Posted on: December 28, 2011 10:58 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
A look at the key matchup that could decide the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
UCLA's pistol offense vs. Illinois defensive line
When it comes to stopping UCLA's Pistol, an attacking front four can cause havoc against the run-based offense. The Bruins have been pretty good on the ground this year - one of the few things they've seemed to execute ok - finishing 29th in the country with 190 yards per game rushing. Kevin Prince wasn't the greatest signal-caller (1,627 yards passing, 10-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio) but was a solid trigger man who could pull the ball and run for a first down when needed. Johnathan Franklin had a big game against Colorado but other than that was nothing to write home about after being held under 100 yards rushing in all but three games this season. Fellow back Derrick Coleman was on and off throughout the year but turned in a productive season.
Though the Bruins have faced some good defensive lines, they haven't faced anybody like defensive end Whitney Mercilus. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound All-American led the country in sacks with 14.5 and led the conference in tackles for loss with a total of 19.5 for the year. Though Illinois struggled down the stretch by losing six straight, it wasn't because of the defense, which finished seventh overall in total defense. Michael Buchanan finished 8th in the Big Ten in tackles for a loss playing on the line and was also a disruptive force at times this season. If the line can get penetration and make some plays, that allows the back seven to matchup well against UCLA's skill position talent that hasn't done much all at all outside of Nelson Rosario. Freeing up linebacker Jonathan Brown to make some plays will be something to watch if the Illini want to win the game.
Points might be hard to come by given the way Illinois' offense has looked down the stretch so that puts the pressure on the defense once again. If the team has any hope of ending the slide, they're going to have to limit big plays from an offense that can create some with misdirection. A good push from the defensive line against a bad UCLA offensive line is where things start.
On the other side, if the Bruins want to avoid going 6-8 on the year, the offense has to execute less like they did against USC and show some of the signs of life like they did against Oregon. Prince can pick up first downs and there should be a solid rushing game but if the o-line can't block Mercilus and the defensive line, interim head coach Mike Johnson could be in for a long night.
Posted on: August 11, 2011 9:10 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
As part of the CBSSports.com season preview, here is one writer's choices for the preseason All-Pac-12 team.
Andrew Luck, RsJunior, Stanford
For those that know him, Luck's decision to return to Palo Alto and pass up millions as the sure-fire first pick in the NFL Draft wasn't surprising. Following a season in which he passed for 3,338 yards and tossed 32 touchdowns against just eight interceptions, the native Texan just wanted to complete his degree - in architectural design. The Heisman runner-up does a pretty good job on the field of designing plays that end in a completion (71% of the time last year). He's not bad at running the ball either but earns his spot on the first team as the top signal-caller in the Pac-12.
Also watch for: The conference of quarterbacks is a pretty appropriate for the Pac-12 considering there are a number of players who can give Luck a run for his money. USC's Matt Barkley is a possible first round pick as well and has a talented receiving corps at his disposal. Oregon's Darron Thomas will put up big numbers through the air and on the ground and could take the top spot by beating Stanford. Arizona's Nick Foles and Utah's Jordan Wynn are also in the conversation.
LaMichael James, RsJunior, Oregon
The Doak Walker Award Winner as the nation's best running back last season, James is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. He was the NCAA's leading rusher last season with 1,731 yards and is in position to break just about every Oregon record left in the books. He's not the biggest back but he does deliver the most production on the field.
Chris Polk, Junior, Washington
Polk burst on to the scene with a 1,000 yard season his freshman year and ever since then has been in the conversation for all-conference honors. He can catch the ball out of the backfield (4th leading receiver last year) and it will be tough to stop him from having another big season with the Huskies' offense revolving around him.
Also watch for: Stanford's Stepfan Taylor was Toby Gerhart's replacement last year and should be able to build on a very good breakout season. Newcomer Rodney Stewart from Colorado is a bright spot for the Buffaloes and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin should put up some good numbers in the school's Pistol offense.
Robert Woods, Sophomore, USC
Woods wasn't even supposed to be the best receiver at his high school but he nevertheless turned into a Freshman All-American and was the Trojans' most consistent pass catcher. He should surpass his total of 792 receiving yards easily this year as Barkley's favorite target.
Jermaine Kearse, Senior, Washington
The speedy Kearse averaged 16 yards a catch last year in route to a 1,000 yard season as the Huskies most consistent receiver. He doesn't get the attention nationally that he deserves but with a talented receiver group around him in 2011, he could be freed up to torch a few secondaries even with a new quarterback.
