Prince ready to jaw with Oregon
October, 8, 2009
By ESPN.com staff | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A week ago, this is what UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince had to say about the Bruins offense: "Mmfpt frupftah tarrump foof karvin crafff. Fanfyfroh."
For those of you who don't speak the same language as a guy whose broken jaw is wired shut, Prince said he thought Kevin Craft was doing a fine job in his stead but he couldn't wait to get back and help his team win because it's tough watching from the sidelines.
Prince will get his wish on Saturday when he steps back behind center and eyeballs No. 13 Oregon in the Rose Bowl. That's even more exciting than being able to eat and talk again.
"Talking, eating -- you never know how much you'd miss it until you can't do it anymore," Prince said.
Prince's jaw got rearranged in the waning moments of UCLA's victory at Tennessee. While he played the Bruins final series after the hit, it was fairly obvious that something was amiss, both to Prince and to anyone watching.
"If you were watching the broadcast, you could see I was spitting up blood and stuff," he said.
On the airplane home, a bite into a sandwich was excruciating. A clicking sound when he moved his mouth was disconcerting. X-rays revealed the fracture.
Craft, the senior backup who started in 2008, led the Bruins to a 23-9 victory over Kansas State but, after a bye week, the offense was stymied in a 24-16 defeat at Stanford.
Prince finally got his jaw unwired -- they actually use rubber bands these days -- on Sunday, though a pair of "arch bars" remain in place. While his schedule was tight between the doctor's appointment and a team meeting, he was able to hit a local Persian restaurant for a couple of beef kabobs.
"It was outstanding," Craft said.
Kabobs surely beat the smoothies and pureed foods he'd been eating for three weeks, which led to a five-pound weight loss. Prince's description of blended rice, beans and salsa sounded like his diet was not unlike a what is scattered across a bus boy's tray at the local taco joint.
"Some of it was gross," he said.
A broken jaw is a different sort of injury. Prince was able to do limited conditioning -- limited because he couldn't breathe through his mouth -- and some throwing while he was out. He showed some rust during practices Tuesday and Wednesday, but it's possible he will be more game-ready than if he were coming back from a more typical knee, ankle or shoulder injury. Prince broke his collarbone in high school and also missed his senior season with a knee injury, so he knows what it's like to return from an injury.
Still, a gimpy jaw might offer a whole different set of challenges for a player.
"I'm kind of curious to see myself," Neuheisel said of how sharp he expects Prince to be.
"The good news about this injury is he was able to run, so he stayed in shape. He was able to throw. There's nothing physically wrong with his ability to drop back and work his legs. I'm hoping the rust is minimal. Now he didn't take a lot of plays under center and have the stuff around him, but hopefully he's not been gone for so long that becomes difficult."
Neuheisel further pointed out that, considering Prince is a redshirt freshman, there wasn't much to get rusty in the first place.
Fact is, Prince's numbers in the first two games weren't better than Craft's in the last two. Prince completed 29 of 52 (55.8 percent) for 277 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Craft completed 35 of 58 (60.3 percent) for 390 yards with a TD and a pick. Craft's efficiency rating is slightly higher.
The general feeling, though, is Prince, the quarterback of the future, gives the Bruins a better chance to get the downfield passing game going, which stagnated against Stanford.
That won't be easy, though. The Oregon defense has been outstanding the last two weeks, surrendering only nine points combined to California and Washington State. The Ducks rank 20th in the nation in pass defense and are third in the Pac-10 with 13 sacks.
The Ducks like to gang up on the run and challenge a quarterback with unpredictable pressure. It's tough for any quarterback, but particularly for a redshirt freshman coming back from a major injury.
On the other hand, the Ducks lost a second starting cornerback -- Willie Gasper, who replaced Walter Thurmond -- for the season this week. They might be vulnerable in the secondary.
The more general measure for the Bruins is how they respond to their first loss. Both Prince and Neuheisel said the locker room after the Stanford game was more unhappy than they remembered it after any of the eight defeats in 2008. That might be a good thing.
"I'm pleased with the reaction to defeat," Neuheisel said. "Now it's got to manifest itself in some urgency to take care of the details so we play a cleaner game this weekend."