Wednesday, September 14, 2011
UCLA preps for Texas amid negative chatter
By Ted Miller
The Bruins are off to a slow start after a Houston loss and a weak performance against San Jose State.
Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat. Rick Neuheisel has botched UCLA's quarterback situation. Rick Neuheisel questioned whether his team cared at a practice last week. Rick Neuheisel is no longer doing his post-game speech after home games at the Rose Bowl. Rick Neuheisel's team yawned its way through a win over San Jose State in front of a half-full stadium.
There's lots of Rick Neuheisel chatter these days, most of it negative. While such chatter doesn't block and tackle -- or miss blocks and miss tackles -- it certainly doesn't help the rebuilding process in Westwood. And it certainly doesn't make Neuheisel's job easier. Or help him keep it, for that matter.
Neuheisel said he knew it was coming.
"I told our team at the outset of the season that this was going to be one of those years where people were going to make stories that don't have anything to do with us," he said. "That's exactly what's taking place."
Neuheisel, known for his relentless optimism and boundless self-confidence, has flashed moments of frustration this year. Reporters have questioned whether he's lost faith in his team, a position Neuheisel is quick to discount.
"I'm not concerned at all with the passion and energy the football team is bringing to work," he said.
Here's the thing: Momentum in the media and among fans can reverse course in a matter of a weekend or two. If UCLA manages to beat Texas on Saturday and then open the Pac-12 schedule with a road win at Oregon State -- a perfectly reasonable scenario -- the Bruins would be 3-1 and back on track.
A loss at Houston and a lethargic performance against San Jose State doesn't automatically augur a lost season. But something positive has got to happen on the field to reignite belief, both among the fans and inside the locker room.
Recall that no one gave the Bruins a shot at then-No. 7 Texas last year, but the Bruins went to Austin and delivered a physically dominant 34-12 rear-end kicking. Sure, Texas was sloppy. But the Bruins were decisively winning the battle at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. Heck, they outrushed the Longhorns 264 yards to 85.
And, if you recall, quarterback Kevin Prince tweaked his knee late in that game. After masterfully leading the pistol rushing attack, particularly in the second half, he wasn't the same thereafter and he was shelved for the year with a knee injury after a rotten day at California.
Which leads into the next obvious topic: quarterback questions, which is the case for both teams.
Prince didn't play last week against San Jose State, though he was reportedly healthy enough after a concussion and shoulder injury from the opener, and Richard Brehaut was mediocre. Neuheisel has long seemed to prefer Prince, and he probably hasn't forgotten what Prince did at Texas last year. While Brehaut often seems like a more polished passer, the one thing he hasn't done that Prince has is win a few games.
So who starts? Neuheisel won't say.
"If Kevin is healthy, then Kevin will be back in the mix and we'll see how it goes as to how we divide those reps and play the game," he said.
Texas, by the way, also is uncertain at the position. Garrett Gilbert, a 14-game starter, has been benched, and either sophomore Case McCoy or freshman David Ash will get the call. Both played in the comeback win over BYU and it's likely the Bruins will see both on Saturday.
But whatever Texas does or whatever fans say, Neuheisel and the Bruins are looking inward. This game -- and the rest of the season, really -- are about what Neuheisel can get out of his Bruins.
The nabobs of negativity can natter, but it will come down to wins and losses for Neuheisel and the Bruins.
Said Neuheisel, "It's about us. It always has been about us. If we can keep our focus on that, then we're going to be fine."