Pac-10 start has coach in a spin

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel was ready to stand firm Sunday, saying, “We are not pushing the panic button, even though naysayers would like me to.”

The pretty-darned-concerned button, on the other hand . . .

A 45-26 shellacking at the hands of California left the Bruins 0-3 in Pacific 10 Conference play for only the third time since World War II. It has been a tough pill to swallow after a 3-0 start this season, judging by the boos and the early fan exodus at the Rose Bowl, and the Internet grumbling that followed.

Whether it is deserved considering the woeful program that Neuheisel and his staff inherited is still to be determined. But the situation seems to have receded since conference play began, leaving Neuheisel to work on the proper spins halfway through the season.


The Bears gained 289 yards rushing, which included a 93-yard touchdown run by Jahvid Best.

“We held Jahvid Best to eight yards in 17 carries and 93 in the other one,” Neuheisel said.

The Bears’ Shane Vereen, meanwhile, romped through and around the Bruins for 154 yards. Take away his 42-yard touchdown run and he still averaged 7.0 yards per carry. The Bears scored 35 points in the first half.

The Cal track meet came on the heels of games where Oregon gained 221 yards rushing and Stanford 174 yards, where the combination of talented running backs and shoddy tackling led to UCLA losses.

As to why the Bruins have struggled with tackling, Neuheisel said, “I don’t know if I can put my finger on it.” But, he added, the Bruins defenders’ problem wasn’t their desire.

“I don’t see a lack of effort,” Neuheisel said. “I see it as being almost too aggressive, where we get out of control. Tackling is aggression, but you have to stay in control.”

Assessing the defense’s play thus far, Neuheisel said, “I think the defense has had one bad half this season. The Cal game was not indicative to how the defense has been all season.”

But the defense did give up 131 yards rushing against Stanford in the first half. Neuheisel pointed out: “We were down 14-6, so I wouldn’t call it a terrible half.”

But 14-6 became 24-6 with one minute left in the third quarter. Oregon rushed for 131 yards in the second half.

The concerns about the defense, especially its tackling, would seem critical with the Bruins still trying to grow into an offensive force.

The plan has been to stay close into the fourth quarter. In the last three games, the Bruins have trailed by 12, 11 and 18 points heading into the fourth quarter.

A year and a half into his rebuilding project, Neuheisel still leans on the terrible shape the program appeared to be in when he took over, saying, “We’re talking about a journey. I don’t know where the end of it is, but we’re going to an exciting place and people are going to enjoy it when we arrive.”

Until then, Neuheisel tries to frame things in the right light.

“If we were 0-3 and had won the last three, everyone would be as excited as can be,” he said. “It’s up to our own mind-set and get back to believing good things are going to happen.”


Injury report

Guard Eddie Williams is expected to be out four weeks with a fractured left ankle. Guard Stan Hasiak suffered a sprained ankle during the game, but Neuheisel said it wasn’t serious. Cornerback Aaron Hester (fractured fibula) is expected to rejoin practice, including contact drills, this week.



UCLA vs. Arizona

Saturday at Tucson

3:30 p.m. PDT, Prime