NCF Nation: Brigham Harwell

Posted by's Ted Miller

These links have no fumbling issues.

  • Arizona RB Nic Grigsby is trying to solve his fumbling issues so he can hold onto his starting job.
  • Arizona State can't run the football and here's a big reason why the passing game hasn't compensated.
  • Two California players have been arrested on suspicion of robbery. Get a feeling that won't make things easier for Jeff Tedford this week, though it might distract from the endless question about the quarterback situation. This, however, is a fairly compelling argument that it's time to commit to Kevin Riley as the starter over Nate Longshore.
  • Oregon can run; Arizona State can't. That's good for the Ducks, bad for the Sun Devils.
  • Oregon State's offensive line takes a hit... a good one: Tavita Thompson returns.
  • UCLA running back Kahlil Bell is playing through pain, but the Bruins offensive and defensive lines are just banged up. Cal center Alex Mack vs. UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell is an intriguing matchup.
  • It's not always easy dealing with parents for USC coach Pete Carroll.
  • Are Notre Dame fans happy that Tyrone Willingham has failed at Washington? Short answer: Yes.
  • And here's a great look at Football Futile States.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Dear Arizona -- Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas: What does a dominating running game do for a team? Well, it wasn't just that Stanford had 286 yards rushing last weekend in its win over Arizona, it was that it ran 72 total plays vs. 57 for the Wildcats. What could a team do with 15 more plays? A lot. But if you only have 57, more than six of them should involve tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Mike Thomas.

2. Nate Longshore needs to grab hold of Cal's quarterback spot: California would love to run right at Arizona like Stanford did, but the Bears are down two starting offensive linemen and struggled just two weeks ago to get the running game going at home against Arizona State (79 yards on the ground). While it will help to get speedy Jahvid Best back, he's not going to give Cal 25 carries coming back from a dislocated elbow. That means Nate Longshore, making his second consecutive start, will need to make plays in the passing game. It doesn't help that receiver Michael Calvin was lost for the year this week to a knee injury. But Longshore should be plenty motivated to erase the three-interception performance he had in Tucson in 2006, an upset defeat that cost the Bears their first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.

3. How much does Washington still care?: The Huskies' players don't live in caves. They know that their fan base is hollering for coach Tyrone Willingham's coaching noggin'. They also can look at the guy under center and know he's no longer their leader, Jake Locker, who's done for the year with a thumb injury. While last season's bitter defeat at Oregon State should serve as motivation to play hard in front of the home fans, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies fight all four quarters if things start to get out of hand. And what if the Beavers jump on them early? Will a white flag come out?

4. Beavers stop the pass, own the field: Washington senior guard Casey Bulyca, who rivals center Juan Garcia as the Huskies most physical player, underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is done for the year. The line has been mostly mediocre this year, in any event. The Huskies don't really have a starting tailback, with Willie Griffin, Brandon Johnson and Terrance Dailey shuffling in and out. Locker, the best run threat, is, again, out. The Huskies average 2.9 yards per rush, and Oregon State's run defense has improved dramatically since yielding 239 yards at Penn State. This means it's up to UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch and his young receivers to make plays. But the Beavers likely will welcome the pass because safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are back to full speed after nursing injuries previous weeks.

5. USC will not be at full speed at Washington State: USC is banged up and it might make sense for coach Pete Carroll to lean toward caution with players who are borderline-ready to play at Washington State. Running back Joe McKnight (toe) won't make the trip. Neither will defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive lineman Butch Lewis (both are sick). Offensive guards Jeff Byers (knee) and Zack Heberer (toe), linebackers Brian Cushing (shoulder) and Kaluka Maiava (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles (groin) also missed significant practice time this week.

6. Don't hold the ball, Kevin Lopina: A team (hopefully) never expects to lose, but Washington State's prime directive is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina safely through USC's visit. Lopina is making his first start since going down with a back injury on Sept. 20 against Portland State, and the Cougars have a bye next week for him to further get his health, rhythm and timing back. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, often with just a four-man rush. Lopina needs to get the ball away in a hurry. That means three-step drops, roll outs, a two count and throw -- heave the ball into the stands if necessary. Just don't give up the sack, the INT or get hurt. The Cougars Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks are done for the season, and the guys next in line are a walk-on and a true freshman, so they really need Lopina to keep taking snaps.

