Bruins Nation has always been one of my more favorite sports blogs. The writing is topnotch and it's proven, over the last few years, to have more influence than most fan-run blogs.
So it's only fitting they would be the go-to source for everything associated with the UCLA Bruins - Utah's next opponent.
And that's exactly where I went with some questions about Saturday's game, their program and the potential of losing their head coach. You can read my answers to their questions here.
Our Q&A after the jump...
Block U: If UCLA wins the Pac-12 South, is that enough to save Rick Neuheisel’s job?
Bruins Nation: Depends on who you ask, but based on what we see in our community and other U.C.L.A. sites, the majority of Bruin fans say no. Even if the team gets on a run these last 5 games, it really can’t eclipse the body of work during Rick’s tenure. U.C.L.A. is in its worst 4 year stretch since the 1940’s. We gave Neuheisel a pass his first season because the previous coach, Karl Dorrell, left very little talent for Neu to start with. And Neu added some fantastic recruiting classes and a renewed school spirit, but it never translated to success on the field. His tenure has been marked by an ultraconservative play-not-to-lose mentality, repeated examples of poor discipline and fundamentals on the field, and poor personnel management (the most talented players are stuck behind upper classmen in the depth chart) and poor development of talent by the coaching staff.
But this is not just about Rick Neuheisel any more. U.C.L.A. needs a wholesale regime change to fully restore its football program. There are still tiny pockets of ultra loyalists who think Rick deserves another year if he gets to 7 or 8 wins, but those people are pretty representative of a diseased culture of mediocrity dating back to the later years of former head coach Terry Donahue, which metastasized during the last decade under AD Dan Guerrero’s reign of error. Given that culture, some will try to argue for saving Neu’s job if he gets to 6-6. However, if the administration considers taking that easy way out, they will further infuriate and alienate the U.C.L.A. alums and season ticket holders, who are the core of the fan-base. Certainly, they will be swarmed from multiple online platforms including Bruins Nation, making themselves a laughing stock with no credibility among our donor base. This is an extremely risky proposition for U.C.L.A. Athletics as it is going to be calling on this donor base during bad economic times to upgrade their facilities including the ongoing Pauley renovation project (which, btw, has been its own debacle).
Sorry, guys, I do realize that was a simple yes or no question.
Block U: Do you want his job saved?
Bruins Nation: It’s hurts to say it, but no. It is time for a change. Bruins Nation went on record after the Arizona debacle (AZ was 1-5, had a horrible defense, and just fired Mike Stoops, and the Bruins managed to get behind 42-7 by halftime, and then got involved in a brawl. Utter embarrassment) and called for the immediate firing of Neuheisel as well as AD Guerrero. It’s hard, because most Bruins including myself still genuinely like Rick. He had a great playing career as a Bruin in the early 80’s, beginning as a walk on and then winning the 1984 Rose Bowl as QB. Since returning to Westwood, he has been a great salesman for U.C.L.A. His first 3 recruiting classes were all top 15 or better. His behavior has been squeaky clean. He brought a new enthusiasm and said all the right things. There were mixed feelings among Bruin fans when he was hired, but the fan base bought in and we all wanted to see him succeed. For many reasons, it hasn’t happened. In the end, the team is underachieving year after year, and it’s time for a new face and new attitude and new leadership on the sidelines (as well as in the AD’s office).
Block U: The Bruins, like Utah, have had an up and down season – why the inconsistencies?
Bruins Nation: Lots of things. Neuheisel’s inability to pick a starting quarterback hurt the team out of the gate. Injuries to each QB has forced the other into playing suddenly, but neither has had 4 or 5 games in a row to really get in a groove. The preference of upper classmen on the field has limited the snaps for our younger and more highly touted players. As the season has worn on, injuries and suspensions (from the brawl at AZ) have allowed some of those players to see the field and have a positive effect. One glaring condemnation of this program is that players have admitted that they aren’t always up for games. That really speaks to the culture around the football program and the lack of inspiration or leadership. To balance that, the Bruins have been fortunate to play WSU and OSU from the North, where an average effort proved to be just good enough, while missing Oregon and Washington who would have put up 50 against one of our average efforts. Even including Stanford, the Bruins seemed to have winnable games all season long, but the inconsistency of the team as a whole makes any game losable, too.
Block U: What should the Utes look out for on offense?
