Coach Rick Neuheisel, towel wrapped around his waist, was making through the UCLA locker room, easy pickings for an emperor-has-no-clothes reference after UCLA was dismantled Saturday by Brigham Young, 59-0.
But he was right back at work.
Spotting linebacker Akeem Ayers, head down at his locker, Neuheisel patted him on the back and said, “It’s one game. We’re 1-1. If we win next week, we’re 2-1, right?”
Ayers answered, “Yes.”
Not good enough. Neuheisel shot back, “You can’t just say, ‘yes,’ you have to mean it.”
This is the chore. The two-steps-forward, one-(sometimes three)-step-back dance has been as much UCLA football in recent years as those funky numbers on the uniform. Neuheisel has repeatedly said he is here to “build a culture,” though he steps lightly around the subject.
“I’m careful, because when you change the culture, it is as if you don’t think the one before was good enough,” Neuheisel said. “I’m sensitive to my friend Karl Dorrell. But we’ve got to get an expectation level that we’re going to play to, and that doesn’t happen by talk but by working toward it.”
Whatever the Bruins’ coach expected against BYU, his team played down to performances in the past -- a 44-6 loss to Utah in 2007 and a 52-14 pasting by Arizona in 2005.
Those moments were too often followed by an oh-well attitude, players say.
“Before if we lost a game like this, on the plane ride players would be joking, acting like we won,” senior defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. “After this loss, the bus ride and the plane ride, everyone was quiet.”
Harwell called for a players-only meeting after Neuheisel spoke to the team Sunday night. Harwell and other seniors spoke, stressing greater commitment.
“When I was a kid watching the Bruins on TV they had great teams that played great games,” Harwell said. “I think it faded away a little bit in the four years I’ve been here. You could sense that the players were not into it, and we were taking tough losses. This year, it’s a different feeling.”
Asked whether he could change that culture, Neuheisel said, “They have to buy into it. Results are the easiest way to be all in, but results aren’t always guaranteed. . . . You have to believe we’re on the right track and we’re going to continue in that direction.”
With weak-side linebacker Kyle Bosworth expected to miss Saturday’s game against Arizona because of a knee injury, the Bruins will do some shuffling. Middle linebacker Reggie Carter will move to the weak side and Steve Sloan will step in at middle linebacker, Neuheisel said.
There could also be a shake-up on the offensive line, as the Bruins’ 0.8-yards-a-carry average has made it difficult to sustain drives.
Brandon Bennett, Mike Harris and freshman Jeff Baca could get long looks at tackle. Scott Glicksberg may return to the starting lineup at guard. Jake Dean will replace Micah Reed (knee), though tackle Nick Ekbatani could be used there too.
“The passion is there, the nastiness is there,” guard Darius Savage said. “We just need to come together to do what we can, watch film, pick Coach [Bob] Palcic’s brain on what we need to do to become a good offensive line.”
Saturday vs. Arizona (2-1)
Rose Bowl, noon, FSN