Think/Know: Week 4

* I know that that UCLA has one of the best backfields in the conference – and it’s even better than we thought

Rick Neuheisel called Derrick Coleman the team’s most valuable player through four games, and it’s hard to disagree. After Johnathan Franklin went down with a hip injury after a good start – six carries for 36 yards – Coleman took over and gained 100 yards on 20 carries. They were impoortant carries, too, punishing carries that paid off in the end.
Coleman had three critical first downs on UCLA’s last drive to keep the ball away from the Beavers, running five straight times for eight, five, three, three and six yards.
Coleman could’ve had two more touchdowns, if not for Jordon James’ four-yard end-around and Anthony Barr’s two-yard burst up the middle. That kind of variation bodes well going forward for a running game that already ranks second in the Pac-12, and 28th nationally, at 214 yards per game

* I think UCLA’s kicking issues have not been solved yet

Jeff Locke admirably manned up to his issues on Saturday – having two kicks blocked, one a field goal, one a PAT – and he was not blaming a vicious hit on an 85-yard touchdown punt return for his problems. Locke is a very bright football player and should be able to correct the flaw that led to two low kicks, but the delirious fog that set in after 51- and 49-yard field goals against Texas disappeared pretty quickly.

* I know the defense will need to play more aggressively against Andrew Luck

UCLA has let the opposition nickel-and-dime their nickel and dime, and that simply won’t work against THE BEST QUARTERBACK EVAR. Really, though, Luck is a fantastic quarterback not because of his arm strength or his accuracy or his timing. What takes Luck from great to Heisman-worthy is his pinpoint-precise decision-making. Like Case Keenum in Week 1, Luck will find the open man, for five yards or 50, and he’ll be happy to do it.
The Bruin cornerbacks have played surpringly passive for a duo that has the body, speed and mindframe to bully opposing receivers, and that comes from the top down. Through four weeks, there have been countless third-and-short situations when the DBs were seven, eight, nine yards deep, letting the offense dictate the result. Andrew Luck can’t have such an easy go of it.

* I think that UCLA cannot continue to play so conservatively

Rick Neuheisel told the media after the 27-19 win over Oregon State that it was his fault on Jordan Poyer’s 85-yard touchdown return near the end of the first half.
He should’ve apologized for putting the Bruins in that position in the first place.
UCLA continues to play with Tea Party conservatism, never moreso than the “two-minute” drive that wasn’t. With 1:41 left in the first half and the Bruins leading 21-3, UCLA had a chance to essentially end the game. The offense was clicking to that point, scoring touchdowns on three of its five possessions, though one was just a four-yard drive after a Sean Mannion fumble in the OSU red zone. UCLA had gained 173 yards on just 24 plays – an average of 7.2 yards per play – while Oregon State had gained 31 yards total on its previous four drives, showing very little big-play ability.
So what does UCLA do?
With three timeouts left, the Bruins call two runs up the middle, wasting nearly a minute of clock. Then, almost out of nowhere, they decide to hurry it up. First, a nine-yard pass to Nelson Rosario, then an uncharacteristic deep bomb to Randall Carroll which went incomplete, and a four-yard loss on a Richard Brehaut rush. Then the punt and the touchdown, and thisquick, the Beavers are back in the game.
Had UCLA simply run the clock out, that would be one thing. Forgivable, if conservative. But to go from passive to aggressive in the span of two plays was simply baffling and shows a continual lack of confidence in the offense.

* I think UCLA’s season is not over – far from it

The Bruins have not looked very good through four games, but at 2-2 and 1-0 in conference play, September treated UCLA relatively well in terms of bowl hopes.
Home games with Cal, Washington State, Arizona State and Colorado remain, and the Bruins should realistically go 3-1 . Then there are road dates at Stanford, Arizona, Utah and USC. If UCLA can win one of those games – and it can – then the Bruins should be bowl-bound. The Pac-12 has really become a league of 2-7-3 with Oregon and Stanford near-untouchable, Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado in the dregs, and six teams somewhat close together. Obviously Arizona State and USC are a notch ahead of Arizona, Utah, UCLA, Washington and Cal, but they don’t look unbeatable. With eight conference games left, the Bruins just need to play to their talent level, and they’ll be busy in December.

