The criticism last year of the offense was about the creativity; are they being bottled up? Can that even happen though? Is it possible to fit the middle in before edges are done?
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel: “You know what, no one is more critical of our offense than we are. I accept all criticism. No problem. The numbers are what they are. When you’re eighth or ninth or 10th in the Pac-10 in offense, that’s not good enough. We’re like car mechanics – we’re always going to tinker. But you also have to always ask, what can you execute. It isn’t what we know, it’s what our players know.
When you’re dealing with an inexperienced offensive line – a freshman left tackle, a brand-new junior college player inside, Kai Maiava playing his first year at center, Mike Harris playing in his second year – there was no one with more than two years of experience. Johnathan Franklin, freshman. Kevin Prince, freshman. Nobody at wide receiver with the exception of Austin with more than two years in the program. What can we really do and execute? One thing we couldn’t do was turn the ball over. We learned that in our first year, and our turnover ratio was better last year, gave us a chance to win.
You go back to the games we were unsuccessful…an interception against USC cost us the game – it was 0-0 at halftime and you have to play that field-position game. You can’t turn it over. The Cal interception, when we were going to make it 38-33 and they take it in for six. The turnovers are the hugest thing we can keep for ourselves. The Oregon game, first play of the second half, there it is.
We aren’t good enough to beat that. There will be a day when we’re explosive and we’ve got it all going and we’re good enough up front and we’ll be able to weather those storms. But we’re not there yet.”
Where is this offensive line compared to when you started at UCLA?
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel: “Light-years ahead – remember I just gave you seven or eight names, and all but one has played. Greg Capella, Nik Abele and Wade Yandall are really the only ones who haven’t played in games. When we got here, there were only nine guys total, and only two had plays. We’re moving in the right direction. Another year from now, with Chris Ward, Yandall and Innes all having played, and then bring back X and another recruiting class – now you’re going to look how you should look. For whatever reason, it just has not been fertile in California for offensive linemen. Not for the specs we’ve looked for.”
How far along is Kevin Prince? What do you expect or hope from him?
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel: “He’s had a fantastic offseason physically. I hope his injury issues are behind him. But there’s a moment in every quarterback’s life where you stop running plays and you start figuring out ways to win. If he hasn’t had that epiphany yet, he’s close to it. That is what’s going to be exciting. When he figures out how to go win, how to beat them. Beating a coverage, beating a DB, beating a scheme. When you figure out how to do that – manage down and distance, know how to take clock, know without having to always be told – and you’re not just thinking about what step I take. Now, you have to figure out how to win. That’s when he’ll be exciting.”
Who’s his left tackle?“Right now, Nik Abele will line up at left tackle, and we’re excited about him. Micah Kia will be available in the fall. We have to develop some depth. We have Mike Harris and Sean Sheller at right tackle, and Jeff Baca has the ability to play tackle when we need to. Brett Downey will get a lot of looks at tackle in the spring, Wade Yandall will be here for the spring and will try him at some tackle. Stanley inside along with Eddie (Williams), Ryan Taylor, who’ve all had playing experience. Then Kai Maiava at center with Taylor working in there, and a freshman, Kody Innes, lining up some, too. We’ve got some different ways to go.”
How do you get those close games to tip your way? If Oregon doesn’t score three touchdowns in about 12 seconds, you…
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel: “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas. It’s about being good enough. Being good enough to get it done. No more excuses as to why we didn’t. There’s no youth excuse, there’s no any excuse. We have to find a way to get it done.”
What is the next step for Kevin Prince?
“I think accuracy will be a huge thing. There were a number of balls he was unbelievable impressive on and a number that should’ve been completed. That’s a normal progression for a young quarterback. When there’s so much to think about, the ball’s gone so fast and you’re just trying to stay on schedule.”
Injury updates on Reggie Stokes, Micah Kia and Darius Savage?
“None of those guys will participate in spring practice. Micah Kia will be out there in uniform and go out in non-contact drills. He had suffered the ACL injury in August, so it’ll be a full year and a full recovery by then. We won’t risk anything by spring ball. Savage and Stokes are in situations where they’re on the mend, and we’ll see where they are when August comes around.”