By Jon Gold
As USC is mired in its worst season in recent memory, the UCLA Bruins could be forgiven for paying more than a little attention to their cross-town rivals.
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, though, won’t allow any wandering eyes, ears or hearts.
“We really have been just focused on us,” Neuheisel said. “There are certainly those in the UCLA world who do focus a lot on what our cross town rivals are doing. That can’t be our job.”
It will soon be, though.
The Bruins will soon dive into USC game footage, hoping to find ways to exploit the Trojans’ sometimes-sketchy defense.
Up first, Stanford’s 55-21 win over USC in Week 10, the Trojans’ last game before Saturday’s bye.
“I’m going to watch Stanford and see what Stanford did,” Neuheisel said. “This is a game where you just want to take care of the football, play the field-position game, and have some chances to have some big plays. You can’t win this game in the first quarter.”
It did take a little longer against Arizona State, but not much.
After Sun Devils quarterback Samson Szakacsy tied the game at seven with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Williams – UCLA got on the board first on an Alterraun Verner 68-yard interception touchdown return on Arizona State’s first drive – the Bruins took control early in the second quarter, scoring 16 straight points to take control.
Mindful of last year’s debacle, when the Sun Devils scored four defensive touchdowns in a 34-9 win, UCLA decided to play it safe.
“I was sweating bullets all the way through it,” Neuheisel said. “The game plan was to make sure we didn’t beat ourselves. That’s what exactly happened in the desert. We were not going to do that. The opening touchdown before we’d even touched the ball gave us a little cushion.”
USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley’s recent struggles – he had threw three interceptions in the Trojans’ 55-21 loss to Stanford in Week 10 – will not change UCLA’s game plan, Neuheisel said.
The Bruins will not become blitz-happy, but attempt to maintain a balanced attack.
“I don’t think you can be ever just one thing,” Neuheisel said. “You have to be diversified and give different looks. Barkley is obviously a huge talent, but they can’t manufacture more experience for them. We can’t give them one look that allows them to be comfortable.”
Brehaut Biding Time
After stating that he would play freshman quarterback Richard Brehaut in quality minutes during the last several weeks of the season, Neuheisel seemingly has backed off his claim recently.
The emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince as a downfield threat and an efficient game-manager combined with Brehaut’s lack of pocket presence has limited his playing time.
“I feel badly that he didn’t get in this last one, because I still have it in my mind to get him in,” Neuheisel said. “Does Kevin Prince want to be the quarterback? Yes. Does Richard Brehaut want to be the quarterback? Yes. That will be a huge thing once we get to the offseason.”
The status of redshirt freshman cornerback Aaron Hester has been of constant debate for weeks now.
One week, Hester is recovered from his leg fracture, the next he is hobbled.
Then he’s healthy but unconfident.
Now he’s confident but inconsistent.
“I think he’s OK, he just has to get more consistent,” Neuheisel said. “He’s starting to get better, but there are too many things where assignments aren’t done the way they need to be done. The fundamentals of the position have to be evidenced.”