UCLA’s Richard Brehaut sees things more clearly now after a rough baptism

By Chris Foster
Los Angeles Times

August 27, 2010

There was a moment last season when Richard Brehaut didn’t pass the eye test as UCLA’s quarterback.

“Washington,” Brehaut said.

Brehaut was thrown, errantly, into the game after starting quarterback Kevin Prince lost a head-to-head confrontation with Huskies linebacker Donald Butler.

The Bruins had first and goal at the 10-yard line and the play-by-play comes painfully easy to Brehaut:

“The first play was called back for an illegal formation. The next one, I messed up the call from the sidelines. On third down, I was sacked and fumbled. That was all about me being uncertain, not having pocket awareness. That will never happen again.”

The Bruins may need that to be true in the season opener at Kansas State on Sept. 4.

Prince’s status has been uncertain since the pain in his back started Aug. 10. Tests this week revealed a small tear in a back muscle.

That has left Brehaut on call and, he said, ready to answer it.

“As a quarterback you have to have, not arrogance, but that confidence so when someone looks you in the eye they don’t see you’re scared,” Brehaut said.

“I’m very at ease saying that I will be confident if he’s in the game,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “The seriousness with which he goes about his work, the confidence he gained because of that effort he put forth, he has improved 20-fold.”

How much more improvement does Brehaut need?

“There is always more to do, that’s why guys like [ Brett] Favre and [ Tom] Brady still work at it,” Neuheisel said.

At first, Brehaut seemed unprepared for college football, even after graduating from Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos early so he could participate in spring practice.

Brehaut appeared in six games last season for the Bruins, none of them spotlight-dance moments. What he called his best game, against Oregon, included four sacks and one pass intercepted.

“As a true freshman, you’re playing against guys who are three, four years older than you, and you better know everything,” Brehaut said. “I made a commitment to do more studying and watch more film.”

The renewed diligence came with a change that was unavoidable. He got a year older, which Neuheisel said shows in his approach. “It’s managing the offense, making sure we’re in the right formation, knowing down and distance, making the right checks.”

And, Neuheisel said, “While he’s not the polished diamond yet, he has made such improvement that I don’t think anyone here doubts that he can go in there and do very well.”

Bruins safety Rahim Moore toyed with Brehaut on the practice field a year ago. During one practice, Moore broke up a pass play and teasingly shouted across the line, “Just give up.”

“But when he comes to the line now, he’s aware of everything,” Moore said. “The way he’s throwing the ball now, I’ve seen him put it in the tightest places.”

The maturation process included the realization that more homework was necessary.

“I wanted to know things front and back,” Brehaut said. “Everything the defense does, you have to have an answer for it.”

Now, UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow said, Brehaut “is taking command of the offense. . . . He makes the right checks, and knows when to stay in the play.”

Chow went so far as to say the only difference between Prince and Brehaut was “experience.”

That could be a significant difference next week.

Neuheisel was confident Prince would be throwing “by Tuesday.” If not, the Bruins’ Plan B has benefitted from Brehaut’s taking nearly all the reps with the first team the last two weeks. The extra work paid off with a solid scrimmage last Saturday when Brehaut threw for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

Whether that will translate into real-game production remains to be seen . . . perhaps next weekend.

“You have to make people believe you have the confidence to get the job done,” Brehaut said. “Not the people watching you, but your teammates. They have to look you in the eyes and be inspired.”

chris.foster@latimes.com