UCLA's Neuheisel unhappy with defensive start
LOS ANGELES (AP)
Although coach Rick Neuheisel saw much that he liked in UCLA's season opener, most of it happened when the Bruins had the ball.
Neuheisel shared most of his fans' unimpressed viewpoint of the UCLA defense's debut under new coordinator Joe Tresey in the Bruins' 38-34 loss at Houston last weekend.
But while criticizing his linebackers and his entire unit's tackling skills, Neuheisel says he's confident the defense can correct many of its mistakes before Saturday's home opener against San Jose State.
''I have a great deal of faith in my defensive coordinator, and I have a feeling Joe Tresey will get it done,'' Neuheisel said. ''This was our first game in his system, and we didn't play fast enough to show what it's capable of doing. We're going to play better. You have to have faith in letting guys do the job you hired them to do, and I continue to have great faith in Joe.''
UCLA outgained Houston with 554 yards to the Cougars' 469, with quarterback Richard Brehaut leading the Bruins' comeback effort after oft-injured starter Kevin Prince was sidelined with a concussion and a sprained throwing shoulder.
Neuheisel isn't ready to rule out Prince from Saturday's game, even saying there's a ''better than 50-50 chance'' Prince will be available. Neuheisel said he'll decide on a starter after seeing how much Prince can practice this week.
''We have to wait and see what Kevin's situation is,'' Neuheisel said of Prince, who missed seven games last season with an injured right knee. ''The concussion has cleared, so I expect that not to be an issue. ... I don't think (ruling out Prince) would be fair to Kevin. I think Kevin is dying to get himself ready to go.''
Neuheisel said Prince must test his pain tolerance for the shoulder injury in practice. Although Brehaut rushed for 87 yards against Houston, Neuheisel said Prince ''does give us a little bit faster player at quarterback.''
Ever an optimist even while sitting on his self-described hot seat, Neuheisel focused on his offense's second-half resilience under Brehaut's direction. UCLA's passing game was among the nation's worst last season, but the Bruins threw for 322 yards under new coordinator Mike Johnson - more than they managed in any game in 2010.
''We found out a great deal about ourselves despite the fact that we didn't end up with more points,'' Neuheisel said. ''We came back from a deficit on the road. Even though we didn't get it done, there's coaches and players that are excited about getting that done.''
While Neuheisel waits to choose a starting quarterback, he'll also evaluate his kickers again. Talented freshman Kip Smith won the job in camp, but missed a 32-yard field goal and an extra point in a four-point loss.
Neuheisel still supports Smith, but won't hesitate to yank him in favor of punter Jeff Locke.
''You can't watch (Smith) in practice and not come away thinking a kicker is inside,'' Neuheisel said. ''We just have to work on getting him to trust himself. Confidence is everything in an individual sport. Right now, we'll have to analyze that. We'll keep track of what's the prudent thing to do.''
Neuheisel also plans to welcome back Jeff Baca, the talented offensive lineman and two-year starter who missed last season with academic issues before breaking his left ankle on the second day of spring practice. Neuheisel said Baca will be back in practice Tuesday, working at tackle as he attempts to get back in the lineup.
''We know he's excited to be out there, and hopefully we'll get him going as fast as possible,'' Neuheisel said.