It appears even a 17-point win following a 36-point loss can do the impossible: Take some of the sunshine out of Rick Neuheisel.
The relentlessly positive coach was given a stern tutorial on bravado after a 48-12 loss to Arizona on a highly publicized ESPN Thursday night game followed a week of discussion about the Pac-12 South race.
Now, with a potentially race-deciding matchup with Pac-12 South leader Arizona State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, Neuheisel is being a bit demure, sedated, his passion bucket springing a leak.
“We don’t want to talk about that,” Neuheisel said. “We’re going to talk about playing Arizona State and playing our best and seeing if we can’t find a way to get one more point than they can. Our mindset needs to be on what we do rather than what might or might not be. Certainly we learned that lesson the hard way.”
This much is true, though: Saturday’s matchup will likely determine who faces the Pac-12 North champion, likely either No. 4 Stanford or No. 6 Oregon in the first Pac-12 title game.
The Sun Devils head to the Rose Bowl at 4-1 in conference play, their lone conference blemish coming in a 41-27 loss to the Ducks in Week 7, while UCLA, at 3-2, could pull even with Arizona State with a victory. Though the Bruins are tied with USC in the divisional standings, the Trojans are ineligible for postseason play, and no other Pac-12 South opponent has more than one conference win.
Neuheisel celebrated the 31-14 win over the Bears but is measuring his words a bit more this weekend than after the Bruins’ previous win over Washington State. Both beat the Arizona debacle, however.
“This was more fun, I guarantee you,” Neuheisel said. “(But there’s) still lots to do. We can’t sit – we’ve lost four times this year and responded each time. We’ve won three times prior to this one and not done the job. What changes this week is our effort and attitude.”
The UCLA offensive line had its best effort in weeks, even with extensive shuffling up front.
With sophomore guard Chris Ward sidelined with an ankle injury and sophomore guard Alberto Cid suspended for the first half against the Bears, the Bruins went with sophomore Greg Capella and redshirt freshman Wade Yandall at the guard spots.
The mixing-and-matching did not matter as UCLA gained 294 rushing yards, with Yandall playing all but one series.
“Wade played really well,” Neuheisel said. “We’ll have great competition between he and Alberto this week, and with Chris Ward getting back, we’ll have him competing with Capella, who also played well.”
Bumps and Bruises
UCLA sophomore safety Dietrich Riley was released from Huntington Hospital on Sunday morning after a horrific collision with Cal running back Isi Sofele in the fourth quarter. Riley was carted off the field and taken to the hospital for precautionary tests, and Neuheisel said he’s unsure of his status for this week.
“He checked out fine,” Neuheisel said. “He was here today, looked great. Said he’s good to go. Doctors want to be careful, see him (today).”
Neuheisel also said that junior quarterback Richard Brehaut was scheduled for x-rays today on his fractured ankle, from which he is recovering quicker than anticipated.