Bruins Nation: The Bruins' run game has been the backbone of the team's recent success. The Bruins run a pistol set, and feature 2 really great backs in speedster Johnathan Franklin and bruiser Derrick Coleman. The key, though, is QB Kevin Prince, and his ability to run the zone read and veer plays. When Prince can get on the edge, he has great running ability, and this forces the defense to account for him as a runner which opens up bigger lanes inside for our tailbacks. I know Utah has had some great success against the run this year, so it will be very interesting to see how the two teams’ strengths play out. The passing game has been pretty conservative overall. Our backup QB, Richard Brehaut, will be back from an ankle fracture 4 weeks ago, and is the better passer of the two. The Bruins best weapon in the passing game is TE Joseph Fauria, who looks like a man among boys when the ball is thrown his way, which the coaches frequently forget to do for some unexplainable reason. The starting WR’s Taylor Embree (son of CU’s coach) and Nelson Rosario are big, but tend to make catches while stopped or on comebacks, so they don’t make many yards after the catch. Josh Smith and Randall Carroll have the ability to stretch the field with their speed, but that aspect of the Bruins’ attack hasn’t really clicked all year.
Block U: How much focus has there been on Norm Chow this week?
Bruins Nation: Not much by fans, though the myopic Los Angeles media is trying to make it into something. Looking back, the Bruin fans were really excited when Chow first arrived at U.C.L.A. We’d seen his act across town at Southern Cal and we were anxious to get an explosive offense like that. But the initial lack of talent hurt, the sudden change to the pistol offense (which was not Chow’s forte at all) hurt, and inconsistent QB play hurt, and we never saw anything we were hoping for. Some fans were critical of Chow, but there were a ton of things which hurt the offense while he was here, so it is unfair to blame the Bruins’ past offensive ineptitude on him. Also, Chow has always taken the high road since leaving U.C.L.A. and Neuheisel was very complimentary of Chow earlier this week, too. I think they are two offensive coaches with different philosophies who just didn't mesh well when it came to X's and O's, but I don't see any real animosity between the two. Nor do I see it anymore from Bruin fans as we have realized our offensive woes went well beyond Chow's role as OC.
Block U: The Bruins’ defense has struggled this season (ranked 10th out of 11th in the conference in yards given up per game). Is it a lack of talent, injuries or coaching and what are the biggest weaknesses of the defense?
Bruins Nation: It’s coaching. The defense has been our biggest disappointment by far. Last year’s defense was vanilla and passive and had terrible fundamentals and never made adjustments. That DC was let go and we hoped the new one would bring a more aggressive and creative scheme to make use of all the young talent. Unfortunately, Jim Tresey’s D has been pretty vanilla and passive and uncreative, too. We don’t have our best athletes on the field. We play very soft cushions on pass D, enabling teams to throw 7 yd completions at will. Basics like tackling and angles are very poor. The pass rush has been almost nonexistent. With a modicum of defense, we would have beaten Houston, probably beaten Texas, challenged Stanford, and not imploded the entire football program against Arizona. Alas. The best way to attack the U.C.L.A. defense is a combo of short passes and crossing routes mixed with quick hit runs. I’d tell you not to tell Coach Chow, but he’s seen it before.
Block U: The last two weeks, Kevin Prince has sort of repaired his image and seems to be gaining some confidence. Is there a reason for it?
Bruins Nation: A couple of things. He has finally been healthy, which has not been the case with him for a large part of his U.C.L.A. career. He was rushed back into service against Texas earlier this year when he threw 3 picks on our first 4 possessions. He was benched after that and it gave him time to get healthy when Brehaut went down 3 games later. Prince is also lining up behind the most consistent O line he’s ever had. This has allowed the Bruins to have a reliable running game, which has opened up a conservative passing game. While the passing game is not a big strike threat, it has been more consistent and productive of late, and Prince has been a good manager of the game the last couple of weeks.
Block U: What’s your prediction for Saturday?
Bruins Nation: I hear it’s going to be really cold. Bring your heavy coats and hats and gloves and bundle up everybody! Oh, you were asking something else? Ok. I also predict the Bruins will have zero yards in punt returns.
Still more? Well, since I’m on the spot…I expect the Utes will move the ball and score on our D like everyone else does. So I think it comes down to the matchup of the Bruins’ running game vs the Utes run D and whether the Bruins can score to keep up with Utah. If they can, the Bruins have a good shot at controlling tempo and being competitive. If not, then the trend from our recent trips to your fine state will continue.
Good luck (but not too much) to the Utes this weekend.