UCLA: Taylor Embree

Tight end Cory Harkey, wide receiver Taylor Embree and safety Tony Dye have accepted invitations to play in college football all-star games, the school announced Wednesday.

Harkey (6-4, 270) is headed to the East/West Shrine game Jan. 21 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. A top-notch blocker, Harkey started all 14 games this season after starting 12 last season. He had one reception for 12 yards this year.

Embree (6-3, 207) and Dye (6-0, 216) will play in the NFLPA All Star Game Jan. 21 at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Embree was third on the team with 228 yards receiving this season after leading the team in receptions in 2009 and 2010.

Dye, a team captain, was UCLA's leading tackler last season, but played in only five games this season as he battled injuries all year.

Grades: Oregon 49, UCLA 31

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
11:33
PM PT
GradePASSING ATTACK
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.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK
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.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES
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.

GradeDEFENSE
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.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS
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.

GradeCOACHING
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.

Five things to watch: UCLA at USC

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
12:56
PM PT

1. EMOTIONAL CONTROL
There is a lot riding on this game for UCLA with Pac-12 title game implications, trying to show the gap between the Bruins and Trojans has closed and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel possibly coaching for his job. Add in the traditional bragging rights associated with the crosstown rivalry and UCLA is going to have no shortage of emotion going into the game. The question is, can they channel that emotion into good play. The Bruins are still a young team learning how to play on the big stage and didn't handle it very well earlier this season when they played a big-stakes game on the national stage at Arizona. The game will get out of control early if the Bruins again get overwhelmed by the moment.


UCLAUSC2. PRO-STYLE QUARTERBACK
Having to face one of the nation's top quarterbacks is nothing new for the Bruins with USC's Matt Barkley the sixth quarterback among the top-20 in passing yards UCLA has faced this season. UCLA has fared pretty well against the pass considering the competition, giving up only 216.5 yards per game through the air. Houston's Case Keenum, the national leader in passing yards, is the only quarterback with a 300-yard game against the Bruins. Barkley, No. 15 in the nation with 3,105 yards passing, has five 300-yards games this season. What will make Barkley isn't much of a threat to run, but he's difficult to defend because he generally gets time. USC has allowed only seven sacks this season, which is third fewest in the nation. The Bruins have only 12 sacks, which is No. 111 in the nation.

3. DEEP COVER
UCLA's secondary will be put to the test against USC's prolific receiver tandem of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. UCLA has had troubles against elite-level receivers at times this season, giving up 100-yard games against four different receivers this season. Pass interference penalties have also cropped up more than the Bruins would like. Woods averages 107 yards receiving per game and Lee averages 83 and is coming off of a 187-yard game last week at Oregon so the pressure will be on cornerbacks Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott to stick to those guys.



4. MINIMIZE MISTAKES
Penalties and turnovers have been troublesome for UCLA in recent weeks and the Bruins can ill-afford to have any of those types of momentum-killing mistakes this week. UCLA has been penalized 21 times for 193 yards the last two weeks and ranks among the bottom 25 in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game and only 11 teams in the nation have fumbled more than UCLA's 13. Last year against USC, Johnathan Franklin fumbledat the USC 32 late in the first half of a 7-7 game and USC's Malcolm Smith returned it 68 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Later, with the score still 14-7, Richard Brehaut fumbled at the USC 37 yard line killing an opportunity for UCLA to tie the score. The Bruins never recovered in a 28-14 loss.


5. BROTHERLY LOVE
Two sets of brothers will square off on opposite sidelines for the Bruins and the Trojans with UCLA safety Tevin McDonald and running back Malcolm Jones trying to get the best of their older brothers, USC safeties T.J. McDonald and Marshall Jones. The McDonald brothers are starters, but the Jones brothers play on opposite sides of the ball and have the potential to clash on the field. It adds a unique element to the rivalry that normally divides only a city, but the past two years has divided at least two families and will make the holiday season less cheerful for one side of the dinner table. It's the second week in a row a UCLA game has become a family affair. Last week, UCLA receiver Taylor Embree got the best of his father, Colorado coach Jon Embree.

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.

Taylor Embree wants bragging rights

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
2:24
PM PT
Taylor Embree hadn't yet mastered the Pledge of Allegiance when his second-grade teacher asked him to recite it in front of the entire class. All eyes and ears were on Embree but he escaped the jam by improvising with something he knew well.

"I told her I didn't know the Pledge of Allegiance," Embree said, "but I could sing the CU fight song."

