Pac-12: Kevin Craft



LOS ANGELES -- To illustrate UCLA's quarterback dilemma, head coach Jim Mora told the parable of Andre Carter. It was spring workouts of 2001, right after Mora -- then the defensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers -- and Bill Walsh drafted the defensive end out of Cal with the No. 7 overall pick.

Mora had Carter running with the second-team defense -- his thought was to make the rookie earn his place. Walsh had another idea. Mora recalls the conversation going a bit like this:
Walsh: Jim, why isn't he with the first team?
Mora: I want to make him earn it.
Walsh: We drafted him in the first round, he's earned it. Is he better than the other guys?
Mora: Yeah.
Walsh: Then put him in there. He needs to get used to playing with the guys he's going to play with. More importantly, the guy who he replaces, he needs to start understanding what his new role is.

Mora tells the story to illustrate a very blunt point. If he chooses redshirt freshman Brett Hundley as his quarterback, he wants -- check that, needs -- Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut to start understanding what their place is on the 2012 Bruins team. If he picks either Prince or Brehaut, he needs Hundley to understand that it's because he still has work to do in the offense.

"You don't want to force the issue," Mora said. "But the longer you wait, the harder it gets. Your team needs to know who that guy is. And that guy needs to know who he is."

Prince can only offer up a begrudged laugh at the situation he now finds himself in. After all, he was a redshirt freshman when he took the starting job from senior Kevin Craft. And the irony is not lost on him.

"There was no animosity whatsoever," Prince said. "He was the most supportive person ever. His whole goal was to make sure I had fun. He knew as a young quarterback, he'd been through it, he knew how stressful it could be. He just wanted to make sure I had fun and could relax. If that situation does arise, I'll take that role and I'll be Kevin Craft."

Not that he wants that. Neither does Brehaut, or Hundley or Jerry Neuheisel, who continues to hang on in the competition.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Cal Sport Media via AP Images"The longer you wait" to choose a quarterback, UCLA coach Jim Mora said, "the harder it gets."
"The funnel is narrowing, but it's not narrow enough yet that all four still can't fit through the spigot," Mora said.

The three frontrunners all agree the new spread offense suits them better than the pistol offense of the old regime. And why not? It accentuates the quarterback and historically produces big numbers. And that's another backdrop to this whole story. Experience counts, but not as much as it used to given the new system.

"It's something that I'm used to," Brehaut said. "Every single year I've been here I've been in a competition. It's something I'm accustomed to. I can only control the reps that I get. I can't worry about the other three guys and what they're doing with their reps. I have to take full advantage of mine."

Mora concedes that it would just be easier to hand the job to Hundley and let him grow into the gig. But that would be "cheating" the rest of the players who are in their last year. He's taking a more tactical, Walshian approach.

"Walsh never looked at a player and saw what he could do right now," Mora said. "He considered what a guy would look like in three games, seven games, a year, two years.

"That's how we have to look at it, at trajectory. If player A has the same trajectory all year long, but player B can meet that trajectory after three games, than exceed it, you have to go with that player."

The question is whether Hundley can exceed the trajectory of Prince and Brehaut, who are both in their final seasons. And with four guys fighting for reps, that's not always easy to determine.

"That's definitely the hardest thing," said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "If it were two guys, things would be going much faster. At the end of the day, life is performance-based, so we're going to play the guy who can run the offense the best. I actually think this competition has accelerated their learning curve."

Hundley understands that if he gets the job, it's going to be a little awkward. At 18, he's the youngest of the quarterbacks. But he says that the older players have done what they can to help him along.

"We're all friends," Hundley said. "But we all know we are here for a reason, and that's to be the quarterback of the UCLA Bruins. Business is business and we all want that starting job."

UCLA might not have QB Prince for bowl game

December, 14, 2009
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UCLA's redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince might miss the EagleBank Bowl against Temple on Dec. 29 because of a nagging shoulder injury.

According to this LA Times report, coach Rick Neuheisel believes Prince will return this week, but Prince didn't seem as confident.

"One doctor told me that I might be ready to play or I might not," Prince told the Times. "There is no set timetable."

If Prince can't go senior Kevin Craft is his likely replacement, though true freshman Richard Brehaut also is an alternative. Craft started against Kansas State and Stanford when Prince was previously hurt.

