September 9, 2010

Week 2 preview in the Pac-10

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THE SCHEDULE
Colorado at California, 3:30 p.m.
Oregon at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
Stanford at UCLA, 7 p.m.
Syracuse at Washington, 7 p.m.
Montana State at Washington State, 7 p.m.
The Citadel at Arizona, 10 p.m.
Northern Arizona at Arizona State, 10 p.m.
Virginia at USC, 10:30 p.m.

The ad seemed like a good idea at the time.

Looking to capitalize on the excitement created when Rick Neuheisel was hired as coach, the UCLA marketing department purchased a quarter-page ad in the Los Angeles Times featuring Neuheisel's image and proclaiming: "The Football Monopoly in Los Angeles is Officially OVER!"

Three years later, the monopoly appears intact. So does the monotony of another lackluster season in Westwood.

What else can be interpreted from UCLA's 31-22 season-opening loss to Kansas State, an opponent the Bruins figured to beat? UCLA couldn't contain Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas, who rushed for 234 yards even though the Bruins' defense could ignore the threat of a pass.

Neuheisel called for better tackling. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough pointed out the inexperience in the front seven. Cornerback Aaron Hester suggested a need to return to fundamentals.

All said there are no excuses.

So, how long will UCLA's fans and administration excuse the Bruins' apparent lack of progress in three seasons under Neuheisel? Remember, Neuheisel's predecessor, Karl Dorrell, was fired after going 35-28 in five seasons.

Thus far, UCLA has posted 11 victories in Neuheisel's 26 games. Only two were over teams that posted winning records - 7-6 Tennessee and 9-4 Temple in the EagleBank Bowl last season.

Of course, one loss doesn't necessarily doom a team to a poor season. Teams improve. Maybe UCLA will.

Neuheisel seemed upbeat this week.

"The good news is we learned a lot about ourselves last week," he said. "We understand what we have to do to get better, and we're going to work diligently to get that done and take advantage of a home crowd and see if we can't get our first conference win."

Saturday, the Bruins face Stanford, which has one of the best offensive lines in the Pac-10 and a stable of capable running backs. That will pose a severe test for the Bruins' defensive front. And unless UCLA makes remarkable improvement the Bruins will be hard-pressed to avoid a 0-2 start. High-scoring Houston and a trip to face Texas follow, meaning a winless September isn't out of the realm of possibility.

And with upcoming games against California, Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State and USC - all with productive running attacks and explosive backs - UCLA faces a difficult task of matching last season's seven-win total.

Furthermore, the Bruins issues extend beyond the defensive front seven. Quarterback remains a problem area.

Kevin Prince was 9-of-26 passes for 120 yards and threw two interceptions. To be fair, he was hurt by dropped passes, and he also has a hurt shoulder that's forced him to miss some practice time.

"Sometimes, we should have made the catch and sometimes we needed a better[-thrown] football," Neuheisel said. "There should be a quantum leap from Week One to Week One. And if he gets sharp, we're going to be a much better offense."

Prince obviously needs to make that leap. So do most of his teammates.

If they don't, the Bruins could be facing another season disappointing season, which could lead to more UCLA newspaper ads. You know, the kind announcing employment opportunities.

Best matchup: USC WR Ronald Johnson vs. Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling. Though various coverage schemes will be used from time-to-time, the potential one-on-one matchups of Johnson and Dowling should be intriguing confrontations. Johnson is USC's primary receiving threat. He had seven catches, with three going for touchdowns, in last week's win over Hawai'i. Dowling, an All-ACC selection and All-America candidate, broken up eight passes and had three interceptions in '09. But he has been slowed by a sore hamstring that forced him to miss the Cavs' season-opening win over Richmond. His availability will be a game-time decision.

Player on the spot: Oregon RB LaMichael James. Last week, James sat out a one-game suspension stemming from an offseason incident. No matter. His replacement, Kenjon Barner, rushed for 147 yards and scored five touchdowns in a victory over New Mexico. Not only does James need a strong performance against Tennessee on Saturday to reinforce his status as a Heisman contender, he may need one to keep Barner out of the starting lineup.