Also watch for: Arizona's Juron Criner is 1c as far as Pac-12 receivers go. Marquess Wilson out of Washington State is the best receiver no one has heard of and sophomore Kennan Allen is a dynamic playmaker for Cal. If healthy, Stanford's Chris Owusu is in the mix, as is Oregon State's James Rodgers.
David Paulson, Senior, Oregon
Expected to take on a bigger role in the offense, Paulson has a great pair of hands and managed to sneak behind linebackers fairly often last year to average 17.4 yards a catch.
Also watch for: This position is surprisingly deep and even newcomer Ryan Deehan from Colorado could emerge as the top guy in his new conference. Oregon State's Joe Halahuni has to stay healthy but is a big target and Stanford's Coby Fleener will put up good numbers with Luck throwing to him all season.
Center Garth Gerhart, RsSenior, Arizona State
Named to the Remington Trophy Watch List, Gerhart is one of only three returning centers in the conference and is looking to step out of his older brother's (Heisman finalist Toby) shadow.
Guard David DeCastro, RsJunior, Stanford
The anchor for a line that only gave up 13 sacks all season, the Lombardi Award candidate is excellent in space while pass blocking.
Guard Ryan Miller, Senior, Colorado
Miller can play either guard or tackle and the mammoth 6-foot-8, 295-pounder is excellent in space and one of the top guards in the country.
Tackle Matt Kalil, RsJunior, USC
A possible first round draft pick if he chooses to leave early, Kalil has the size and the pedigree (older brother Ryan is a starter for the Carolina Panthers) to be the next great Trojan left tackle.
Tackle Tony Bergstrom, Senior, Utah
Bergstrom has started every game the past two seasons and did not allow a sack during the regular season.
Also watch for: Oregon guard Carson York is a key player for the Ducks and Bay Area tackles Jonathan Martin (Stanford) and Mitchell Schwartz (Cal) give defensive ends fits all game long.
End Junior Onyeali, Sophomore, Arizona State
Not the biggest end on the field but he's a terror off the edge. With the quickness and speed of a linebacker, he's not someone the offensive tackle enjoys blocking.
End Datone Jones, RsJunior, UCLA
He missed all of last year with a broken foot but seems back and better than ever. He can play the run just as well as the pass and is the anchor for the Bruins' line.
Tackle Alameda Ta'amu, Senior Washington
The rock of the Huskies defense, he closed out the year strong. He ends up commanding double teams due to his size (6-foot-3, 337 pounds) and ability.
Tackle Justin Washington, Sophomore, Arizona
Washington has the quickness of an end but he's inside and makes his presence known. He had six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss as a true freshman last season.
Also watch for: Colorado's Will Pericak and Josh Hartigan are a great tandem from Boulder and Washington State's Travis Long is under the radar but excellent as well. USC's Nick Perry and George Uko are both primed for a break out year.
Vontaze Burfict, Junior, Arizona State
There's talk of him being more mature and a better leader which is actually a bit scary for opponents considering he is one of the quickest, most instinctive linebackers in the game and someone you don't want to get hit by.
Shayne Skov, Junior, Stanford
Turned in a great sophomore campaign and is relentless with his pursuit of the play. He's an intense tackling machine who always seems to find himself around the football.
Mychal Kendricks, Senior, Cal
An experienced outside linebacker, he's sliding inside in the Bears' scheme this year. Athletic enough to be a disruption when dropping into coverage, Kendricks can also be found in the backfield. Often.
Also watch for: Patrick Larimore is the Bruins middle backer and their defensive stopper. Chaz Walker out of Utah and a healthy Chris Galippo from USC are both solid playmakers at times.
Corner Cliff Harris, Junior, Oregon
Though he's suspended for the opener, the ball-hawking corner will immediately give a boost to the Ducks secondary with his ability to cover receivers.
Corner Trevin Wade, Senior, Arizona
He had an off year last year but is the anchor of the secondary for the Wildcats and has good size and a knack for knocking away the ball.
Safety Delano Howell, Senior, Stanford
Howell has seen just about everything you can possibly throw at him and reads and reacts like the best of them. He's not just a cover guy either as he's a very good tackler.
Safety, T.J. McDonald, Junior, USC
One of the bigger players roaming the secondary, McDonald is following in his All-American father Tim's shoes. He's more comfortable in year two of Monte Kiffin's system and should see his level of play rise as a result.
