The happiest guys on the UCLA practice field this week may have been cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price. They know what’s coming.
The Bruins open the season at Houston on Saturday, playing the pass-happy Cougars. That means one thing.
“There are going to be opportunities,” Hester said. “I love playing teams that throw the ball. It gives me more chances to make plays, maybe make big plays.”
Hester and Price, both juniors, give UCLA experience at the cornerback position. Hester had a team-high three interceptions in 2010. Price is still looking for his first.
Houston threw 484 passes last season, an average of 40 per game. Not even losing starting quarterback Case Keenum and Cotton Turner, his backup, against UCLA in the third week could ground the Cougars. Houston still passed for 252 yards in a 31-13 loss to the Bruins, who made two interceptions.
Keenum threw for more than 5,000 yards as a sophomore and junior. He was injured last season against UCLA but was granted an extra year of eligibility and will again face the Bruins.
“I remember last year they had these small, fast receivers and they tried to get them the ball in space,” Price said. “It was a lot of fun. Hopefully, it will be the same this year.”
Keenum completed 10 of 18 passes for 83 yards before being injured late in the second quarter. He also had a 45-yard run.
Joe Tresey, UCLA’s defensive coordinator, expects to see the ball in the air a lot.
“If they use personnel like they have been, then they will have four wide and we’ll be in the nickel [defense] a lot,” Tresey said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said UCLA’s plan to play both Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut at quarterback won’t alter his game plan or play calling.
“Kevin is definitely a better runner,” Johnson said. “I think he’s a guy who has the ability to go 30, where Richard Brehaut may go for 12.”
But, he said, “I don’t think I’ll have to call things differently. I think they are both capable of throwing the ball and they’re both capable of running.”
Coach Rick Neuheisel said he was still not sure who would kick the field goals and extra points. Kip Smith has improved in recent days; Jeff Locke has struggled.
“Kip is getting better, I think he’ll answer the bell,” Neuheisel said.
Locke will handle punts and kickoffs, but whether he will do all the kicking will be determined Saturday.
“We’ll see how it goes during pregame and make the decision at that time,” Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel said he wasn’t sure how he would determine game decisions about field goals.
“Those are gut instincts,” Neuheisel said. “You can’t pre-determine that stuff. You make up your mind as you go along. I’m the only one who has to sleep with that, and I’m fine with that.”