* I know Mike Johnson is right: UCLA needs to adjust the Pistol
When talking with Mike Johnson in the locker room after the Bruins’ win over Washington State, I was surprised how candid Johnson was about the need to alter the offense with the injury to Richard Brehaut. He implied that changes would need to be made, and while some might ask, ‘What took so long?’, in this now-six-game season, UCLA will definitely need to do all it can to protect the quarterback.
Kevin Prince bounced back in a big way on Saturday, not just from the three-pick performance against Texas, but also from the costly end-zone interception in the first half. He played well and threw the ball better than he has in a while, but he still has a ways to go. Rick Neuheisel remains committed to the idea that Prince is a running quarterback, but I still think he – and Brehaut – are quarterbacks who run, not running quarterbacks. Prince needs to be protected going forward because Brett Hundley hasn’t had the reps or growth needed to play a major role right now, though I may be underestimating his improvisational skills. But the last thing UCLA needs is any more quarterback injuries, so perhaps they will heed Johnson’s judgment.
* I think the Bruins might have found the defensive line combination they need
To be sure, UCLA did not dominate a Washington State offensive line it should have dominated, yet it did play one of its best games of the season. With the stout Seali’i Epenesa and Donovan Carter complimenting Cassius Marsh and Nate Chandler better, the line should grow going forward, as well. Carter had six tackles, Epenesa two including a TFL, and the line as a whole was more productive than its been all year against the Cougars.
* I know UCLA’s cornerbacks haven’t gotten enough credit this year
Sheldon Price was playing very good football before he went down, but there hasn’t been a ton of talk about Aaron Hester. Hester was very impressive Saturday night, picking up a team-high tackles, including a TFL, and playing great defense on one of the conference’s top receivers, Marquess Wilson. Wilson had 10 catches for 88 yards, and Washington State barely attempted anything over the top. Hester finished with two pass breakups, and with a hobbled Juron Criner coming up next for Arizona, he’ll need to play good man-to-man again.
Andrew Abbott, meanwhile, came up with a heady game-saving interception in place of Price, who is questionable for the Wildcats.
* I know that UCLA needs to find a No. 2 wideout
Nelson Rosario has been a highly productive enigma this season for the Bruins, making what is beginning to seem like a weekly appearance in the Sportscenter highlight reel. But he can’t reasonably be expected to be counted on for circus catch after circus catch, and with Joseph Fauria once again perplexingly faded into oblivion, the Bruins need to continue to develop another top wide receiver. I thought Shaq Evans could grow into that role, but his production has fallen off despite the game-winning touchdown catch, and there are times when Randall Carroll looks like a stud.
There just seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the UCLA passing game so far, and you wonder how long that can last.
* I think that UCLA will be bowl-bound…but it’s on Kevin Prince
With a half-season that is beginning to line up favorably – Arizona, Colorado and Utah appear abundantly winnable, Cal seems winnable and ASU and USC don’t – UCLA seems to be heading toward a 6-6 season. At the onset, I said six wins was probable, seven wins was hopeful and eight wins was possible, but the Bruins squandered a couple of opportunities and now have a puncher’s chance at seven wins.
If they are to get there, though, Prince will have to play like he did for much of the Washington State game. He had one very, very bad throw and a couple others that were just a bit off, but he looked more comfortable in the pocket than I’ve seen him look in a very long time, perhaps since his freshman season. He almost played with reckless abandon, perhaps from knowing that – albeit because of injury – Richard Brehaut wasn’t breathing down his neck.
As a freshman, Prince was just rounding into form at times before he suffered one injury after another. He has the ability to find that form again, and if he does, UCLA will have a busy December.