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Quick injury update

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said on Sunday night’s conference call that all three Bruins who were injured in the team’s 27-19 win at Oregon State on Saturday night were expected to play next week.

Cornerback Sheldon Price has a minor knee sprain, safety Dalton Hilliard has a minor AC sprain in his shoulder and Johnathan Franklin has a hip contusion, and none of the injuries are major.

Senior cornerback Jamie Graham (knee) is back and running and should be returning to practice this week. … Senior safety Tony Dye is expected to return to practice this week after being held out of the game after suffering a stinger. … Redshirt freshman kicker Kip Smith is expected to return from a hip injury.

More from the call:
Neuheisel said “Richard Brehaut is our starting quarterback,” but added that he wants the players to continue competing, and wouldn’t guarantee Brehaut the position going forward. Kevin Prince, meanwhile, is 100 percent recovered from sprains to both shoulders, Neuheisel clarified today.

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UCLA v. Oregon State Report Card

RESULT: UCLA 27, Oregon State 19

Richard Brehaut executed offense efficiently but needs to be let loose.

Derrick Coleman, Malcolm Jones filled in for Johnathan Franklin admirably, and nice cameos by Jordon James, Anthony Barr

Did just about all they could with little action.

Solid effort in first game without Sean Sheller, though two sacks allowed.

Bruins might need search-and-rescue to find Datone Jones.

Sean Westgate’s interception set up a score, but gap-control remains an issue.

Held James Rodgers and Joe Halahuni relatively in check in their returns.

Had two kicks blocked and allowed a touchdown return. Not good.

Game-plan, play-calling still too conservative at all times

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Brehaut Makes the (Right) Call

CORVALLIS, ORE. – For a guy whose major knock has been his play-execution skills, on Saturday afternoon junior Richard Brehaut was a better game manager than a Nintendo executive.

While throwing just 11 times – completing seven passes for 146 yards and a touchdown – Brehaut helped call an offense that gained 211 rushing yards, improving in his check-downs and audibles in UCLA’s 27-19 win over Oregon State.

He shined especially during an early second-quarter touchdown drive, moving the ball 46 yards on seven plays following a Sean Westgate interception of a Sean Mannion pass. On 2nd-and-4 from the Oregon State 13-yard line, Brehaut saw the Beavers stacked right and checked down to an inside handoff in the left gap to Derrick Coleman, who picked up eight yards.

On the next play, Brehaut read the defensive end closing in and kept it himself, breaking through the interior for a five-yard touchdown run.

“I’ve always thought that the more experience I have, the better I have to get at managing the game and making smart decisions with the ball,” Brehaut said. “We had a play call to the right, they overloaded that side, and I checked inside zone left and we were able to get the first to Derrick. Then it was a zone read on the next play, the end crashed down, I kept it and got in end zone.”

Those were the issues that kept coming up for head coach Rick Neuheisel during Brehaut’s preseason quarterback competition with Kevin Prince, which Prince ultimately won. But the Crespi grad went down early in Week 1 against Houston, missed the following week’s 27-17 win over San Jose State and returned for a horrid start last week against Texas, throwing three first-quarter interceptions.

Brehaut was named the starter on Sunday night, but it was a tenuous hold, Neuheisel saying that it was going to be week-to-week going forward. Neuheisel lauded Brehaut for his play Saturday, though, saying “he prepared excellently and I thought his execution today was spot on.”

Neuheisel said that the team was going to stick with its running identity – “We have games to win, and we have to use a formula that guys us best chance to be successful; that’s who we are” – but the Bruins might need to open it up more next week to keep up with a prolific Stanford offense that has scored 138 points in three weeks behind all-world quarterback Andrew Luck.

For now, Brehaut is satisfied with the win, and his management within it.

“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Brehaut said. “If we’re coming out 1-0 and winning the game, I’d rather throw 11 times and come out with a ‘W’ than throw it – say like Arizona State (last season) 56 times – and come out with a loss.”

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Westgate Brings The Noise

CORVALLIS, ORE. – With the defense down after a dreadful performance against Texas and starting senior safety Tony Dye out with a stinger, UCLA needed someone to emerge last week as it prepared for Oregon State.

Yet the Bruins were unenthusiastic, whispering, quieter than a monastery during a prayer service.

