.

This unit has been the biggest disappointment of the season. The Bruins are 115th in the nation in sacks and no player has more than one this season. They are 111th in tackles for a loss and no defensive lineman has more than 2.5. They played admirably going into the break with two sacks and eight tackles for a loss against Washington State, and will need more of those types of games if they are to contend for the conference title.

Another pretty disappointing unit that has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. Tackling was a major issue early in the season and pass-coverage problems continues to hamper the UCLA linebackers. Patrick Larimore leads the team in tackles while Eric Kendricks is emerging as a future star and Jordan Zumwalt leads the team with 3.5 tackles of a loss.

Sheldon Price had established himself as a top-tier cover corner before he sprained his knee and Aaron Hester has been far more consistent this year and also a boon in run support. Andrew Abbott has proven himself a valuable contributor as injuries have hampered the unit the last three games. Those injuries have caused inconsistent play among the safeties. The Bruins have only two interceptions by defensive backs and are 95th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense.

Jeff Locke has been his usual solid self with a 43.77 punting average and the field goal kicking has had its moments, but the special teams are a disaster in other areas. The Bruins rank 102nd or lower in punt returns, kickoff returns, punt return defense and kickoff return defense. Some of UCLA's most memorable gaffes this season -- Oregon State's punt return for a touchdown and Taylor Embree's fumble against Stanford -- have come on special teams.

The offense is still a little run heavy and conservative at times, but offensive coordinator Mike Johnson and coach Rick Neuheisel have shown a willingness to take shots downfield when needed. Pistol guru Jim Mastro has added some new wrinkles to the run game to keep opponents off balance and UCLA's run game is still difficult to stop. Still, you'd like to see a bit more creativity in getting the ball into the hands of playmakers in the open field.

The UCLA defense is giving up 413 yards and 32 points a game and defensive coordinator Joe Tresey's puzzling unwillingness to adjust to short, quick passing routes is a major reason why. UCLA's opponents are completing 68.32 percent of their passes because of soft coverage schemes and UCLA is 118th in the nation in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert nearly 55 percent of the time.

Practice report: Sunday quick hits

October, 16, 2011
Because of a Thursday night game this week at Arizona, UCLA's practice schedule has been moved up two days and the Bruins held a Sunday evening practice.

The Bruins usually take Sunday and Monday off, but the scheduling for Thursday night's ESPN game throws a bit of a wrench into game planning week. Monday's practice will take place at 6 p.m. accommodate the players who have classes on Monday afternoons.

"It’s always a little bit of a change from your normal routine and routine is everything in football, but I’m hopeful that our hunger to play well in this kind of setting will offset that," coach Rick Neuheisel said.

Despite the departure, the practice seemed to have the same energy level as a normal day at Spaulding Field and Neuheisel came away from the session happy.

"A very crisp practice," Neuheisel said. "I was pleased with the tempo, I was pleased with the way the kids are into it as well they should be. It’s exciting around here. We’ve got a big game on national television and if we can keep this thing rolling and play well this weekend, we can be in the thick of things so we’re excited about the opportunity."

A few tidbits:
  • Some of UCLA's injured players began trickling back. Cornerback Sheldon Price was pretty much full speed as he makes his way back from a sprained knee. Receiver Nelson Rosario was back from a sprained foot that kept him out of practice last week and receiver Shaquelle Evans was in a red no-contact jersey as he completes the school's concussion protocol. Offensive lineman Albert Cid, held out after feeling shortness of breath last week, was also back.
  • Safety Tony Dye, still fighting through a nerve issue in his neck, was dressed and in a red no-contact jersey but did not participate in any drills. Safety Alex Mascarenas (concussion) did not dress.
  • Receiver Randall Carroll again came to practice with two jerseys and did some work at cornerback with the first-team defense against the scout offense. He switched back to the offense when the first team offense went up against the first team defense.
  • The first incarnation of the two-minute drill didn't last very long because on the first play, quarterback Kevin Prince hit Evans on a short crossing route and Evans turned up the left sideline and outraced safety Tevin McDonald to the end zone for an 80-yard score. They reset and Prince connected with Cory Harkey for a gain of about 35 yards. After two more short gains, Tyler Gonzalez drilled a 32-yard field goal.