7. Can Stanford run up the middle on UCLA?: Stanford has become the Pac-10's most physical running team. Running back Toby Gerhart is a 230-pound guy who's not afraid of contact, and the Cardinal line, led by center Alex Fletcher, has been the conference's best unit to this point of the season. But UCLA has perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle tandem in Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Can Fletcher and his guards move these guys out of the way? The going should be far tougher up the middle, though the Bruins haven't been dominant against the run this year by any means, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with 171 yards given up per game.

8. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft needs to put four quarters together: Stanford is going to gang up on the run and try to force Craft to win the game. For much of the season, the Cardinal secondary looked vulnerable, but last weekend it did a masterful job containing Arizona's top targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas, and didn't allow quarterback Willie Tuitama to throw a touchdown pass. Stanford also brings a lot of blitzes (see 19 sacks on the season). Craft has had fits and starts of success, and he seems to go in and out of rhythm throughout a game. He was sacked six times by Oregon and he threw a lot of ill-advised passes that were dropped by Ducks defenders. If the Bruins are going to defend their home turf, Craft needs to make plays consistently.

9. The solution for Arizona -- Stop the run: Arizona has lost twice this season. In both games, a power back ran all over the Wildcats undersized defense. But Cal doesn't have a Rodney Ferguson (New Mexico, 158 yards) or a Toby Gerhart (116 yards), who both tip the scales at 230 pounds. If the Wildcats force the Bears to throw into a secondary that is the defense's strength that will help in multiple ways. Not only will it ease the pressure on the defensive front, it also will stop the clock more often and allow the potent Arizona offen
se to get more plays.

10. Can any Pac-10 teams win on the road?: Pac-10 teams are 6-20 on the road this year -- 2-8 in nonconference play and 4-12 in conference. While Washington and Washington State have proved hospitable for obvious reasons -- stinking -- the rest of the Pac-10 has treated guests with disdain. Stanford and California are both looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in order to do that they will have to prove they can win on the road someplace other than Washington or Washington State.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

California won't run over Arizona: In Arizona's two losses, its defense got run over by a big back -- New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson and Stanford's Toby Gerhart, a pair of 230-pound bruisers. California is not a power-rushing team with Jahvid Best, who's expected to return after dislocating his elbow on Sept. 27, and Shane Vereen, neither of whom pushes the scale past 200 pounds. Moreover, the Bears have two injured starting linemen, tackle Mike Tepper and guard Chris Guarnero. Without Best, the Bears rushed for just 79 yards at home against Arizona State, and playing on the road makes it harder to use a variety of run audibles. Best and Vereen can hit home runs, but they don't grind out four yards and a cloud of dust. Cal will need balance to win, and the Bears passing game has not clicked this season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats pass defense is holding opponents to just a 55.3 completion percentage and has grabbed eight interceptions. Hmm.

A two-quarterback system might work for Stanford: Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard has steadily improved this year and was 13-of-17 for 113 yards and a touchdown before he was knocked out against Arizona with a concussion. He's likely to start against UCLA on Saturday. But Alex Loukas' running ability off the bench confused the Wildcats defense and was the key component of the 11-play, 60-yard game-winning drive. Loukas completed a 21-yard pass and ran four times for 32 yards, and apparently earned more playing time, according to coach Jim Harbaugh. Loukas not only adds a nice change of pace, but he also forces a defense to use valuable practice time preparing for a running quarterback and some spread-option plays.

Washington State's goal is to protect quarterback Kevin Lopina: If you read a week's worth of stories on Washington State, you can't help but wince. Two of the Cougars top three quarterbacks are done for the year. Kevin Lopina, who took over the starting job two games into the season, will return to face USC's fearsome defense after missing the past three games with a fractured vertebrae. If the Trojans knock Lopina out, the Cougars must turn to either walk-on freshman Daniel Wagner or burn the redshirt of true freshman J.T. Levenseller, with coach Paul Wulff suggesting this week he'd have no alternative but to go with Levenseller because there's half a season remaining. That means the Cougars figure to try to run the ball and use a lot of quick-hit passes to minimize the hits on Lopina, a strategy that isn't likely to put many points on the board. Of course, as a 43-point underdog, don't expect the Cougars to give the Trojans a scare. In fact, don't be shocked if USC coach Pete Carroll, who's team isn't exactly healthy, calls off the dogs fairly early and doesn't try to become the fourth Pac-10 team to score 60-plus on the Cougs.

