The Ralphie Report sat down with the SB Nation UCLA Bruins blog, Bruins Nation for a little Q&A session leading up to tomorrow's game. You may not know it, but Bruins Nation was the first non-baseball site on the SB Nation network way back when (knowing that won me a free copy of NCAA '12 at the SB Nation conference in August). Thanks to Greg for answering our questions. He has been on the site all week so make sure and say hello.
This season has been up and down for the Bruins, with a blowout loss to Arizona being followed up by two wins to put the Bruins back into the hunt for a South Division championship. How do most UCLA fans feel about the year so far? Disappointed or about what was expected?
While the W-L record may be only a game or two worse than what some expected, they way the Bruins have played has been a huge disappointment. We expected this was the year that the staff and talent would finally put things together. We thought wrong. The offensive play calling has been predictable and conservative. The defense is poor in fundamentals like tackling and pursuit angles, and the scheme has been soft and doesn't make obvious adjustments. There are too many silly undisciplined penalties (10 in the first half against Utah last week). The use of personnel has been questionable, with more talented younger players sitting on the bench behind older players. Our wins include squeakers over San Jose St and WSU and OSU, while the losses have included blowouts against Texas, Stanford, Utah, and the debacle against Arizona. Given that this is Neuheisel's 4th year, and with the talent that has come to Westwood in the last 3 years, we had reason to expect a better record than we have. Had we beaten Houston and Arizona, we would be 7-3 and this team would be viewed quite differently, but the performance of the team and coaching staff has been a far bigger disappointment than the record would suggest.
Is Rick Neuheisel's job already lost or will it hinge on these last 2 (or possibly 3 games)? If he is done at the end of the year, who would most fans like to see take his place?
The answer to Neuheisel's job security depends on who you ask. The fans absolutely think Neuheisel should go. Bruins Nation went on record the day after the Arizona game calling for his replacement. Comments at our site and other U.C.L.A. websites, as well as attendance at the Rose Bowl backs this up. However, our fear is if the Bruins get to 6-6 and play in some lowest-tier bowl that our ineffectual Athletic Director Dan Guerrero will use that as an excuse to keep Neuheisel another year. Which is why we want Guerrero replaced now, as well. Then we'd like to see a new AD make a serious commitment to football in Westwood, beginning with a new coach. We listed some attributes we would expect in a new coach here, so we would look for a major name that fit those criteria. The new Pac-12 TV contract makes any coach affordable. The question will be whether U.C.L.A. has the guts to do it.
I realize this is a pretty loaded question, but what factors do you feel have contributed to the UCLA program taking somewhat of a fall over the last 10 or so years?
That’s not loaded at all, and we have been discussing this extensively over that last couple years when it started becoming apparent that Neuheisel wasn’t going to bring this team back. At the end of the 90’s, the Bruins were #1 in the BCS and we beat Southern Cal 8 times in a row. We won 3 Rose Bowls in 4 years the decade before. However, your post on the last decade of U.C.L.A. football speaks for itself.
Ultimately, the decline of our football (and this extends to all of our sports in recent years) is due to an apathetic culture in the University administration and Athletic Dept that simply accepts mediocrity in sports. As long as the program isn’t losing money (and ours is the one budget in California that is balanced), they have no interest in trying to remain competitive. While other schools are upgrading to state-of-the-art facilities and recognizing the importance of a healthy football program, we practice on an 80 yard field. That tells you all you need to know. In football-specific issues, Karl Dorrell was not prepared to be a D-1 coach when he was hired, and his recruiting and coaching were significant drop-offs. And while Neuheisel brought in 3 top 10 recruiting classes, the results on the field never followed. Neuheisel has coached with a play-not-to-lose mentality, the schemes are passive, the players haven’t developed as expected, and the play is undisciplined. U.C.L.A. is experiencing its worst 4 year run since the 1940’s. It’s been really frustrating to watch.
Tell us about this UCLA offense. We know the Bruins want to run the ball and Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman split the carries pretty evenly, but who else should Buffs fans watch out for? Will UCLA be able to pass if the run game is slowed?
QB Kevin Prince is the key to the running game. His decisions and execution of the zone read from the pistol formation will determine the Bruins’ offensive success. He was injured in the opener, came back too early in week 3 against Texas, and then was forced back in 3 weeks later when our other QB Rich Brehaut was injured, so he has had trouble finding a rhythm this season. Things seemed to finally click against Cal and ASU, before getting drubbed in the snow in Salt Lake last week. When Prince is productive running the ball, (163 yds rushing v Cal, 61 yds rushing v ASU, both wins) there is a lot of space for the running backs and the run game is very effective. This opens up a simplified passing game that fits Prince, as he is not the type of QB who can surgically dissect a defense through the air.
