UCLA's awful passing game to be tested at Oregon
LOS ANGELES (AP)
Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow were willing to do almost anything to get UCLA's running game going this fall, even risking their considerable coaching reputations on the NCAA's latest trendy offense.
That ground game has been fixed by the Pistol - but an even more confounding problem has popped up in its place.
The Bruins (3-3, 1-2 Pac-10) head to Autzen Stadium to face No. 1 Oregon on Thursday night with perhaps the worst passing offense in the nation.
''We have invested heavily in a running game because we felt it was the key to taking the next step in the conference,'' Neuheisel said. ''In no way did we anticipate that in doing that, we would lose our throwing game.''
A year after UCLA struggled mightily to run the ball, the Bruins' ground game is purring in the new Pistol offense, racking up 223 yards per game.
Yet their passing game has been reduced to nearly nothing, managing just 95.5 yards amid a weekly slew of overthrown passes, unimpressive route-running and poor pocket protection. If the Bruins fall behind the Ducks, they know it'll be almost impossible to catch up.
It's an embarrassment to Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Chow, who built their reputations on prolific, balanced offenses during their lengthy coaching careers.
UCLA hit the midway point of its season ranked 118th out of 120 FBS teams in passing offense, with only Army and Georgia Tech managing less production through the air this season. The Bruins also are ranked dead last in the FBS in passing efficiency, a statistic that takes into account completion percentage, yards and interceptions.
''It's been tough to throw the ball the way we want to,'' said Kevin Prince, the oft-injured sophomore quarterback who has started five of the Bruins' six games. ''It's tough to swallow sometimes, because you don't want to be that team.''
The Bruins haven't passed for more than 128 yards in any game this season, finishing under 100 yards three times - including just 27 in their upset victory at Texas last month. Their quarterbacks are a combined 61 for 132 with six interceptions and just three touchdowns, and none of the Bruins' passes has gone for more than 35 yards.
The Bruins didn't need a prolific passing game to beat the Longhorns, with even Prince chipping in on their impressive 264-yard ground attack. But then the running game crashed to a halt two weeks ago against California, managing just 26 yards in the Golden Bears' 35-7 rout.
''We've got to get proficient, and certainly Norm and I have been around proficient offenses in the past,'' Neuheisel said. ''We know what it looks like. We know how to teach, and we're going to get there. But we can't forget what our calling card is, and that's being physical at the line of scrimmage and running the ball.''
Still, it's a constant source of frustration for Neuheisel, the former UCLA quarterback who developed prolific offenses at Washington and Colorado before running the Baltimore Ravens' offense three years ago.
It's also a downright stunner for Chow, one of the most respected offensive assistant coaches in recent college football history. After 27 seasons working alongside LaVell Edwards in the innovative BYU passing offense that spawned Steve Young and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, Chow tutored Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC on the way to two national titles.
Chow sees two main reasons for the Bruins' utter ineptitude through the air: UCLA has been determined to run the ball after managing just 114.6 yards per game on the ground last season, and the passing game was neglected - particularly when Prince missed most of training camp with injuries.
''You dedicate yourself so much to that phase of the game, and in the NCAA, you only get 20 hours to practice every week,'' Chow said. ''We've got young guys who are learning this from the ground up. We don't have a lot of experience, so we have to get that on the job. But we're disappointed. We should be throwing the ball better.''
For all of Prince's struggles with accuracy and backup Richard Brehaut's problems with composure and in-game concentration, the Bruins' receivers haven't distinguished themselves, either. Although Neuheisel has landed three highly ranked recruiting classes at his alma mater, the Bruins haven't developed a game-breaking receiver.
Nelson Rosario, who could miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain, leads the Bruins with just 14 catches for 137 yards. Less-than-speedy starter Taylor Embree has only eight catches for 99 yards, while Josh Smith - the Colorado transfer expected to provide speed - has just three receptions and is suspended for Thursday's game for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
''We don't work at our best unless both phases of the offense are contributing,'' tailback Johnathan Franklin said. ''It's a big change, for sure. You don't expect to start running and stop passing like that, but we're working on it every week.''