USC rubs it in against UCLA

November, 29, 2009
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It wasn't pretty, but USC did what it needed to do to beat UCLA 28-7, a victory that is sweeter considering the Trojans recent travails.

Heck, the Trojans even scored a gratuitous touchdown to rub it in at the end with a 48-yard pass, which should only serve to further embitter the rivalry.

The benches briefly cleared as UCLA -- not without justification -- seemed irritated by the best throw of the night from Matt Barkley.

Was it a class moment for Pete Carroll?

No.

But this sort of thing apparently is what the cool kids are doing now -- see Stanford's Jim Harbaugh going for two with a 27-point lead late in its win over the Trojans.

The difference was simple: Turnovers. UCLA had four. USC one. The Trojans first score came on an interception return. Their second on a 29-yard drive following another Kevin Prince interception.

The Bruins, with Kevin Craft coming off the bench at quarterback, made a late move, cutting the Trojans advantage to 14-7 with 5:41 left on a drive in which they twice converted on fourth down.

But USC answered with a 73-yard touchdown drive. UCLA got the ball back with 1:30 left, but turned the ball over on downs. And then USC threw a bomb.

UCLA finishes its season 6-6 overall and 3-6 in the Pac-10. The Bruins are bowl-eligible, but must hope that they can fill an at-large spot for a bowl game that can't fulfill its contracts. It appears that the Humanitarian Bowl is interested.

USC improves to 8-3 and 5-3. It plays host to Arizona on Saturday. If the Trojans win, they likely will go to the Holiday Bowl.

No offense: USC-UCLA ain't got any

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
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USC leads UCLA 14-0 with 7:01 minutes left in the third quarter, a 1/2-yard touchdown run from Allen Bradford providing the first offensive points of the game.

The Trojans first jumped ahead when Malcolm Smith intercepted a pass from Kevin Prince and ran 62 yards for a touchdown with 6:31 left in the first quarter.

And that was it for the scoring until the Trojans took advantage of UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince's second interception to drive 29 yards in seven plays.

Both offenses are struggling. Some of that's good defense, but a lot of it is poor offensive execution.

Both QBs are struggling. Prince has made more mistakes than Trojans counterpart Matt Barkley, who only has one interception.

USC has 173 yards. UCLA 149.

But the key advantage: UCLA has three turnovers; USC has just one.

The Bruins just switched quarterbacks to Kevin Craft. Maybe he has some senior magic in him?

Pac-10 players of the week

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Stanford running back Toby Gerhart and kicker Nate Whitaker and USC safety Will Harris are Pac-10 players of the week.

Gerhart and Whitaker played key roles in Stanford’s 51-42 upset win against No. 8 Oregon. Gerhart rushed 38 times for a school single-game record 223 yards and three touchdowns. With that performance, Gerhart raised his season rushing total to 1,217 yards, surpassing his own school single-season rushing record. He also has been named the National Offensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

Whitaker was good on three-of-four field goal attempts. He connected from 29, 41 and 48 yards, with his only miss coming from 44 yards. He also was perfect on six PAT attempts.

Harris had two interceptions in USC's 14-9 win at Arizona State, returning one of them 55 yards for a touchdown. The other pick came in the end zone on the game’s final play. Harris also posted five tackles, four solo.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Sean Canfield of Oregon State, Kevin Craft of UCLA and Jeremiah Masoli of Oregon and center Colin Baxter of Arizona. Also nominated on defense were linebacker Keaton Kristick of Oregon State, end Ricky Elmore of Arizona and safety Rahim Moore of UCLA and cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson of California. Also nominated for special teams play were kick returners Travis Cobb of Arizona and Terrence Austin of UCLA and punter Bryan Anger of California.

Pac-10 lunch links: UCLA expects QB Prince to play at WSU

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

Pac-10 helmet stickers, Week 10

November, 8, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Who stood out in Week 10?

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford: Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal's 51-42 upset of Oregon. He now ranks No. 2 in the nation with 135 yards rushing per game. He's scored 16 touchdowns. Heisman Trophy candidate?

Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State: Canfield passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns, completing 29-of-39 of his throws in Oregon State's 31-14 win over California. He also ran for a TD. Canfield has completed just under 70 percent of his throws this season.