And the Colorado native did, leading his classmates through a rendition of "Fight CU." The UCLA receiver, though, claims he won't even think about humming the song Saturday when the Bruins host the Buffaloes at the Rose Bowl. As of Tuesday night, Taylor did not know whether his father, Colorado first-year head coach Jon Embree, planned on accompanying him for senior day festivities during pregame. Father and son are close -- they talk over the phone about six times a week -- but Taylor said he understands Jon has a job to do, which likely includes revving up the Buffs (2-9) before they take the field.

"We'll find out, but I know my mom is going to be nagging him to walk me out," Taylor said. "I told him I don't want him to use that as an excuse in the game. ... If he feels like he needs to get his team ready, that's fine. I'm just excited that he's even going to be on the field when I'm playing."

Taylor, who ranks fourth on the team with 13 catches for 152 yards, said he stayed up Monday night thinking about how cool it would be to add a football game to the list of things he's beaten his dad at. Billiards and video games? Check and check. Games of H-O-R-S-E? Check. The two stopped playing one-on-one basketball when Jon Embree, a tight end for the Buffaloes in the mid-1980s, realized his son could dunk.

Despite the importance of the home finale -- UCLA would move to 6-5 and become bowl eligible with a victory -- Taylor doesn't anticipate nerves to be an issue. But the senior knows emotions will intensify as kickoff nears, something UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel hopes his leading punt returner can control.

"It’s actually going to be one of those things that his family will look back on because it’s unique and it’ll be a positive memory," Neuheisel said. "He doesn’t need to worry about that portion of it, he just needs to make sure his last game at the Rose Bowl in a home uniform is a fantastic memory for him."

As for the song he knew at age 8?

"I'm going to be mad every time I hear that fight song at the game and I told my dad, too," Taylor said with a chuckle. "That song is going to be like a Trojans fight song to me. It's going to be annoying by the time the game is over."

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 Cal

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
8:32
PM PT
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:

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Five things to watch: California at UCLA

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
6:49
AM PT
1. BOUNCE BACK EFFECT
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.


CalUCLA2. ANY WARM BODIES?
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.

3. BATTING DOWN THE PASSES
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.

4. RUNNING ON EMPTY
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.

5. THE HOT SEAT
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.

Juggling receivers because of suspensions

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
9:17
PM PT
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.

First look: California at UCLA

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
8:02
AM PT
Another week, another top-notch pass offense standing in UCLA's way.

So far this season, UCLA has faced four of the top-20 passing offenses in the nation and gets a fifth Saturday when California visits the Rose Bowl for a 4 p.m. Pac-12 game.

That means that if UCLA is going to get its season back on track, the Bruins will have to find a way to contain California quarterback Zach Maynard and receiver Keenan Allen, who lead a Golden Bears offense that ranks No. 19 in the nation with 293 yards passing per game.

CalUCLAAnd not only that, but the short-handed Bruins must also figure out a way to decipher a California defense that is fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense and leads the conference in pass defense.

"We’ve got our work cut out for us," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said.

Allen, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore, is among the top receivers in the nation. A freshman All-American last season, he leads the country this season with 129.43 yards receiving per game and is eighth with 60 receptions. Maynard doesn't quite fit into the elite group of quarterback UCLA has faced this season, but he is improving in his first year as a starter and has passed for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Last year when these teams met, Cal dominated with a running attack that gained 304 yards rushing in a 35-7 Golden Bears victory. Shane Vereen led that charge with 151 yards. Vereen is now with the New England Patriots, but Isi Sofele, who gained 80 yards in 13 carries in last year's game, is back and is having a strong season. He's averaging 89.57 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-12.

The Bruins are No. 106 in the nation in total defense, giving up 436.14 yards per game, so facing such a balanced offense could lead to more problems, but it's the other side of the ball that has Neuheisel most concerned.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, brother of UCLA linebacker Eric, is among the top defensive players in the conference, if not the country. He is third in the conference with eight tackles per game and is a key reason why Cal gives up only 115 yards rushing per game.

"They've got, in my mind, the best defensive player in the conference in Mychal Kendricks," Neuheisel said. "I think he is spectacular football player."

(Read full post)

Upon further review: Neuheisel Sunday call

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
8:25
PM PT
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
10/23/11
3:36
PM PT
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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A lot riding on UCLA's game at Arizona

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
8:25
AM PT
The precariousness of UCLA's football season has never been more apparent than it is as the Bruins head to Tucson for a Thursday night game at Arizona.

Win the game and the Bruins will be tied for first place in the Pac-12 South; lose it and coach Rick Neuheisel might want to think about packing up his office.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
AP Photo/Bret HartmanRick Neuheisel may be running out of time to turn around the Bruins.
That's kind of the strange predicament UCLA is in at the halfway point in the season, entering the second half of the season with a .500 record and facing the possibility that the next win or loss could very well have season-tipping implications.