Numbers game: Five Pac-10 players scored at least three touchdowns in the first week of the season. Barner scored five, while USC's Johnson scored four. California's Shane Vereen, Arizona State's Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall each scored three.

What they're saying:

"We're a happy member of the Pac-10. I don't have any ulterior motives or plans to advance on this. I think the Pac-10 with a new commissioner and new opportunities has some growth built in already. But would we consider it? I think you have to. As an athletic director in today's environment, you have to consider every alternative." - USC athletic director Pat Haden, to the Orange County Register, on the possibility of USC considering independent status in football

"I'm disappointed about the whole situation. Whatever Reggie did, he did. Make up your mind. Are you going to punish the team or are you going to punish the kid? Which is it?" - Washington coach - and former USC assistant - Steve Sarkisian, on speculation that Reggie Bush will be stripped of the 2005 Heisman Trophy

"That's OK. They don't have to believe in us. We believe in ourselves. That's all that matters." - Washington State DE Kevin Kooyman, on negative reactions he heard from WSU students after an opening 65-17 loss to Oklahoma State

Etc.: Arizona freshman Justin Washington recorded a sack on the first play of his college career in last week's victory over Toledo. He finished with three tackles, the most of all Wildcats linemen. ... Arizona's 41-2 win over Toledo was a once-in-a-century accomplishment in that the last time the Wildcats allowed just two points was an 18-2 win over New Mexico State in 1910. ... Arizona State WR Gerell Robinson has returned to practice after sitting out more than a month with a pulled right hamstring. ... Backup Brock Osweiler had a 20-yard run against Portland State last week. That was the longest run by an Arizona State quarterback since 2006. ... After hitting from 52 yards last week, Sun Devils K Thomas Weber is 3-for-3 in his career on field-goal attempts from at least 50 yards out. ... Cal coach Jeff Tedford picked up the 68th win of his career, which moved ahead of Pappy Waldorf on the Golden Bears' list of winningest coaches. ... Cal freshman WR Keenan Allen made a great first impression by catching four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown and rushing for a touchdown in his college debut. ... The Oregon Ducks rolled up a school record 720 yards last week, but the going figures to be much tougher Saturday. Not only are they playing Tennessee, but the Volunteers' defensive coordinator is Justin Wilcox, who held the same position at Boise State last season. Boise State held Oregon to 152 total yards in a 19-8 season-opening victory over the Ducks in 2009. ... Ducks sophomore CB Cliff Harris posted a first for Oregon by returning two punts for touchdowns in a single game; he actually did it in one quarter, the second. ... Oregon State TE Joe Halahuni missed practice earlier this week because of a bruised right shoulder, but he isn't expected to be out for an extended period. ... Beavers S Lance Mitchell recorded a career-high 18 tackles in the season-opening loss to TCU. ... Stanford starting TE Levine Toilolo has been lost for the rest of the year because of a torn ACL in his right knee. ... Cardinal WR Chris Owusu is slowed by an undisclosed injury and his status is day-to-day.... UCLA K Kai Forbath has tied NCAA records by converting at least two field goals in 27 career games and at least three in 13 games. He' also hit 40 consecutive field-goal attempts from inside 50 yards. ... USC frequently leads the Pac-10 in various statistical categories, but after one game, the Trojans are last in total defense, pass defense and penalty yardage. ... Junior CB T.J. Bryant is back practicing since undergoing cheekbone surgery after FB Stanley Havili punched him last month. ... The Trojans' Marc Tyler, who won the starting tailback job at the end of fall camp, is leading the Pac-10 with 154 rushing yards. ... Washington P Will Mahan sprained his left knee in practice earlier this week. If he's unable to play against Syracuse on Saturday, he will be replaced by walk-on Kiel Rasp. ... Washington State FB Jared Byers (knee) and freshman RB Rickey Galvin (broken arm) are out for the season. ... Cougars K Nico Grasu hit a career-long 56 field goal against Oklahoma State.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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