UCLA may be able to force Stanford to pass: Sure, UCLA's rushing defense ranks eighth in the Pac-10 (171.3), which would seem to bode well for Stanford's potent ground game. But the Bruins have faced the nation's No. 6 (Oregon) and No. 16 (Fresno State) rushing attacks in recent weeks. Moreover, Stanford's more conventional power-running scheme matches strength-on-strength as the Bruins defensive tackle combo of Brian Price and Brigham Harwell is as good as any in the conference. It's almost certain that defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will try to force Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to throw the ball. The Bruins secondary has been terribly inconsistent this year -- strong safety Bret Lockett is fighting to hold onto his job this week -- but Pritchard, while improving, has a tendency to force passes into coverage, see eight interceptions vs. seven touchdowns. The Bruins secondary has only four interceptions this season, but that has been a point of emphasis in practices this week. Stanford beat Arizona despite losing the turnover battle, 0-3. It will be harder to do that on the road.

Beavers should be on upset alert: There is absolutely no logical reason to believe that Washington can upset Oregon State. The Huskies are winless, beaten up and about to fire head coach Tyrone Willingham. Oregon State has won three of four and is in the middle of the Pac-10 race. The Beavers are superior in just about every area and should be highly motivated. Yet this is college football, and only twice since 1999 has a Pac-10 team gone winless in the conference (though Washington did it in 2004). Moreover, the Huskies' loss last year at Oregon State was hotly contested and bitterly lost, including a controversial knock-out hit on quarterback Jake Locker by Beavers safety Al Afalava, which has been a hot topic this week (though let's be clear that the hit was legal). The Beavers won 19 games over the previous two seasons, but managed to get drubbed both years by inferior UCLA teams, so it's not inconceivable that the Beavers could come out flat with overconfidence.

How about that Pac-10 defense?

September, 2, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 UCLA's tenacious defense kept the Bruins in the game, despite a weak performance from the offense in the first half.

PASADENA, Calif. -- The final score sheet said Tennessee piled up 366 yards, but that doesn't tell the story of a UCLA defense that was the cornerstone of the Bruins' 27-24 overtime victory.

Despite four first-half interceptions tossed by Bruins quarterback Kevin Craft, including one returned for a touchdown, UCLA only trailed 14-7 at the break.

Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker also was working with marching orders to play conservatively and not take high-risk, high-reward chances because the offense, it was thought, wouldn't be able to make up the difference.

"DeWayne's defense kept us in the game," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We came into the game with an idea of how to manage field position. I told him to be a little more conservative on their end of the field and if they get to the 50, now use your tricks."

The defense produced two takeaways, including one on a critical Arian Foster fumble on the Bruins' 6-yard line.

It only had one sack, but it consistently pressured and rattled Vols QB Jonathan Crompton, who completed only 18 of 40 passes for 184 yards with an interception. At one point in the fourth quarter, Crompton had missed on nine of 10 passes.

Up front, the Bruins more than handled what was reputed to be the SEC's best offensive line.

"They think the Pac-10 is soft," senior tackle Brigham Harwell said. "We let the people talk and talk and talk. But talk is cheap. We had to prove it."

The Bruins produced eight tackles for a loss. Cornerback Alterraun Verner, who Walker reserved special praise for, had six tackles to go with his interception. End Korey Bosworth had the lone sack.

Walker wasn't happy about giving up 177 yards rushing, but he was happy about how the group held together while repeatedly finding itself in binds created by the offense.

"What I like about these guys is how they all care about each other -- they care about the offensive guys, not only the defensive guys," Walker said. "They know our job is to keep them out of the end zone regardless of how many times we have to go out on the field."

And that end result made it all worthwhile.

"Besides the USC win my junior year, this is the biggest win of my career and for our program," Harwell said.

Posted by's Ted Miller

PASADENA, Calif. -- Hopeless? Beaten down? Overmatched? Don't tell UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell about lost causes. He doesn't believe in them. He'll probably know better than anyone else on the field Monday when Tennessee visits the Rose Bowl that there's always hope for those who refuse to surrender.

Harwell, as detailed in this 2004 LA Daily News story, spent time homeless and living in a car with his mother and two youngest brothers growing up. He also lived in foster homes, separated from his siblings, while his mother struggled with personal issues.

Yet he still found his way to UCLA, became a standout defensive lineman, a good student and an NFL prospect.

Then he blew out his knee two games into the 2007 season.

Did he shake his fist at the heavens and wonder why, after all he'd been through, his life had taken another downturn due to no fault of his own?