Senior linebacker Sean Westgate heard it – or didn’t hear anything, rather – and figured he’d need to fill the white noise.

UCLA responded to Westgate’s rallying cry and held the Beavers to 88 rushing yards in a 27-19 win at Reser Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

“No one was really stepping up into that vocal spot,” Westgate said. “That’s not my strong suit, never has been – I’m a lead by example guy, do my own thing, stay quiet, humble – but with Tony down and the morale down, someone had to step up. I sat there and said, ‘Why can’t I do it?’, because I feel I’ve earned trust of players.”

So Westgate yelled, and his teammates yelled back. He pumped his fist, and his teammates punched theirs, Spaulding Field turning into Rocky’s gym. They whooped and they hollered and more importantly, they ran to the ball, turning a week’s worth of intensity into a key effort.

While the Bruins allowed 287 passing yards and 8-of-16 third-down conversions, they tackled better than they have all year and a defense that has seemingly bent at the will of its opponents did not break.

“I talked about it last week against Texas – in the fourth quarter, we kept fighting,” defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. “That’s gotta be our attitude from kickoff, and it was. We kept fighting. Got in some bad situations, but we bent – it was the old bend but don’t break deal. We just kept fighting and kept fighting. Gotta fight, gotta have that blue-collar mentality for 60 minutes. I don’t know any way else.”

UCLA rebounded from a dreadful Longhorn lashing – Texas gained 488 yards and converted 9-of-15 on third down – with better gap-consciousness and containment. Beavers starting running back Terron Ward had 13 carries for just 26 yards, unable to move past the second unit, while the Bruins finished with a season-high six tackles for loss and added two takeaways.

“Whenever you put so much time and effort and passion into something and it’s not going the way you want it, you lose maybe not a sense of pride, but it’s devastating,” linebackers coach Clark Lea said. “We all pride ourselves on our work ethic, and that hadn’t waivered from Week 1 until now. But you want to gain back some of the respectability on the field. I think we saw some of that today.”

Perhaps more importantly, though, UCLA improved in the tackling department, which has been a plague the first three weeks.

Oregon State converted just four of its last 11 third downs and did not pick up a single third down on the ground.

“It pisses you off,” Westgate said. “If you’re a front-seven guy, it just pisses you off. That’s your job. That’s your baby, the run game. Giving up run plays, especially on missed tackles, it hurts. We wanted to stop that, and I feel we did today.”

Not Saturday, though. It started mid-week, with Westgate bringing a little vocal adrenaline.
It carried into game-time, though, as his teammates responded, flying to each other after a good play, dragging each other up by the shoulder pads after a mistake.

“What really excited me, what kept me doing it, was the response I got from the guys,” said Westgate, who had the team’s lone interception. “I did it, and I had young guys jumping in, jumping on board ready to go, guys who are tired of losing, everybody tired of losing.

“I just got it started a little bit.”

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A mea culpable victory

CORVALLIS, ORE. – The road has treated UCLA like a jilted lover the past few years, scornful, bitter, hesitant to return a call.

It was a bit friendlier to the Bruins on Saturday afternoon, UCLA coming out with a 27-19 win over Oregon State to move to 1-0 in Pac-12 play.

But it took Rick Neuheisel a trip to the one forgiving spot in Corvallis – that is the Bruins’ locker room in Reser Stadium – for a crucial coaching mea culpa to lift the Bruins to victory.

Leading 21-3 with 1 minute, 41 seconds left in the first half, UCLA (2-2, 1-0) squandered a drive with poor time management, wasting nearly a minute on two running plays before trying to move the ball downfield. Unable to convert a 3rd-and-1 with 32 seconds left, the Bruins were forced to punt.

Only Neuheisel forgot to convey his intentions to punt it out of bounds and Beaver returner Jordan Poyer corralled a Jeff Locke punt and took it 85 yards for a momentum-swinging touchdown.

Neuheisel marched into the locker room and instead of lambasting his squad, he offered his apology, putting it squarely on his shoulders, asking his players, 30 years his junior, to lift him up, perhaps to save his job.

They did.

“We got his back,” middle linebacker Patrick Larimore said. “All the players have his back. Sh*ts going to happen. People are going to make mistakes. He knows that, but for him to say that to us really fired us up. We knew we came out, had a solid first half – we didn’t care, we were gonna come out here and fight for his ass. Fight ’til the end.”