Also watch for: Oregon's John Boyett is tough to face playing with Harris and Tony Dye at UCLA is a bright spot for the Bruins' defense last year.
Kicker Erik Folk, Senior, Washington
The strong legged Folk is perfect on his PATs for his career and is seems to always come through despite any pressure in late game situations.
Punter Bryan Anger, Senior, Cal
Annually in the running for the Ray Guy Award for best punter, Anger has a big leg and usually can pin opponents deep in their own territory.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Andrew Luck, Arizona, Arizona State, Bryan Anger, Cal, Carolina Panthers, Carson York, Chaz Walker, Chris Galippo, Chris Owusu, Chris Polk, Cliff Harris, Coby Fleener, Colorado, Darron Thomas, Datone Jones, David DeCastro, David Paulson, Delano Howell, Doak Walker Award, Erik Folk, Garth Gerhart, George Uko, Heisman, James Rodgers, Jermaine Kearse, Joe Halahuni, John Boyett, Johnathan Franklin, Jonathan Martin, Jordan Wynn, Josh Hartigan, Junior Onyeali, Juron Criner, Justin Washington, Kennan Allen, LaMichael James, Lombardi Award, Marquess Wilson, Matt Barkley, Matt Kalil, Mitchell Schwartz, Mychal Kendricks, NCAA, NFL Draft, Nick Foles, Nick Perry, Oregon, Oregon State, Pac-12, Pac-12 preview, Patrick Larimore, preseason All-Pac-12, Ray Guy Award, Remington Trophy, Robert Wooods, Rodney Stewart, Ryan Deehan, Ryan Kalil, Ryan Miller, Shayne Skov, Stanford, T.J. McDonald, Toby Gerhart, Tony Bergstom, Tony Dye, Travis Long, Trevin Wade, UCLA, USC, Utah, Vontaze Burfict, Washington, Washington State, Will Pericak
Posted on: August 9, 2011 12:13 am
Edited on: August 9, 2011 12:23 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA kicked off fall camp Monday evening on a picturesque day in Westwood and while there wasn't much to report from the no pads practice, the Bruins got off the field without any injuries and with noticeably more depth at certain skill positions than years past.
Given the Bruins injury history (which is a very long, almost comical one), escaping every practice to the nearby icebaths without a signficant injury is key as the team looks to finally build some depth in year four under head coach Rick Neuheisel.
"These are all our guys," Neuheisel said. "We recruited them, we've coached them, it's our job now to get them to where they can compete successfully."
Quarterback Kevin Price took the field without a knee brace and intends to keep things that way unless ordered to wear one by trainers. The oft-injured quarterback missed most of fall camp last year before starting the opener and sat out all of spring practice with a knee injury. He took reps with the first team offense as expected and was sharp throwing the ball out of the pocket but still seemed to be a bit rusty with his timing running the offense.
"Not once did I feel limited physically. Like I said before, I feel 100 percent physically," Prince said. "I just have to make sure I know the playbook the best and can execute it the best. I do that and I think that will get me on the field."
With highly touted freshman quarterback Brett Hundley sidelined for a few weeks following knee surgery, Richard Brehaut was the man looking to take the starting job away from Prince but looked uneven throughout the two-plus hour practice. Brehaut tossed a few interceptions - including one into double coverage - but did make a several nice throws in the pocket. He said afterwards that he believes it is 50/50 between him and Prince to start but based on the number of reps and how Neuheisel coached during individual drills, it seems as though the head coach favors last year's starter.
Offensive line depth is still an issue and the team will be without one of their most flexible players in guard/tackle Jeff Baca, who is recovering from a broken ankle suffered in the spring. At this point UCLA will mix and match with several inexperienced players and finding the right group remains one of the big questions the offensive staff is looking to answer early on in camp.
"It's a work in progress," Neuheisel said of the line. "Especially at the inside positions. We're going to have to work through that and then see which freshmen can help with depth. The next question is when does Baca get back."
Tight end Joseph Fauria stood out, literally, as the tallest player on the team but also with his play catching passes over the middle. He seemed to only have one drop and there's no question that he'll be a big target for the quarterbacks to use if they're (likely) being chased out of the pocket by a few defenders. Wide receiver Shaq Evans and tailback Johnathan Franklin also impressed with their speed and quickness.