No way. If there's a UCLA player who can match new coach Rick Neuheisel's philosophy of relentless optimism, it's Harwell.

He busted his rear rehabilitating his leg and then applied for a medical hardship waiver. He arrived in camp in the best shape of his life, a chiseled 290 pounds.

Now, he will team with sophomore Brian Price to make one of the Pac-10's most formidable DT combos.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Ted Miller

 AP Photo/Nick Ut
 Coach Rick Neuheisel says UCLA might not be as far away from catching USC as many people think.

LOS ANGELES -- New UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was a Rose Bowl MVP for the Bruins, but he's also stirred controversy just about everywhere he's coached.

Fair or unfair, his career and behavior have been relentlessly picked over and microanalyzed.

He owns an impressive 66-30 record and won a Rose Bowl at Washington, but some folks view him as a rogue coach -- "Slick Rick" -- a guy who cuts corners and tries to talk his way out of every corner.

But figuring out who Rick Neuheisel really is won't be that difficult in coming years. His legacy surely will be tied to whether he leads UCLA back to the top of the Pac-10 and challenges USC for supremacy of Los Angeles.

I caught up with him this week; this is part I of a two-part interview.

Have things settled down and allowed you to just be UCLA's football coach after all the static about your past history?

Rick Neuheisel: Yeah, most of that is in the background, behind me. I'm sure every now and then it will resurface, especially with Washington being in the same conference. But things are enough in the rearview mirror that I don't have to worry about it on a daily basis. Now it's up to us as a staff and me personally to make sure nothing happens in the future that would drudge it all back up.

Do you feel like the important people at UCLA -- the administrators, boosters and fans -- don't care about the external static?

RN: I think that they're at that place. Don't care is probably too strong, but I think they are mindful there are two sides to everything and are comfortable that it is in the past.

Give me your impressions, after going through spring practices and now a few weeks into preseason camp, of the overall talent level here.

RN: There are some positions with terrific talent. It's just that we're not going to go out and win any games based on talent. It's just not the way it is. That doesn't mean someone isn't going to emerge here and become a 10-year NFL vet. I would never discount that opportunity for any of these kids. But we are who we are and now we have to play to that and make sure that we don't expose kids who are probably going to have matchup issues. That's the key. A lot has been said about our offensive line. We are who we are. We've got to do what we can to help them.

The offensive line: I was going to ask you about that. Everybody is talking badly about it. How do you handle that? Do these guys need to be built up after hearing over and over that they aren't good enough?

RN: Yeah. They need to be championed. There have been lots of offensive lines with average talent that have been on winning teams. It's up to us as coaches to find a way to get the most out of them because they are all high-effort guys. When you've got high-effort guys, you've got a chance.

How many years away are you guys from competing at the highest level?

RN: I hate to quantify it because it always makes it seem like you're saying you're not capable of doing it now. I don't ever want to sell these guys short. I told the seniors here that talking about rebuilding is just a coach-saver. That's what coaches say to give themselves time and keep expectations down, blah, blah, blah. We're at UCLA. We're going to play for first place. Our record is the same as everybody else's right now, so we're going to go out there. The good news about winning games is you don't have to win them 42-0. You get to win them 3-2 and 42-41. So we've just got to find ways to get one more point.

Who's stood out for you during camp -- play and leadership?

RN: I feel good about our defense and the leadership there. The Bosworth boys [LB Kyle and DE Korey] are tenacious guys. [DT] Brian Price is a bona fide big-time player. [CB] Alterraun Verner is a bona fide big-time player. If those guys do a great job of leading -- and [LB] Reggie Carter and [DT] Brigham Harwell, who's been voted captain -- do a great job of leading, then we're going to play good, solid defense. It doesn't mean we're going to play error-free, but we're going to play good defense.

Now we've got to get the same kind of moxie from the offense. [RB] Kahlil Bell can bring that, but he's coming off an ACL so he's not out there every practice. But when there's a QB competition and you've lost your first two senior guys [Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson], it's hard for the next guy to just go in and be a [expletive]-chewer because he's trying to win the job. [TE] Logan Paulsen, Kahlil Bell -- they have to lead. Now I need an offensive lineman who rises to that challenge. [C] Micah Reed and [OT] Micah Kia, those are the two guys who come to mind. But right now that is a challenge for them.

Recruiting. You go to USC's camp and it's like, 'Wow, these guys have got a lot of players.' How do you recruit against them; what do you say to a Southern California prep superstar to get him to choose you over the Trojans?

