- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel knows Oregon. In 1979, he saw his first college action as a walk-on Bruins quarterback during a 35-0 victory.
"I got in and the radio announcer did not know who I was," he recalled. "They were scrambling in the booth to try to figure out who the hell was in the game."
As the coach of Colorado, Washington and now UCLA, he's compiled a 4-3 record versus Oregon, though he's lost two in a row with the Bruins.
And Oregon knows Neuheisel. Ducks fans do not like him. And probably never will (this old post provides many of the details). He's sure to get booed lustily and taunted by fans at Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.
But, while Neuheisel is quite familiar with Autzen and Oregon and what the Bruins are up against, his primary focus is more fundamental: He isn't sure if he knows his own team yet. The Bruins started 0-2 and looked lousy in losses to Kansas State and Stanford. But they bounced back with wins over nationally ranked Houston and Texas and made it three in a row with a victory over Washington State.
Then the Bruins, on the cusp of a national ranking, went to California and got blitzed 35-7. That loss wasn't made any easier when Cal promptly got trounced 48-14 at USC last weekend.
"If you are consistent enough, you are not going to be that team," Neuheisel said. "Obviously, we were that team. We were down against Cal."
You know what "that" team is, right? On any given weekend, half the teams are going to lose. No one wants to lose. But it's even worse to be that team -- the one that gets embarrassed. As in, "I know we missed a 25-yard field goal for the win, but at least we weren't that team waving a white flag in the fourth quarter."
And just as the Bruins got off the canvas and shocked the nation with a win at Texas, they again have an opportunity to shock the country and right their season at Oregon, which is ranked No. 2 in the BCS standing but sits atop both major polls.
Neuheisel said he's not holding up the prospect of beating the No. 1 team as a carrot to his players. "We're just trying to focus on doing the things that winning teams do," he said.
Still. "Whether or not I talk about it, our guys are going to be well aware of it. This is a team that has risen to the top of the land," he said.
UCLA has enough issues without complicating things, starting with who's going to play quarterback. The common denominator this season when the Bruins have played well is Kevin Prince being healthy and getting a full week of practice. That hasn't been the case this week, and it's possible that Richard Brehaut will get the start.
"Kevin would love to play, and Kevin is telling me he can play, but we've got to be prudent and do the right thing," Neuheisel said. "So it will probably be a game-time decision."
Ducks coach Chip Kelly didn't seem too concerned about not knowing who he will face.
"You can't drastically change your offense in a short amount of time," he said. "Will it be slightly different if Brehaut is playing? Yeah, we imagine that. [But] I would be surprised if UCLA rolled in here on Thursday night and tried to throw it 75 times against us."
That's a fair assumption. UCLA's anemic passing game was an area of emphasis during the Bruins bye week, but how much can you improve with your starting QB on the sidelines? While the new pistol offense has made the Bruins a good running team -- despite a bad day at Cal, they still average 223 yards rushing per game -- the passing offense has practically disappeared. They rank 118th in the nation in passing with just 95.5 yards per game.
Neuheisel isn't worried so much about Oregon, its lofty ranking, or boisterous Autzen Stadium. He's just trying to figure his team out.
"At the end of the day, we've just got to play well enough to be in the game and hopefully steal it at the end," he said.
The alternative is to be that team again.
21hChantel Jennings and Ted Miller