Kevin Craft, QB, UCLA: Craft, a senior, has had an tough ride with the Bruins but he's also had some nice moments, such as the comeback victory over Washington. Coming off the bench for injured starter Kevin Prince, he completed 10 of 14 passes for 159 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He rallied the Bruins from a nine-point, third-quarter deficit to a 24-23 victory.

Joe Halahuni, TE, Oregon State: The pride of Orting, Wash., caught six passes for 128 yards in the Beavers' win over California. After having 127 receiving yards in his first six games, Halahuni now has eclipsed 127 yards receiving in two of the past three games.

Jim Harbaugh, coach, Stanford: That's how you come out of a bye week. While few thought Stanford could handle speedy Oregon, Harbaugh and his staff prepared a perfect offensive game plan and convinced the Cardinal they could beat the mighty Ducks. Stanford, now 6-3, is now bowl eligible for the first time since 2001.

UCLA is showing some backbone

November, 7, 2009
11/07/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

UCLA was riding a five-game Pac-10 losing streak. Its starting quarterback, Kevin Prince, was out with an apparent concussion. It gave away five turnovers.

And yet the Bruins beat Washington 24-23, a win that substantially boosts the Bruins bowl hopes.

How about Kevin Craft? The much-maligned senior led the Bruins comeback from a 23-14 third-quarter deficit. He completed 10 of 14 for 159 yards with a 29-yard TD pass to Terrence Austin.

The game ended when safety Rahim Moore intercepted a Jake Locker pass on the Bruins 20-yard line. It was Moore's eighth interception this season, which leads the nation. That was the Huskies only turnover.

The Bruins outgained Washington 455 to 387 but kept killing themselves with mistakes.

Still, UCLA improved to 4-5 overall and 1-5 in conference play. The Bruins will be heavy favorites at Washington State on Saturday. If they prevail, they will need to beat either Arizona State at home on Nov. 21 or win at USC on Nov. 28 to qualify for a bowl game.

As for Washington, it needs to win its final three games -- at Oregon State, Washington State, California -- two qualify for a bowl game. The Huskies have lost five of six since beating USC on Sept. 19.

A two-quarterback system for UCLA?

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Kevin Prince remains UCLA's starting quarterback, but true freshman Richard Brehaut has earned playing time, coach Rick Neuheisel told reporters.

Chris Foster of the LA Times observes that this means Neuheisel has convinced offensive coordinator Norm Chow to do something he doesn't like: play two quarterbacks.
"Norm has been in the meetings with those kids, and he believes Kevin is the best bet for us as it stands currently," Neuheisel said. "I don't disagree." But, he added, "It's time Richard gets some chances."
UCLA, which visits Oregon State on Saturday, ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in passing (187 yards per game), scoring (20 ppg) and total offense (296 yards per game).

The Bruins started 3-0, beating Tennessee and Kansas State along the way, but have lost four conference games in a row.

Prince, a redshirt freshman, started the first two games but broke his jaw late against Tennessee. He returned to action against Oregon and looked rusty but he passed for 311 yards in a 45-26 loss to California the following week. He started 7-of-15 for 60 yards against Arizona before being yanked for Kevin Craft and then Brehaut.

T.J. Simers comments on the situation.

Arizona overcomes turnovers to beat UCLA

October, 24, 2009
10/24/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

UCLA didn't throw any interceptions against Arizona. Arizona tossed three.

Guess which team has quarterback issues?

It's perhaps a sign of how good Arizona is becoming that it can overcome five turnovers -- UCLA had but two -- and win fairly easily, 27-13.

A 456 yards to 211 differential in total yards seems revealing of the distances between these two teams, which are going in different directions in the Pac-10 standings. All of the Bruins points came off Wildcats turnovers. UCLA had 10 first downs; Arizona 27.

UCLA yanked quarterback Kevin Prince in the second half, going with Kevin Craft and then true freshman Richard Brehaut. The Bruins offense, which showed some sparks last week against California, is staggering.

The Bruins, now 3-4, have opened Pac-10 play with four consecutive losses. They visit Oregon State next weekend, their bowl hopes now dwindling.

Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles, who has been mostly flawless since taking over the starting job in week four, didn't have his best game, though he threw two touchdown passes and passed for 247 yards. Besides three interceptions, he fumbled twice.