And it did take all 60 minutes, a Sheldon Price breakup of a Sean Mannion pass on 4th-and-8 from the UCLA 22-yard line with 2:12 left in the game finally affording Neuheisel a breath.
The Bruins thought they were in cruise control for their first conference-opening win since a Week 1 45-17 win over Stanford in 2007. They were wrong.

The offense stalled in the second half after an impressive first half, three consecutive drives resulting in a missed field goal, a three-and-out and a four-and out before a long touchdown drive gave the Bruins – and Neuheisel – some breathing room.

“I told them, I take full responsibility for the punt return, that’s on me, now you guys gotta pick me up, just like you pick each other up,” Neuheisel said. “And we’re gonna wrestle momentum back from them, and that’s what happened.”

UCLA got the impetus in the first half by capitalizing on Oregon State miscues, particularly those of first-time starting quarterback Sean Mannion. The redshirt freshman committed two turnovers, both leading to Bruin touchdowns, as UCLA built on a 7-3 lead that was spurred by a 62-yard Richard Brehaut-to-Josh Smith completion that set up a Brehaut-to-Taylor Embree 22-yard touchdown connection.

After Mannion was intercepted by Bruin linebacker Sean Westgate on the team’s ensuing possession, UCLA marched 46 yards on the ground, relying on Derrick Coleman after Johnathan Franklin went down with a hip contusion. Coleman had 26 of his 100 yards on the drive before Brehaut scored on a 5-yard run from five yards out, and UCLA added another touchdown less than 30 seconds later after Jordon James took an end-around for four yards into the end zone after a Mannion fumble.

The Bruins finished with 211 rushing yards on the day as Brehaut attempted just 11 passes, completing seven for 146 yards.

“Our gameplan every week has been to pound it,” Neuheisel said. “That’s the identity that we’ve chosen by going to this brand of offense. That doesn’t mean we can’t be explosive.”
As good as UCLA was in the running game, the Bruins were perhaps better in stopping it.
UCLA tackled better than it has all year in holding Oregon State to just 88 rushing yards while pounding the Beavers for six tackles-for-loss.

Senior linebacker Sean Westgate said after the game that the defense took on a new mantra on Saturday as the team had been rather unenthusiastic after big plays the first few weeks.

“The motto today was party,” Westgate said. “Have fun. If you watch our previous games, people would make a big play and there would be one or two guys around him. It was, ‘Survive til next play.’ No, party with them, have fun. Why not enjoy the game you’ve been playing your whole life?”

Neuheisel took it to heart after the game, telling a group of UCLA fans, “Anybody have fun on the flight here? Not as much as you’ll have on the flight home!”

After a rare road conference win – just their third during Neuheisel’s tenure, following a 27-7 win over 0-12 Washington in 2008 and a 43-7 win over 1-11 Washington State in 2010 – they deserved it.

“While it may not have been pretty to a casual observer, to a guy who’s been watching these guys fight and learn how to grow and find ways to win, especially on the road, it was a great, turn-the-page moment,” Neuheisel said. “We haven’t been 1-0 in conference in a long time.”

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UCLA 21-19

Oregon State went 77 yards, with Sean Mannion finding Jordan Bishop for a 45-yard touchdown pass. After a false start on the two-point attempt, Alex Mascarenas intercepted Mannion on the second attempt to preserve the UCLA lead.

Drive Time: 77 yards, 6 plays, 2:08

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UCLA 21-13

Oregon State marched down the field – aided by a 15-yard late hit on Aaron Hester – and Trevor Romaine hit a 30-yard field goal to bring the Beavers to within eight.

Drive Time: 67 yards, 9 plays, 3:11

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UCLA 21-10

After UCLA squandered a two-minute drill with zero urgency, Oregon State punt returner took back a Jeff Locke punt for an 85-yard touchdown return. Locke got smashed on the play by Jevan Stevenson, but walked off the field on his own accord.

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UCLA 21-3

After a Sean Mannion fumble on a mis-thrown pass was gobbled up by Keenan Graham and returned to the Oregon State 4-yard line, Jordon James took a fly sweep to the right for a touchdown run, putting the Bruins up 21-3.

Drive Time: 1 play, 4 yards, 5 seconds.

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