UCLA’s optimism not a settling feeling
Hopes are high in Westwood, but with question marks all over the offensive line, the pistol formation may not be enough to increase the offense’s output.
By Jason Lewis
A team being optimistic usually means that there are flaws that they hope do not derail their season. They hope the good will be enough to lead them to victories and the bad will not lead to losses.
Well, if a team is hanging their hat on optimism… yeah, that’s just not good.
For UCLA a PAC 10 title is not really in site, which is a disturbing feeling because this is a put up or shut up season for head coach Rick Neuheisel. This is year three of his tenure with the Bruins, his system is in place, his players for the most part. It’s time to win. It’s time to take the next step.
Neuheisel’s big plan to make UCLA football relevant against is the pistol offense. That wacky offense that Nevada runs, and runs quite well! Nevada led the nation in rushing last year, while UCLA was ranked 97th out of 120 teams.
“We couldn’t avoid the obvious,” Neuheisel said.
Nevada had three 1,000-yard rushers last season, which Neuheisel said was very appealing.
So is this pistol formation, which is pretty much a mid range shotgun with the running back lined up directly behind the quarterback instead of next to him, going to make the Bruins a dominate running team? Well, most people would say no, not a chance, but the coaching staff is convinced that it will.
UCLA probably will not be running Nevada’s exact same offense. It will be more like offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s offense out of the pistol formation.
Chow, who is known as one of the greatest offensive minds in college football history, has not turned the Bruin’s offense into a juggernaut yet.
UCLA averaged 17.7 points per game in 2008 and 22 points last season, the two lowest figures in Chow’s 25 seasons as a college coordinator at Brigham Young, North Carolina State, USC, and UCLA.
UCLA has enough talent in the backfield to rack up yards. Junior Derrick Coleman and sophomore Johnathan Franklin return, and freshman Malcolm Jones looks like he’s the real deal. The logjam at running back led to Milton Knox transferring out of the program.
But even with talent in the backfield, that might not matter because the offensive line is a complete mess. Linemen are either hurt for the season, academically ineligible, or off on two year Mormon missions. UCLA will start the season with an entirely new line up than they had opening day last season.
The offense, and to a higher degree the running game, starts and ends with the offensive line. Without a good offensive line there will be no running game, no matter who is in the backfield.
Last year the story was about the Bruin’s shuffle at offensive line. Coming into this year that unit was supposed to have a year of playing together under their belt and be much better. But instead it’s the same story from last year, another shuffle.
Offensive line coach Bob Palcic believes that the unit has experience to lead this team, but that just seems to be positive thinking at this point. It looks like they are taking the approach that if they believe in themselves that they can actually be good.
It would be great if things worked out that way, but the writing on the wall says that this line is a mess. And it did not help any that center Kai Maiava, who is considered the heart and soul of the offensive line, recently fractured his ankle and will be out for the entire season.
Another major issue is that starting quarterback Kevin Prince has missed the bulk of training camp with a muscle strain in his back. He has barely thrown the ball over the past couple of weeks, and if he is unable to practice soon he may be out for the Sept. 4 opener at Kansas St.
Sophomore quarterback Richard Brehaut has taken the bulk of the snaps in training camp, and he’s not looking too bad. So it may not be as big of a problem as once thought.
After UCLA’s recent scrimmage Neuheisel said that he did not see any terrible decisions out of Brehaut, but he did not seem overly excited about Brehaut either.
UCLA’s optimism is not going to be enough to fool anybody. It’s put up or shut up time, and seeing the mess on that offensive line, it might be time to just shut up.