On the defensive side, ends Datone Jones and Owa Odighizuwa both looked good and the latter in particular seemed bigger and more confident than he was in the spring. Defensive tackle remains a work in progress but the Bruins should be able to get a decent pass rush from the front four if the ends do their job. Linebacker Patrick Larimore looks a little bigger than last year but still was able to cover one of the numerous tight ends the offensive sent out during 7-on-7 and team periods. The secondary was solid but not spectacular.
All in all, it certainly appears that UCLA has their deepest, and possibly most talented, team under Neuheisel but it remains to be seen if that can translate to wins on the field. It's early and there's plenty of time to incorporate some new pieces but for day one, things were not bad at all for the Bruins.
Posted on: July 29, 2011 4:25 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
NEW YORK -- UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel knows what it takes to win the Pac-12. He won the then-Pac-10 while at Washington and had the team in the upper echelon of the conference annually before being fired. After a pair of rough 4-8 seasons bookending his time in Westwood however, there's plenty of work to be done if the Bruins are to advance in the conference standings. Yet the coach, who briefly sat down with CBSSports.com during Pac-12 Media Days, believes the team will finally turn the corner this year.
"I have high expectations, I always start the seasons with high expectations," Neuheisel said. "When you're coming off a year like we did, you can't wait to get that taste out of your mouth."
Neuheisel is one of four coaches to be rated as having a warm coaching seat heading into the season by senior writer by CBSSports.com Dennis Dodd. The UCLA alum drew laughs at Media Day in Los Angeles when he joked about being happy to just be invited despite his status on the hot seat. He did note that he was just joking and actually hasn't felt the heat despite what some fans or media members think.
"I really don't feel it," he said. "It's just been brought to my attention so many times that it's like the elephant in the room so let me just talk about it so we can get that behind us. I have never been worried about losing my job, never one time in my life. I've lost my job before for reasons that have been well documented. But I've never lost my job because I wasn't doing a good job.
"I'm doing as good as job as I possibly can and working harder than I've ever worked."
This season is, of course, about wins and losses though. Neuheisel is hoping 2012 is a momentum builder for the program despite having a difficult schedule which includes hosting Texas and traveling to Stanford. Though there are five new coaches, including two new coordinators, there are several players coming back that are worth getting excited about. Running back Johnathan Franklin was a revelation last year and topped 1,100 yards rushing despite an anemic passing attack to take the pressure off of him. If the defense can be turned around and not give up 30 points per game (30.3 to be exact), you can understand why Neuheisel is much more hopeful about the upcoming season if they can stay healthy.
"I'm excited about the guys I have recruited," he said. "I feel they have confidence in me and our coaching staff. I feel like as many things that have bounced the wrong way so far in the three years, we're due some good bounces. I'm always optimistic in that regard and never been more optimistic about a year."
Posted on: July 27, 2011 8:01 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
The college football coaching industry has become increasingly volatile over the last several years, as a failure to meet expectations is often immediately met with questions about the dreaded "hot seat." One of the Pac-12 coaches who will face those questions all season is UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. The seasoned vet would not be caught off guard while meeting the media in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and beat them to the punch with the "hot seat" reference.
"Excited to be here," Neuheisel said as he began his opening statement. "As a coach on the proverbial hot seat, I guess you're excited to be invited to any of these things."
The crowd chuckled a bit, and then he returned to the topic in the first question when asked what it is going to take to turn this season around and continue coaching the Bruins.
"Well, we don't have to turn it around yet because nothing bad's happened yet. But I think in this business we all are on somewhat of a hot seat at all times. I mean, it just comes with the nature of the beast."
Here are some more highlights from UCLA's time with the media in Los Angeles on Tuesday:
- Neuheisel dropped the bomb that we reported earlier about true freshman quarterback Brett Hundley undergoing knee surgery to repair torn meniscus, and injury he suffered playing pickup basketball. He said that once against Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut will be competing for the position and Hundley will likely miss three to four weeks.
- For the first time since Neuheisel's arrival back in Los Angeles, he says the Bruins are two-deep at every defensive position with the exception of cornerback. After suffering from injuries defensively in 2010, the depth on that side of the ball is a reason Neuheisel says "hope springs eternal."
- Running back Johnathan Franklin is ready to step up and be a leader of this team. He was singled out by Neuheisel early in the press conference as a big reason for optimism heading into the season. The Bruins believe they are "light years ahead of where they were at this point" a year ago in the running game. Franklin also stepped up and acknowledged that when the team needs someone to make a play this fall, he is going to take that responsibility on himself.