Arizona, now 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference, has a bye before playing host to Washington State. A visit to Cal on Nov. 14 suddenly looms large in the conference pecking order.

The only good news for UCLA: Safety Rahim Moore picked off two passes, giving him seven for the season, which likely will lead the nation by the end of the weekend.

Midseason review: UCLA

October, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


It's been a tale of two seasons for UCLA.

The Bruins started 3-0, with an impressive win at Tennessee. Then their run defense turned soft and they lost their first three Pac-10 games.

Starting quarterback Kevin Prince broke his jaw in the waning moments at Tennessee, but Kevin Craft was good enough to lead the Bruins past Kansas State the next week. He couldn't do the same against Stanford, but the defense -- previously rugged -- was just as much to blame. It yielded 174 yards rushing to the Cardinal.

The next two foes, Oregon and California, followed suit. Oregon rushed for 221 yards and Cal rushed for 289.

The Bruins bowl prospects -- once strong -- are suddenly threatened, particularly with four of their final six games on the road.

Offensive MVP: The Bruins, who ranked 116th in the nation in rushing a year ago, are running the ball much better this year because of tailback Johnathan Franklin, who ranks ninth in the conference with 72.2 yards rushing per game. Franklin averages 5.0 yards per carry and has scored five TDs.

Defensive MVP: Seeing that dominating defensive tackle Brian Price was the overall Pac-10 midseason defensive MVP, let's go with cornerback Alterraun Verner. Verner, an All-American, doesn't get challenged much, but he has collected three interceptions so far and is tied for third on the defense with 37 total tackles.

UCLA QB Prince gets the hook

October, 10, 2009
10/10/09
6:18
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


His team down 24-10 without scoring an offensive touchdown, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel benched quarterback Kevin Prince and brought in true freshman Richard Brehaut early in the fourth quarter.

Prince was making his first start since breaking his jaw late in the win over Tennessee three weeks ago. The redshirt freshman completed 11 of 22 for just 69 yards with an interception that was returned for an Oregon touchdown.

That's 3.1 yards per completion. Not good.

Brehaut made a couple of first downs, completing 4 of 5 for 48 yards, but he just got crushed on a sack and Oregon got the ball back.

The question: Is Neuheisel just getting a look at Brehaut? Or is this a renewed battle for the starting job?

Note that senior Kevin Craft started the previous two games for UCLA, beating out Brehaut to replace Prince while he was injured.

Prince ready to jaw with Oregon

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
2:33
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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."

QB Prince returns to UCLA practice

October, 7, 2009
10/07/09
10:20
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


While Oregon's quarterback -- and cornerback -- situation is uncertain, UCLA will play host to the Ducks on Saturday with its starting quarterback back behind center.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, who broke his jaw in the waning moments of the victory over Tennessee on Sept. 12, returned to practice Tuesday and took nearly all of the first-team reps.

Prince, who was medically cleared Wednesday morning, showed some rust after missing three weeks of work, but he's probable to face Oregon after senior Kevin Craft started the previous two games.



Reported the L.A. Times: "The jaw, which was fractured in two places, will not be completely healed for at least two more weeks. But Prince will wear a helmet that covers more of the jaw area and was fitted for a special mouthpiece for his lower teeth."

Oregon, not UCLA, has QB issues

October, 6, 2009
10/06/09
10:54
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


It doesn't appear that Oregon's visit to UCLA will be a battle of backup quarterbacks -- as it was in 2007 -- but that's because the Bruins expect Kevin Prince to return after missing two games with a broken jaw.

The status of Oregon starter Jeremiah Masoli is more uncertain, in large part because coach Chip Kelly doesn't provide specific injury information.

Prince will not get final clearance to play until X-rays are taken Wednesday, but the Los Angeles Times reported that "is expected to be a mere formality."

Meanwhile, Masoli's status could be up in the air until late this week -- or even game day.

Masoli hurt his knee in the second quarter against Washington State. He didn't practice Monday and was noticeably limping.

If Masoli can't play, he'd be replaced by junior Nate Costa, a capable backup who appeared to be Dennis Dixon's heir-apparent until he suffered his third serious knee injury before the 2008 season.

While Prince was out, UCLA went 1-1 with senior Kevin Craft, who played well, mostly avoiding big mistakes, but rarely threw downfield.

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