Fri Aug 05 07:17pm EDT
The least you should know about the 2011 Bruins. Part of Pac-12 Week.
• It's OK to talk about what you've seen. I can hear Florida and Texas fans coughing loudly already, and maybe a few throats clearing from the direction of LSU. But the fact is, when it comes to experienced, incumbent quarterbacks who appear completely untenable as ongoing starters, they've got nothing on UCLA. In fact, the Bruins have spent pretty much the entirety of Rick Neuheisel's tenure as head coach redefining untenable QB play at a major program.
Neuheisel can only hope 2010 was the nadir of that trend, and frankly, it's kind of hard to imagine the situation sinking much lower. The Bruins finished dead last in the Pac-10 in total offense and very nearly last in the entire country in pass efficiency, beating out only Vanderbilt and Buffalo; only the triple-option attacks from the service academies and Georgia Tech wound up passing for fewer yards. The two primary passers, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, combined to serve up 12 interceptions to just nine touchdowns, and failed to lead a single victory when not subsidized by at least 200 yards from a relatively mediocre running game.
Beyond them, though, it was even worse: With Prince (knee), Brehaut (concussion) and third-stringer Nick Crissman (shoulder) all on the bench at Washington on Nov. 18, the fourth quarter devolved into another nationally televised catastrophe that turned the burner under Neuheisel's chair all the way up. Venerable offensive coordinator Norm Chow was experiment with the "Pistol" — and Mike Johnson on his way in from the San Francisco 49ers with a pro style system that Neuheisel (now serving as his own quarterbacks coach) needs to pay dividends right away — with two years spent on developing Brehaut and three on Prince, it's now or never for a return on investment.
• Stuck in the huddle with you. Neuheisel does not, however, have the option of replacing his starting quarterback: The most attractive alternative, hyped incoming freshman Brett Hundley, has already fallen victim to the UCLA Quarterback Plague in the form of a knee injury that will keep him out for up to a month. Instead, Neuheisel named Kevin Prince the starter to open preseason practice for the third consecutive season, while gamely promising "a battle" with Brehaut. As well as his own sanity.
Still , for the first time in ages, at least there are no tumbleweeds blowing through the supporting cast. Essentially everyone who touched the ball in any capacity last year is back, including 1,000-yard rusher Johnathan Franklin and a receiving corps that certainly qualifies as "deep," if not exactly prolific. If the duct tape and pipe cleaners holding what's left of the offensive line's knee cartilage in place manages to hold up for most of the season, there's more than enough fire power to lift the operation out of the cellar.
• Greed is good. The trauma of watching the Bruin offense tended to overshadow the only slightly less woebegone defense, but not nearly enough to save coordinator Chuck Bullough's job — one way or another, finishing next-to-last in the conference in rushing, scoring and total defense tends to come to someone's attention eventually. Aside from the usual rehab job, though, new D.C. Joe Tresey has a specific mission: Create turnovers.
Even the precious few takeaways UCLA did manage to generate are less impressive when you consider that nearly a third of them (one interception and four fumbles) came courtesy of the Texas turnover machine in September, the only game in which the Bruins finished in the black. Combined with the stubborn generosity of the offense, the result was the worst turnover margin in the league — as well as, with eight returning starters and some promising young talent in sophomores Cassius Marsh, Jordan Zumwalt and Owamagbe Odighizuwa, a turnaround waiting to happen.
• As the future catches you. Brett Hundley was the saving grace of a 17-man signing class in February that finally reflected the dire straits on the field. After making big, tangible strides into USC's near-monopoly on local talent in each of his first three classes, Neuheisel's latest effort was practically Dorrellian — Rivals ranked the 2011 haul as the 45th-best incoming class nationally, and only the 7th-best in the Pac-12.
But who knows? As little fruit as his more celebrated efforts have produced so far, maybe the humble crop will be the one that turns the thing around. If it gets the chance.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.