Bruins take a run at a little passing
The buzz words around the UCLA football program have become “high octane” and “explosiveness.” This seems a long ways from Coach Rick Neuheisel’s preseason philosophy of “run the ball or die trying.”
A 24-16 loss to Stanford created new topics of conversations, out in cyberspace and around the program. It produced a first-loss panic among the fan base, and a small shift in emphasis inside the UCLA beltway.
“We had to come out of our ‘run the ball or die trying’ mantra and throw a little more,” Neuheisel said.
But, he added, “everybody just wants to see deep balls, long throws in the air. It’s exciting. It’s like the play at the plate in baseball. It’s the ‘wow’ factor while the ball is in the air. But you have to have the ability to play the entire field before you start putting up the ‘heaves’ and ‘hos.’ ”
Neuheisel said, “I feel like I got the best play caller in the business in terms of picking his spots,” in offensive coordinator Norm Chow, adding, “You don’t have to go back very far to see plays that were pretty explosive that this guy called.”
UCLA fans can think back to that, though the players Chow was directing were wearing USC colors. Bringing that to Westwood would appear to be a personnel issue.
Kevin Craft threw for 204 yards, but had only one completion beyond 16 yards. Kevin Prince, the Bruins’ No. 1 quarterback, is on track to start against Oregon on Saturday.
Prince, out the last three weeks because of a fractured jaw, will have X-rays taken Wednesday. That is expected to be a mere formality.
“He has a big arm and can put the ball in all portions of the field,” Neuheisel said. “We need to keep working on some of that down-field throwing. He gives us a chance to do that.”
That, though, is only half the equation. The Bruins are still lacking in big-play makers. The speed to burn was brought into the program this season, but it has yet to have a major impact.
Receiver Morrell Presley has provided energy, but his pass-catching abilities are a work in progress. He dropped a second-down pass on the Bruins’ last drive against Stanford.
Receiver Randall Carroll, a two-time California 100-meter champion at Los Angeles Cathedral High, did not get off the bench against the Cardinal, an indication that he is having difficulty absorbing the offensive system.
Tailback Damien Thigpen got into the game late, picked up 28 yards in three carries and was “a breath of fresh air,” Neuheisel said. But Thigpen started the week fifth on the depth chart.
“You want to be able to control the line of scrimmage and take pressure off the quarterback position,” Neuheisel said. “By running the ball and forcing teams to get closer to the line of scrimmage, that should create some big-play opportunities.”
So far, it hasn’t.
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli did not practice Monday, according to media reports. Masoli injured his right knee against Washington State on Saturday and spent practice wearing a brace and icing his knee. Coach Chip Kelly told Oregon reporters that he expected Masoli to play.
Of course, two years ago, then-Oregon coach Mike Bellotti -- Kelly’s mentor -- said that quarterback Dennis Dixon “is going to be fine.”
Dixon, the truth later revealed, had a torn knee ligament.