RN: There are three things you can do. First of all, you sell UCLA. Fortunately for me, I don't just sell it, I get to share it because I went here. I lived this. It has a lot just on its own merits to entice the very best. Second, you point out our depth compared to their depth in terms of opportunity. Third, you point out: Where did [USC] begin? With a bunch of guys who decided that this is where they were going to go. You try to get a group of guys to decide the same thing over here and be the ones who start the thing. There's some allure to that. I think there's enough kids out in the country who, once they get to see this campus, once they get to see these coaches -- the resumes of the coaches out here are at least impressive enough to bear mention -- and then they see what can be. They get to go to school here and start their own deal in California, knowing that while USC is certainly king of the mountain right now, in the last 29 years since I was a freshman, the record [between the teams] is 14-14-1 between UCLA and USC. So it isn't so far-fetched that it's too far away. We can get it done. But we have to be relentless in recruiting and our energy has to be at least equal if not beyond the very best in the country.

In part II, Neuheisel talks about USC and how he wants people to think about him.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Happy Pac-10 Media Day...

  • Defensive tackle Brigham Harwell will represent UCLA today, and LA Daily News writer Brian Dohn shares a story he wrote in 2004 about the winding, difficult road that, eventually, got Harwell to the podium. My guess is even USC Fans will find it hard not to root for Harwell.
  • Dohn, who reportedly doesn't need sleep, also tagged along with Bruins QB Ben Olson as he tries to overcome injuries and doubts to become the QB he was touted to be coming out of high school.
  • The Arizona Daily Star's Ryan Finley takes out his crystal ball and sees... some interesting and amusing stuff out of the Pac-10 this season, including: "Oregon will unveil another uniform combination -- and this one will be high-tech. The Ducks will wear uniforms and helmets made of 'green-screen' material, allowing Nike to broadcast commercials directly onto the athletes during games."
  • Jonathan Okanes releases his Pac-10 poll. Guess who's No. 1?
  • Bob Condotta asked the readers of his Seattle Times blog to send him their Pac-10 votes and the response was, apparently, overwhelming. And get this: USC was No. 1 in the reader poll, too.
  • Does Oregon State have issues at running back? Building the Dam says no. Listening to some Beavers observers recite sonnets about Ryan McCants last night, I've got a hunch the Beavs are going to be fine. Here's a bet, however, that McCants and company are eyeballing guard Jeremy Perry's still bothersome leg. There's not a lot of margin for error along the OSU offensive line.
  • What's up with Oregon's linebackers? The Ducks have questions up the middle of their defense.
  • But who cares about LBs? Oregon continues to find ways to make $$$$.
  • Washington got its first commitment. The Huskies are the last Pac-10 team to get a commitment.
  • Bleacher Report fingers Sept. 20 as the critical date of the college football season, with a number of red-letter games in the Pac-10.
  • Finally, the Tree Sitters aren't going quietly.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Links keep everyone connected.

  • found a way to show what we on the West Coast already know. The Pac-10 rules. Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA go 1, 2, 3 in its ranking of athletic programs this year. USC is No. 7; Cal 19, Oregon 21 and Arizona 22.
  • Beware UCLA DTs Brigham Harwell and Brian Price: This Tennessee guard can move some weight around.
  • But everyone knows that UCLA doesn't need to worry about Harwell and Price, who comprise one of the Pac-10's best tackle tandems. What Bruins fans should lose sleep over is their offensive line. Bruins Nation thoroughly breaks it down. It ain't pretty.
  • And now that you UCLA fans are properly blue, there's this from the LA Daily News: starting strong safety Bret Lockett has been suspended for the Tennessee game.
  • USC's got more seats in the Coliseum.
  • And the Trojans already have a commitment from the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley is the first non-senior to win the award.
  • Don Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune supplies this great list of "20 offseason issues" facing Washington's athletic department, football and basketball teams and the Pac-10 as a whole. Print this and hang it on your refrigerator.
  • You woke up this morning and asked yourself: I wonder what former Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna and former Washington linebacker Joe Lobendahn are up to? Well, we read your mind and found this story about the CFL teammates (read through the top of the notebook to get to the meaty stuff).
  • Yes, this is a bit dated, but it's really interesting: A look at how Oregon gets creative in recruiting. There's some story links on the right that go with the personalized comic book, too, such as this.
  • Finally, a basketball note. Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen comes to the defense of Lute Olson. Well done.