UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel had a conference call set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday night to announce his starting quarterback. He took to the phone at 6:09.
After waiting until four days before the Bruins open their season on Saturday afternoon at Houston, what’s another nine minutes?
Now, it turns out, what’s another week or so?
Neuheisel said that while junior Kevin Prince will start against the Cougars on Saturday, fellow junior Richard Brehaut would also see extensive action, and added that the competition continues as neither quarterback has separated himself.
“This is not so everybody feels good,” Neuheisel said. “It’s so that the competition continues. We’re going to play this position well. We’re going to play it consistently. Both kids are capable of doing that and I’m going to expect it from them. I’m excited to watch them both play.”
Neither quarterback was consistent last year, and rarely was their cause for much excitement, as UCLA’s passing game fell to historic lows. Behind Prince for five games – after being sidelined for much of fall camp by a back injury, he was lost midway through the year after knee surgery – and Brehaut for seven, the Bruins ranked 116th out of 120 FBS teams in passing offense at just 141.08 yards per game.
With Prince still recovering during spring practice and Brehaut switching between UCLA baseball and football, Neuheisel declared the competition open heading into fall camp.
Prince saw most of the first-team reps throughout camp, but Brehaut came on strong with his passing skills eclipsing Prince’s while he worked back into form. In recent practices, Prince has been much-improved in the throwing game and that, combined with his talents in the run department, will give him the first shot against Houston.
“I think that coach Neuheisel just saw that Richard is very capable and we both bring unique things to the table in terms of our ability and things that we’re able to do when we’re in the game,” Prince said. “So I don’t know if Richard won or I lost or however you want to label it. We’re both capable of playing the position well and that’s what we’re going to do on Saturday.”
Neuheisel said score and time would not dictate usage, and that he hoped to maintain a rhythm if the offensive was moving. He also added later that freshman Brett Hundley could see some action in a “small package.”
“I just believe both deserve to play, so both are going to play this weekend,” Neuheisel said. “We’ll start Kevin, and Richard will come off the bench and play. I’ve told both of them that I don’t know exactly when or how or why, because when you make promises of that sort, you end up setting yourself up for disappointment because you can never predict the ebb and flow of a game.”
Neuheisel made a similar commitment to Brehaut last season, but Brehaut did not see any action until Week 2 in a 35-0 loss to Stanford, when he completed 5-of-9 passes for 42 yards and an interception. He didn’t play again until starting for Prince in a 42-28 win over Washington State in Week 5 as Prince nursed the knee injury, which eventually cost him the season after a one-game return in a 35-7 loss to Cal.
“I think things are a little bit different this year,” Brehaut said, when asked why he had faith that he’d play on Saturday. “I think I’ve proven myself a little bit more this year that I am capable. I think there might not have been that sure faith in me last year and maybe that was the reason why I didn’t go in there.”
Neuheisel opened the conference call referencing the belief that he’d made his decision long ago and was just playing coy with the media.
Instead, he said, he accomplished his goal.
“I didn’t reach this conclusion months ago and then decide today just to keep you all in the dark,” Neuheisel said. “I wanted to create competition. We did that. We created an atmosphere where both kids were going to be given ample opportunities and we wanted to create an environment where the best would be the guy.”