Our best receiving threat is TE Joe Fauria, who is a beast, when the coaching staff remembers that he is on our roster and calls a play for him. Our leading receiver is Nelson Rosario, who at 6-5 is a matchup nightmare for any DB. Former Buff Josh Smith has also shown flashes at times (he has also been an effective KR). However, none of our receivers are putting up big numbers because the passing game has been pretty conservative due to the limitations of our QB’s. Brehaut is the better passer, and he should be available as the #2 this week, but with the run game being the centerpiece, Prince will go the distance, barring injury. But if Colorado can bottle up the run, I wouldn’t expect the Bruins’ passing game to be able to make up for it.
The Bruins currently have the lowest ranked rush defense in the Pac-12, allowing almost 200 yards per game. Where are the weaknesses on this defense that other teams have been able to exploit.
We had hopes for the defense this year when we got a new defensive coordinator last spring, as last season's D was soft and vanilla and made no adjustments. Well, new face, same old defense..
I wrote to Burnt Orange Nation in Week 3 that the Bruins defense was vulnerable between the sidelines and between the endzones. Then one of our front pagers reminded me that we were vulnerable through the air, too, and that I had neglected an entire dimension. So that should cover our where we are weak. The Bruins still suffer from bad fundamentals on D, particularly in tacking proper angles and finishing tackles. They have been particularly weak on the defensive front, both in terms of not stopping the run and also not putting pressure on opposing QB's. When this is combined with the soft coverages that our secondary allows (presumably a coaching directive), the underneath passing game is wide open, too. The Bruins haven't given up a lot of big plays on the year, but they give up short to medium plays all the time, and teams just steadily move on us. Against Stanford, the Bruins D held the Cardinal to a single play for minus yardage (a 2 yd loss on a run). Besides that, and Andrew Luck's 4 incompletions, every other play was positive yards. In the opener against Houston, Case Keenum completed only a single pass for over 20 yards (and it was a catch and run) but he still finished with 310 yds passing. The defense is the most glaring example of several very good young players sitting behind slower smaller less talented upperclassmen. The reason given is that the coaching staff prefers players who won't make rookie mistakes. So instead we just get overmatched and pushed around.
Anything that Buffs fans that are heading to the Rose Bowl for the first time should know? Tailgating, bars, parking, etc?
Tailgating at the Rose Bowl is a highlight for home and visiting fans alike. The late fall weather in Pasadena is reliably 65-70F, and there is a lot of open space surrounding the Rose Bowl. There are hard lots on the south side of the stadium, and parking on a golf course on the north, in case you need some grassy area for your tailgate. Parking info and maps can be found here.
Any trip to So Cal should include a run to In-n-Out for a Double Double, along with an afternoon at any beach side diner from Santa Monica to Redondo Beach. Watching the sun go down over the Pacific with a drink and some fish tacos is my idea of heaven. On game day, a great place for food, drinks, or shopping is Old Town Pasadena along, ironically, Colorado Blvd. It is just a couple miles east of the Rose Bowl.
Predictions on the game?
With Colorado's offense coming to life recently, I expect you will be able to put up plenty of points. But CU's defense has given up a ton of points this year, too, so the Bruins will need to match the CU offensive output. If U.C.L.A. can limit its mistakes, meaning few penalties and no turnovers, I think they will have a great chance. If the Bruins want to destroy themselves with undisciplined sloppy play, then CU has more than enough talent to take advantage. If you force me to pick a winner, then I'd note that the Bruins have bounced back from losses well this year, and with the emotion of Senior Day and a chance to clinch a bowl berth, I'd go with the Bruins in a relatively high scoring game.
Can you briefly give some insight to the Bruins struggles on the hardwood to start the season?
You had to go there, Jon? I thought this was a football Q&A! Ouch. Well, I can't blame you. That's another question we have been wrestling with ourselves. Well, I could always say we are trying to ditch the stereotype of being just a basketball school. Actually, it's a complicated dynamic, but Ben Howland's success is predicated on a tough defense-first style which leads to high efficiency offense in transition. He led his team to 3 straight Final Fours with this system. But since then, Howland has been whiffing in the recruiting department. He has landed many highly touted players, but they aren't the types of players to fit into his system. Rather than change his system to fit his roster, he has tried to force the players the fit the system, and it isn't working, this year more than ever. While we have some very good bigs, we have no shooting guard, a JuCo transfer at the point, and no one can play any real defense. Add that to the fact that our AD totally botched the Pauley Pavilion renovation project, so the Bruins are playing our home games in the L.A. Sports Arena, a 50 year old building, right across the street from the u$c campus! Add those things together and you get a recipe for ugliness, which is just what we are seeing so far.