Neuheisel admits to concern over UCLA's 0-2 start
UCLA has lost the first two games of coach Rick Neuheisel's third season. The Bruins' new Pistol offense has been more of a cap gun, and their defense hasn't been much better.
Neuheisel knows he's about to hear real grumbling about his rebuilding job at his alma mater for the first time since he returned to Westwood.
The coach is disappointed and a bit uneasy, but not discouraged. Neuheisel insists the Bruins have enough time to turn around their season and the program's direction in a benchmark year for any coaching staff.
''There's still reason for optimism,'' Neuheisel said Monday. ''There's no reason to throw in the towel. What other choice do you have? Goodness gracious, there's 10 games left. We still want to be optimistic. We still have a number of talented players on this team, and we're going to continue to get better. If we relax and make the plays we're capable of, good things will happen.''
Yet after a humiliating 35-0 loss to Stanford last weekend, Neuheisel knows it's possible no good things will happen until October. The Bruins' brutally tough September schedule - three games against ranked teams preceded by a trip to Kansas State - has left them with the distinct probability of an 0-4 start.
No. 23 Houston's high-powered offense visits the Rose Bowl on Saturday, and the Bruins travel to face No. 6 Texas the following week.
''The schedule being what it is, we've got to do what we can, and not listen to the external forces that are saying we're terrible, because it doesn't help us,'' Neuheisel said.
At least Neuheisel is certain Kevin Prince will start at quarterback despite a 6-for-12, 39-yard performance against Stanford. Prince, a capable sophomore who has struggled to get healthy since high school, will participate fully in practice this week after missing parts of last week's workouts to rest his arm and a sore back that kept him out for most of training camp.
Neuheisel doesn't blame Prince - 15-for-38 with three interceptions this season - for the offense's struggles in UCLA's worst home loss since 1984, but the coaching staff's faithfulness to Prince also has something to do with the struggles of backup Richard Brehaut. Neuheisel said Brehaut hasn't yet demonstrated he can handle the mental challenges of big-time football, as evidenced by ''two or three'' inexplicably poor decisions in every game to date.
UCLA switched to the modified-shotgun formation known as the Pistol in an effort to improve its running game. Tailback Johnathan Franklin's numbers are up, but it hasn't translated into consistent drives or any points against Stanford - and some fans grumble that the offense's struggles have discouraged Neuheisel from taking offensive risks, even while the coach laments the Bruins' lack of big plays.
Prince hasn't completed a pass longer than 35 yards, and just one UCLA running play has gone more than 20 yards.
''We made some big plays last year, and surprisingly with these same guys,'' Neuheisel said. ''We've just got to get these guys on track, get the nervousness out, and go play.''
Neuheisel acknowledges he hoped to see more tangible progress from his team in his third season, even after the media projected an eighth-place finish in the Pac-10 for the Bruins this fall.
But even while the Bruins have struggled, top recruits have kept rolling in to Westwood. After signing a highly regarded class last spring, UCLA secured an early commitment last week from Brett Hundley, a quarterback from the Phoenix suburbs generally considered the top high school passer in the West.
''Certainly there were high hopes and expectations from within,'' Neuheisel said. ''I know they weren't shared externally, but we believed we had a chance to be a good football team, and we still do.''