Last year's game betweent Stanford and UCLA at the Rose Bowl was one of the strangest the Cardinal played all season. They had opened their season the week before with a dominant win Sacramento State, but this would their first true test, and those of us with high expectations for the team looked at it as a type of measuring stick game.
The final score was 35-0, and to those around the country who merely saw the score crawling across the bottom of the screen on Sunday morning, it looked like the Cardinal was a team on the rise.
But if you were there in the stadium that night like I was, you know that this wasn't really a statement game. It's hard to quibble with a defensive shutout and a thirty-five point win in the conference opener, but the offense looked ragged. Andrew Luck was still just coming off of his redshirt freshman season during which he mostly handed the ball off to Toby Gerhart and sometimes hit open receivers when the defense overcommitted to the run. But if he was going to be the focus of the offense in 2010, this game did nothing to instill confidence in the fanbase. He completed just 11 of 24 passes for only 151 yards. He did add sixty-three yards rushing, though, and the team combined for more than 200 yards on the ground, which was enough.
The Bruins visit Stanford this weekend, and they bring another opportunity for the Cardinal to make a statement. The defense will playing its first full game without injured inside linebacker Shayne Skov, and the offense will be looking to show up in the first half for the first time all season.
On the other side of the field the Bruins are desperate for a marquee win. They've finally settled on a quarterback, but the focus of their offense is a running game that's averaging more than two hundred yards a game. Stanford, of course, has the top-ranked rushing defense in the nation, so the game will be determined by which team's strength overcomes the other's.
We've got a special guest to help us get ready for the game and learn a bit more about how UCLA's season has gone and what the expectations are for this weekend and the rest of the year. Greg from Bruins Nation helped us out with our summer preview, and he's back again today with an extensive preview of this week's game. You can also check out my answers to his questions over at their site. Enjoy...
Go Mighty Card:
We should probably start with the most obvious question. The Bruins have been bouncing back and forth between Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince at quarterback for about a year and a half, but it looks like Brehaut has finally taken the reins. Is this the right choice? How do fans feel about this? Is Brehaut a long-term starter, or is he just keeping the seat warm until Brett Hundley assumes the throne?
Brehaut is the right choice, and the fans are totally on board with that. Prince was injured, again, in the first half of the first game, then came back to start against Texas and threw 3 picks in the first 4 possessions. Brehaut has been solid, going 44-79, for 705 yds and 4 tds, in less than 4 games. It seems pretty simple. The problem is that Coach Neuheisel doesn't seem to be fully on board, as he is still calling it a week-to-week decision. Prince executes the read/option run game better, but Brehaut is a much better passer and this really provides a much more important facet to the offense. As long as either Brehaut or Prince are able to play, I don't expect to see Hundley this year, and we shouldn't burn a redshirt year for him just to give him some meaningless snaps or to install some goal line packages.
Looking deeper into the UCLA offense, I assume there must be some concern about running back Johnathan Franklin. Big things were expected from this year following his breakout season in 2010, but his numbers have gone down each week. I know he got hurt last Saturday, but what was going on before that? Were teams simply stacking the line against him? What can we expect from him this week?
I think the bigger concerns have to do with the balance on the offense at this point. The run game has been good, though you are right that Franklin hasn't been the star. He has been effective, averaging 13 carries/game and 76 ypg, for nearly 6 yds/carry. But Franklin has been sharing the load with senior Derrick Coleman who has been even more effective this year with 12 carries/game for 75 ypg, for over 6 yds/carry. The Bruins have been forcing the run between the tackles a lot this year. Franklin is more of a slasher, and so he hasn't gotten loose as much as expected, while Coleman is more of a power runner and would understandably have more success with the inside rushes. Also, with Franklin's mild injury (thigh bruise) last week against OSU, and with the team playing from behind against Houston and Texas, he has had fewer opportunities to carry the rock. I expect Franklin will start this week, but you'll see Coleman sharing carries in the first quarter. Also, look for promising FR Jordon James to get a few carries here and there.
Believe it or not, some Stanford fans have begun to take Andrew Luck for granted. What do UCLA fans see when they look at him?
Appreciation. Admiration. Envy. How can anyone not be a fan? I love his arm. I love that he is a great runner. I love his physical play. I love the video of him crushing Shareece Wright. Same with Sean Cattouse. I love that he picked a great academic school like Stanford instead of UT or some SEC factory. I love that the kid passed on millions of NFL $$ to stay in college for another year. Dang, am I gushing too much about an opponent? Well, I didn't like the beard, how's that? In our preseason chat, I told you I was interested to see how Luck and the team did with the new coaching regime. Well, any doubts I might have had have been answered. I think it's, unfortunately, human nature for some fans to take him for granted after a while. But those people need to remember what it was like 5 years ago, listen to what others are saying about Luck and about Stanford as a whole, and think about playing Oregon with #2 in the depth chart (no disrespect, Josh Nunes). I expect he'll head to the NFL after this year, and my Denver Broncos could really use another Stanford QB, hint hint.
How are fans feeling about Rick Neuheisel? I attended the 35-0 Stanford win at the Rose Bowl last September, and I was stunned when Neuheisel took the microphone after the game and addressed the crowd, promising to get better. It struck me as an incredibly classy move, but I've heard that he's stopped doing this. Also, I was really impressed by his appearance at Pac-12 Media Day this past July. His love of the school, the job, and his players was obvious. Recently, though, I've heard that he might be getting frustrated, and the fan base is obviously frustrated with his results. What's the outlook him? Are fans still behind him, or are people beginning to wish for someone else?
Honestly, it's getting pretty ugly, with many fans already calling for a change. We've been hearing Neuheisel's promises to get better for 3+ years now, and we're still waiting for it to happen. Froom the start, we believed Neu was they guy to turn this program around. He had success at Colorado and Washington (some will fairly argue with his predecessors' players), and we trusted he had learned his lessons from his mistakes with recruiting and discipline at those schools and would do right by his alma mater. From those points, he has changed. Our program has been squeaky clean (as far as anyone knows these days). He has handled the few discipline issues very well. His first 3 recruiting classes were fantastic. But to date, the results on the scoreboard haven't been there. And it's more than just the scoreboard, it's the way the results get there. You remember what you did to SJSU? We were tied with them in the 4th quarter. Sadly, that's been the standard. In Neuheisel's fourth year, his teams look very poorly prepared. The schemes are very passive and unimaginative. There are still problems with dumb penalties and poor fundamentals. There seems to be little accountability on the field, and a lack of organization on the sidelines. He doesn't address the crowd anymore as there is nothing new for him to say and the fans have tuned out - there were 54,000 fans at the Rose Bowl against Texas, and probably 15K were Longhorns. We are on our third DC and second OC and numerous position coaches and players have changed, but there has been disappointingly little progress from year one. The one constant during that time has been Neuheisel. Strangely, I think he'd make a good Athletic Director for our school, as he is a great ambassador for U.C.L.A. But he's not succeeding as our head football coach, and unless he wins the majority of remaininggames, including *$c, this year, the fans should unanimously demand a change.
Finally, how do you expect the game to go on Saturday night? What's your predicted final score?
Aww, Hank, don't make me predict against my Bruins! I am always rooting for a Bruins win. But, from a purely objective football point of view, I can see your offense putting up 40+ on our D by running the exact same 8 yard pass play and us never making an adjustment. Our offense is quite a bit better this year from last, and we're averaging 27 pts a game, but that includes Houston, SJSU, and OSU, none of which have a defense to be confused with yours. I could see us scoring around that, but it's going to be hard to keep up with your offense. Does that answer your question? Either way, good luck to your guys this weekend.