* I know that the risk/reward paid off against Cal, and I know that UCLA will have to keep betting
Kevin Prince said after his 163-yard rushing performance against the Bears that UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel and running game coordinator Jim Mastro mandated a 100-yard performance from their junior quarterback. More interestingly, he said that it was a reversal from the loss at Arizona, before which, Prince said, the mandate was to run with caution.
Now that we’ve seen how effective the Pistol can be with Prince in kamikaze mode, I don’t see how UCLA can go against that formula. The downside, obviously, is injury – and we all know Prince’s history in that department – but with Richard Brehaut’s return looking like an actual possibility and with Brett Hundley coming along and Nick Crissman in reserve, if Neuheisel is really coaching for his life here, he’ll have to continue to take that risk.
Prince was great in the run game, both in his handling of the offense and his execution – Cal defensive ends seemed to bite down every time – and he rightfully credit his performance as being the catalyst to opening the middle of the field for Derrick Coleman’s three touchdowns. He also said, “This is how the Pistol is supposed to look,” and that he felt like Colin Kaepernick out there. He’ll need to continue to be, if the offense is going to work. I’ve had my doubts about the Pistol working in the Pac-12, but if it can continue to look like that, you can’t really deny its effectiveness. However…
* I think UCLA can’t play that kind of offense without that kind of defense
What must just eat at Rick Neuheisel is that I’m sure in his mind, that exact kind of performance is what he expected all season long. And he might have gotten it, had the defense held up its end of the bargain.
So much of UCLA’s offensive success on Saturday came directly off turnovers – 24 of the 31 points, in fact – but even moreso, the Bruins were making stops behind the line of scrimmage. Obviously aided by the five takeaways – including three interceptions by Tevin McDonald in a conference player-of-the-week performance – UCLA controlled the clock and forced Cal into relying way too much on Zach Maynard, who faltered. Neuheisel thought he would get that kind of defense all season, but he hasn’t, and the Pistol has suffered because of it.
* I know UCLA is starting to develop some real offensive line depth
Given the Bruins’ recent history at the position, it’s kind of shocking to see that. In my three seasons on the beat, this is the first year that Bob Palcic had a well he could actually dig down into, pulling out Wade Yandall to replace Alberto Cid. The result? A game-changing 294-yard rushing performance.
A year ago, two years ago, UCLA did not have a Wade in which to turn. Now, you look at what the Bruins are building there, despite the graduation of Sean Sheller, Mike Harris and Kai Maiava, and it’s on the upswing. If Xavier Su’a-Filo returns as expected and plays at even 75 percent of his freshman-year form, UCLA is set at tackle with Jeff Baca and him, and Connor Bradford and Brett Downey should be serviceable backups. At guard, the Bruins return Cid, Yandall and Chris Ward, and Greg Capella should take over at center, with an improving Jacob Brendel as backup. If UCLA can hit on at least one of its other linemen from the class of 2011 – Ben Wysocki, Torian White, Will Oliver – plus continue to add one or two decent prospects and a couple decent projects a year, things will have moved out of threat-level orange.
* I think it doesn’t just start up front on one side
The defensive line, for reasons too many to discuss, played its best game of the season against the Bears. The plays in which Datone Jones moved inside, the unit looked very good. Aramide Olaniyan and Keenan Graham offered speed, and production, off the edge and Jones was able to use his strength in the interior and benefitted from Olaniyan’s edge rush. When Cassius Marsh returns for the Utah matchup in two weeks, UCLA would be better served not to revert to the old rotation.
* I think punting is winning…OK, no, but Jeff Locke is a winning punter
Rick Neuheisel gets ragged on for that punting is winning thing, but really, Jeff Locke has become almost indispensable for the Bruins. Forget the fact that UCLA has just one other punter listed on the roster in freshman walk-on Michael Leamy.
Locke’s back-to-back punts inside the Cal 5-yard line – the first to the 1-yard line, the second to the 3-yard line – set the Bruins up with the good field position they needed to tie the score at seven in the second quarter. He later had another punt at the Cal 5-yard line, and another that was returned to the 11-yard line, and let the Bears return just one of six kickoffs.
While Cal’s Bryan Anger – another phenomenal punter – won the individual battle with a 49.6-yard per punt average, Locke had those four inside the Cal 20-yard line, while Anger had three inside UCLA’s 20. His shoulder injury sent chills down UCLA fan’s backs and for good reason, but he should be fine for the Sun Devils.