The Bruins (3-3, 2-1 in Pac-12) sit a half game behind division leaders Arizona State and USC in the standings and a win Thursday will keep the Bruins in the thick of the conference title race. But UCLA is facing an Arizona team that, on paper, is a shambles and a loss to a team that just fired its coach would almost certainly be construed as an unforgivable offense.

“This game is a really big deal to the outcome of our season,” linebacker Sean Westgate said. “We win and we’re still in that race. We have a very, very good shot of continuing on the rest of the season and being in a position where we can take a shot at getting in that Pac-12 championship game. Without this game, I don’t think that’s a possibility. Then we’re just playing for a bowl game.”

Playing for a bowl game means playing for Neuheisel’s job. He admittedly entered the season on the hot seat and the underlying theme of this season has been if Neuheisel could make enough of an improvement to keep his job. The minimum requirement figures to be leading the Bruins to a bowl game.

But halfway through the season the Bruins find themselves in position to play for much more than bowl eligibility.

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What to watch: Washington St. at UCLA

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
7:38
AM PT
1. ROCK LOBSTER
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.

WSUUCLA2. LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
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.

3. POUND THE ROCK
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.

4. GET AN EDGE
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.

5. THIRD DOWN IS THE CHARM
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.

Upon further review: Neuheisel on Stanford

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
8:44
PM PT
Coach Rick Neuheisel spent Sunday watching the game film of UCLA's 45-19 loss to Stanford and came away with mostly the same impressions he had after the game Saturday: If not for a handful of game-changing plays, UCLA would have hung tough with the Cardinal.

"We were in that game," Neuheisel said. "But for a few mistakes that game is a tossup. And those are the mistakes that we’ve got to continue to work to stop. We can't fumble a punt when it should have been fair caught. We can’t not punch it in when we get down there inside the five. Those are the things that we can do better and we will continue to work and do better."

Some highlights from the call:
  • Neuheisel said one of the biggest differences between UCLA and Stanford was size in the trenches. The Cardinal averages 6 feet 5, 303 pounds on the starting offensive line and was able to manhandle UCLA's defensive line, which averages 6-4, 279 pounds. "We’ve got to get a little bigger," Neuheisel said. "They were clearly bigger across their offensive line than we were. We’ve got to continue to build on our strength and keep recruiting bigger kids and then develop them."
  • UCLA continued to struggle on defense, especially the defensive front. UCLA did not register a sack for the third consecutive game and had only one tackle for a loss. The Bruins are No. 118 in the nation in tackles for a loss and 114th in sacks. "They were getting great push yesterday," he said, referring to Stanford's offensive line. "As I was saying, they were a very big, stout offensive line. I think that’s been well documented. We’re going to have to keep working at it. I believe we have the talent to get it done." Neuheisel refused to put the blame on new defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield. "Inoke is working hard," Neuheisel said. "We’re going to continue to work hard. I’m not going to point fingers, all I’m going to tell you is we’re going to get better."
  • Stanford was 1-11 in 2006, 4-8 in 2007 and 5-7 in 2008, but has since blossomed into a national power at 12-1 last season and 4-0 this season. Neuheisel was asked what was keeping UCLA from making a similar turnaround. "There’s a number of things we can talk about, but that’s all worthless," Neuheisel said. "The point of the matter is we’ve got to get better and we’re working to get that accomplished. If you look at all the great teams out there, there is a reason they become great teams and normally it’s because they have established some very experienced players that are doing it for them."
  • Neuheisel has couched praise for the performance of quarterback Richard Brehaut, who completed 18 of 33 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. "I thought it was the second week in a row which he was poised," Neuheisel said. "There were some times I think in the running game that he could have pulled the ball and been wise to do so. But we’ll keep working at that."
  • Taylor Embree's fumble on a punt return was a major turning point in the game because it helped Stanford increase its lead from 24-13 to 31-13 late in the third quarter. It's particularly painful because Embree is in that spot because of his sure hands. He had not fumbled a punt return in two seasons. Neuheisel stood by Embree, though criticized his decision not to call for the fair catch in that spot. "Taylor Embree is like a son to me," Neuheisel said. "Taylor Embree was about five years old when he was hanging out at my house back when I coached at Colorado. I have nothing but the highest regard for Taylor and nothing but the highest confidence, especially in catching punts. He’s a young guy that’s trying to make a play and that just wasn’t the appropriate place and he knows it. He’s trying to spin away from a defender before he catches the ball and that’s why he dropped it."

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