I got in touch with Michael Lewis of the Salt Lake City Tribune to exchange a little Q&A like I’ve done a few times this year.
Here were my questions for him about Utah, with his answers, and after the jump, his questions for me about UCLA, with my answers…
1. Utah started off 0-4 in Pac-12 play but has won two straight; were the Utes a little overwhelmed early against the new conference opponents, or have they just played better as of late?
Maybe a little of the first, but probably more the second one. The Utes started off by playing at least three of the better teams in the league — USC, Washington, Arizona State and Cal — and had to adjust on the fly to the loss of their starting quarterback throughout that time, and deal with some untimely turnovers. But Jon Hays (the backup QB) seems to have settled down a bit since getting thrown into the fire. He’s not making as many mistakes as before, which allows the defense and special teams to do well without being put in horrible situations. Not coincidentally, though, the Utes have most recently played Oregon State and Arizona, two of the three or four worst teams in the league. Combined record: 4-14.
2. Thoughts on Norm Chow?
It’s funny that Neuheisel wanted a different offense than the one Norm runs, because the one Norm runs is EXACTLY what Whittingham wanted. He was kind of done with the spread, which I have always believed was just a little too unorthodox for him — a very prototypical defense-and-field-position coach who played when Norm’s offenses were killing everybody at BYU. The Chow offense is effectively very low risk, which I think appeals to Kyle. And Norm’s
a pro; he knows there’s nothing to be gained by rehashing his departure from UCLA, which is why I heard he froze you guys out this week. He’s always been very astute about what kind of media attention can potentially help or hurt him.
3. Where would the Utes be without John White?
Geez, the question I would ask is: Where would they be if they had a quarterback? I bet they’d be contending for the division title. Anyway, I’m not entirely sure how much of a difference White has made for them. Yes, he’s had some fine games, is quite a good player and owns a solid rushing average. But the Utes still have the 10th-ranked scoring offense in the league (and the worst one, by yardage), and that’s AFTER the wins over OSU and Arizona in which they scored 27 and 34 points. It really is the defense and special teams doing the lifting this season, so it’s hard to say they’d be all that much worse off without him, I think.
4. After a 34-10 loss at Cal on Oct. 22, Utah has won two straight, including a 34-21 win over Arizona. What’s changed since Oct. 23?
The schedule. They played Oregon State and Arizona. Two of the worst defensive teams in the league. You’d have to say the UA win was more impressive, since it was on the road against a team with a potent passing attack. But still, those teams had beaten only each other (OSU beat UA), Northern Arizona, Wazzu and … UCLA.
5. With UCLA’s secondary so banged up, can Jon Hays have a big game, or does he just not have it in him?
I suppose anything is possible. But he has shown scant evidence of it yet, and I don’t think the Utes would even risk it. The Bruins can’t stop the run, anyway, and I bet the Utes think they can slow the pistol. (It’s really just the triple-option’s goofy little brother, right? And the Utes always did OK against Air Force). So I suspect the Utes will figure that it’s unwise to ask Hays to try to do more than he usually does or is capable of doing. I think in their view, that risk is far greater than the potential reward. Jon’s mission, basically, is to turn around and hand it off to that guy behind him, without fumbling. The defense will do the rest.
6. (Bonus question, most important question) Best meal in Salt Lake
You might get a lot of answers to this question, but I’m telling you, you can’t go wrong at Caffe Molise (http://www.caffemolise.com/), on South Temple. Tell Fred (the owner) I sent you. It’s Italian. Want Mexican? Hit the Red Iguana (http://rediguana.com/home.html). Sushi? it’s Takashi (http://www.yelp.com/biz/takashi-salt-lake-city).
Also, for lunch, Cannella’s on the corner of 300 East and 500 South, I believe. Simple stuff, pasta and sandwiches and so forth, but good. Have beers at Juniors on 300 South, Lumpy’s (the Utes bar) downtown or up on Highland Drive, or possibly the remodeled and now only
FAUX-divey Bar X (co-owned by Ty Burrell, who I’m told has been known to make an appearance). The brewpubs that others will try to get you to are all fine, I guess, but pretty predictable. Then again, maybe that IS the perfect dining experience in Utah. Predictable!
1. Can UCLA win out and take the South Division title?
Winning out is going to be a longshot. Utah is a matchup nightmare for the Bruins, as the Utes boast a star runner in John White and a stout run defense. I think it’s going to be a close one. Colorado should be a win for the Bruins, but then comes USC at the LA Colisseum. The Trojans are playing very good football and while UCLA should understand the significance of the game, I don’t think it has the firepower to match USC’s. So, win out…I don’t think so.
2. Who’s their best running back, Franklin or Coleman, and do you think they can run it against the Utes?
I actually think they’re pretty equal, but very, very different. Given their respective strengths, I might consider starting Coleman, because he’s the bigger, stronger back, and using Franklin as the change-of-pace, home-run hitter. I do think given the unique nature of the offense, the Bruins will run the ball well, but they absolutely can’t turn it over.
3. Do they really expect Prince to survive the season without another injury, running that pistol offense that has him carrying the ball so much?
I don’t think they’re expecting so much as praying. Prince has absorbed a few tough hits the past two weeks, but has done a decent job of staying out of danger at times, too. But given his history, every time he keeps the ball, the collective UCLA fanbase holds its breath. With Richard Brehaut returning to practice this week, I think the Bruins need one more full-go game out of Prince before people can untense their shoulders.
4. Why has the defense been so leaky, especially against the run?
Like a Hooters applicant, it all starts up front. The Bruins defensive line has been sieve-like, at times simply pushed off the line of scrimmage. Some personnel changes have led to much improved play over the last two weeks, and UCLA would be wise to continue to use Datone Jones in the interior, where he has played well the last two games.
5. Will Neuheisel survive this season?
Yes, for myriad reasons. Obviously the last two weeks, wins over Cal and then-No. 19 Arizona State, have cooled the seat drastically. Then again, the seat was literally white-hot, so it needed dousing. But also, this is UCLA, and at UCLA, football is not the paragon on the mountain that it is at some schools. Despite all the hostility toward Neuheisel from fans and alumni, I don’t think Dan Guerrero was going down that road. If the Bruins finish the season 2-1, and don’t suffer any more embarassments, it’s even going to be an interesting offseason.
* To clarify, I read the question as “will he be fired during the season” not potentially be fired after the year.