UCLA finally making gains with new Pistol offense
UCLA is finally hitting a few targets with its new Pistol offense.
The Bruins headed back to practice this week with confidence in the basics of their offensive scheme, which was borrowed from Nevada by coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
UCLA (1-2) finally moved the ball consistently last Saturday in a 31-13 upset of then-No. 23 Houston, racking up 365 yards and avoiding the possibility of a winless September.
Tailback Johnathan Franklin and his teammates are still adjusting to the modified shotgun formation and its mental demands on every player. While basking in the glow of UCLA's seventh win over a ranked team in its last 12 tries, they also realize the learning curve will get a whole lot steeper this week when they visit No. 7 Texas.
''It's opened our running game up, and it's opened our offense,'' Franklin said Monday. ''It keeps the defense on their toes, because we have more weapons. It definitely benefits us. We did a good job, but we still have a long way to go.''
Neuheisel and Chow knew they were risking their reputations when they imported the offense pioneered by Nevada coach Chris Ault, feeling it fit their UCLA personnel better than the ineffective schemes that resulted in a subpar offense last year.
In consecutive weeks, the Bruins have seen the worst and best of the installation process. After UCLA struggled with execution in every quarter of a 35-0 loss to Stanford, the Bruins rebounded with a series of strong drives against the Cougars, finishing with 31 points that could have been even more without two costly fumbles.
''There was a point where it was doing what it was supposed to do, but we still aren't there consistency-wise,'' Neuheisel said. ''That's what practice is for. We have to let our athletes run around and not be encumbered with detail so much that they can't play with that kind of energy, but we're making the right steps. We're getting closer.''
Once Neuheisel decided to borrow the Pistol, he decided to adapt it with his own tendencies from previous head coaching stints with Colorado and Washington, molding it with Chow's history at BYU and Southern California. The resulting hybrid offense still features quarterback Kevin Prince standing one long step behind center to take short shotgun snaps that get the ball to Franklin and his fellow tailbacks that much quicker.
Despite UCLA's shutout loss to powerful Stanford, Neuheisel recently got the ultimate affirmation he's doing something right: Other coaches have called, asking to learn about the Pistol from the Bruins' coaching staff.
Perhaps no player has been happier about the change than Franklin, the sophomore tailback whose role in the offense has been amplified. UCLA struggled mightily to run the ball last season, managing just 115 yards per game - 97th in the nation - but is averaging 204 yards through the first three games this fall.
''I love it, and I think we're making progress with it,'' Franklin said. ''It gets things going and just makes everybody play faster.''
The offense also could be boosted by the return of backup tailback Derrick Coleman, who's expected to be cleared to play this week after sustaining a concussion against Stanford.
If the Bruins hope to compete at Texas, where they are two-touchdown underdogs, Neuheisel thinks they'll need a better passing game, which has struggled with neglect while UCLA fine-tunes the ground game. He also wants better red-zone efficiency, whether through improved execution or better play-calling.
''If you're running the offense you've been running forever, it's easy to do that, but we're not far off,'' Neuheisel said. ''Hopefully we'll be much better this week, and we'll see that this week against a formidable opponent.''