If anything, Rick Neuheisel knows how to prod.
He’ll call out a player when he needs to, tone it down at other times, but he generally makes his feelings known.
On Thursday afternoon, these were not good feelings.
“This is the first day where I really didn’t feel like we took a step forward offensively; it was not what it needed to be,” Neuheisel said. “We were sloppy offensively.”
The UCLA offense heard the talk and responded in Friday’s scrimmage.
While the running game continues to work out the kinks – four backs combining for just 110 yards on 31 carries – the passing game was much improved.
Sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince connected on 7-of-11 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown and sophomore Richard Brehaut finished 11-of-17 for 106 and two scores.
“You want to feel disrespected, but it’s the head coach, so you take it into consideration that he’s trying to make us better,” sophomore wide receiver Randall Carroll said. “But we all took it like a chip on our shoulders, tried to come out here and play big, which I think we did.”
Carroll more than most.
With UCLA coaches focusing on the second-tier of wideouts in the absence of Nelson Rosario (rash) and Josh Smith (knee) and with Taylor Embree sparsely used, Carroll took the opportunity – and the ball – and ran with it.
Carroll had three catches for 50 yards, including a beautiful 37-yard touchdown from Prince in which he sprinted by his man but adjusted mid-route in the back of the end zone.
“I have the ability, since I’m so fast, I can change my speed,” Carroll said. “I can come off the ball slow, take off before a break. Before, I used to just speed down and think I could break down full speed. That’s pretty much impossible for anyone at their top speed. I’m learning to change my speed and learn the angles to come back on, get down in my dig phase, make sure I draw my hips and run out of my breaks.”
The UCLA coaching staff needs to see more of that if Carroll is going to secure the No. 4 wide receiver position. The competition is heated between Carroll, redshirt freshman Ricky Marvray (three catches, 36 yards, one score), junior Antwon Moutra and sophomore Jerry Johnson.
“Some guys are natural receivers, and they understand the intricacies of running routes, being able to break down, control your body,” wide receiver coach Reggie Moore said. “When you’re that fast, you’re used to running straight. What he’s learning to do is really use his speed to get going, but then come under control and get in and out of the breaks. That’s a lot of work, even for a guy who is a naturally gifted receiver.”
With Carroll coming along, the UCLA offense looked light years ahead of the previous day.
Even Prince noticed it.
“I felt it; there are days where you can feel a lull,” Prince said. “We’re trying to get everybody going and it just wasn’t happening yesterday. I feel like it made us realize that we can’t come out here and go through the motions. We have to come out here with a focus every day and be ready to improve and get better.”
Neuheisel doesn’t apologize for his candor, though.
He pushes buttons like an elevator operator, and he especially understands that his Bruins need to work the wrinkles out of the new Revolver offense.
“I call it like it is – we did not come out and play like an offense that needed desperately to improve (Thursday),” Neuheisel said. “I thought it was better today. Still lots of work to be done. There’s a lot of moving parts in this stuff; if we’re going to be in this stuff and say this is who we are and get to that point, we have to be a heck of a lot better than this. ”