Practice report: Thursday quick hits

October, 13, 2011
UCLA finished it's bye week practice slate with another day in full pads that was capped with a live scrimmage between the scout teams.

Coach Rick Neuheisel said he was satisfied with what the team accomplished during the off week and got a good vibe from the team after sitting on last week's comeback victory over Washington State.

"I thought it was a really good week in terms of fundamentally, in terms of getting guys healthy and getting guys to look toward the future of the second half with the right mindset with respect to what is going to be required for us to compete the way we need to and be successful," Neuheisel said.

A few tidbits:
  • Brett Hundley ran the two-minute drill at the end of practice and completed seven of nine passes, including a touchdown to Corey Harkey on the final play. He appeared calm for someone running the drill for the first time and his passes were on the money for the most part. His two incomplete passes were a drop by Josh Smith and a spike to kill the clock. "What I know about Brett Hundley is that it’s not too big for him," Neuheisel said. "I don’t think the stage will--he’ll get out there and there will be some butterflies and there will be some plays that won’t go exactly as planned but I think he’ll respond and he’ll play really well if called upon."
  • Receiver Randall Carroll was getting some work with the defensive backs during seven-on-seven drills, going so far as to change jerseys into a the defensive blue rather than the offense's white. Carroll, who played defensive back in high school and was recruited as a defensive back to USC, said he's getting ready in case of an emergency because the Bruins have some injury issues in the defensive backfield. "I always wanted to try and play both, " Carroll said. "There is a chance I could play in the dime package. So I’m just getting more work as the days go on and then next year hopefully it’ll expand to more playing full time on both sides."
  • With some injury concerns on the offensive line, Wade Yandall got many of the reps first team reps and at strong side guard this week. Yandall, a redshirt freshman, has yet to play in a game, but could be called upon soon. "Hopefully this week has made an impression on the coaches and I can just be consistent and doing what I’m asked to do and hopefully I get to play next week," Yandall said. "A lot of times, I’ll show flashes of doing good things, but at the same time I’m not consistent with it. I've got to step up to that." Yandall had some opportunities during training camp, but that lack of consistency kept him from cracking the lineup. Neuheisel said he's getting closer. "It’s amazing when you give guys a chance to get up there with the first team again, how they respond after being away," Neuheisel said.
  • Kicker Tyler Gonzalez wasn't needed in the two-minute drill because the offense scored a touchdown, but he looked very good during warmups and the kicking drills at the start of practice. He made four of four attempts, including one from 50 yards.
  • Offensive lineman Albert Cid did not dress for practice for the second consecutive day. Cid left the field Tuesday complaining of a shortness of breath and is being held out for precautionary reasons.
  • Cornerback Sheldon Price, out the last two weeks with a sprained knee, was still wearing a brace and was in shorts and shoulder pads, but was more active in his work on the side. He was running forward and backward and also making some cuts.
  • Receiver Nelson Rosario (sprained foot) did not dress for practice but did some light running on the side. Receiver Shaquelle Evans (concussion), safeties Tony Dye (neck) and Alex Mascarenas (concussion) also did not dress for practice.
  • The defense dominated the live scout team scrimmage, with linebacker Aaron Wallace particularly impressive. Wallace had a couple of virtual sacks and at least two other tackles for a loss. Defensive end Sam Tai also had a few nice plays and defensive tackle Brandon Willis was a run-stuffing machine in the middle. Safety Anthony Thompson had an interception. The offense completed two long passes: One from Christoph Bono to Logan Sweet for a touchdown and another from Darius Bell to Jery Rice, Jr. Still, the defense dominated most of the scrimmage. "Looked like defense had their way today," Neuheisel said. "We didn’t do a very good job of pass blocking so I’d give the nod to the defense."



B. Hundley305220254717
P. Perkins18911696.26
B. Hundley1355644.27
J. Payton5883914.57
D. Fuller453277.31