PASADENA, Calif. – UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel is many things, but dumb is not one of them. He knew his Bruins, 7-6 a year ago, couldn’t compete for the Pac-10 title if they continued to run the ball so poorly.
“We weren’t good enough. We had to look ourselves in the mirror and we had to fix something,” he said, pointing out the Bruins had rushed for just 114.6 yards per game last season.
But he was worried. UCLA’s well-respected offensive coordinator, veteran Norm Chow, had developed his reputation at throw-first BYU and was known for a tough-to-defend passing scheme.
He shouldn’t have been worried.
“I’m very appreciative that the coaches, even though they are long in the tooth, decided that was exactly what we needed to do as well,” said Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback. “Now it was where were we going to go to seek the answers?”
The answer was Reno, where the Bruins’ offensive staff learned the pistol offense over the summer at its origin, the University of Nevada.
“I wasn’t that concerned about taking the leap, because I had done it before (when he first got to UW in 1999) and had great success with it,” Neuheisel said. “I also told the guys who hadn’t been through it before, it’s fun to learn a new offense and a new scheme.”
The offense – with the quarterback in a short shotgun formation and the running back directly behind him – is, in Neuheisel’s words, just the veer from the gun.
In other words, an option, run-first strategy.
With it the running game took off, though it took until the third week of the season to really fire. The Bruins are third in the Pac-10 rushing stats, averaging 218.8 yards per game on the ground, much of that the past two weeks, both upset wins over ranked teams.
That’s bad news for Washington State, which faces the Bruins this afternoon in the Rose Bowl, bringing the conference’s ninth-ranked rush defense (yielding 209.8 yards a game) with it.
Can the Cougars stop the Bruins’ attack?
“(The pistol) stresses discipline the most, just like an option outfit,” said WSU linebackers coach Travis Niekamp, whose group struggled last week in a 50-16 loss to USC. “You have to make sure you have your eyes in the right place. There’s a lot of motions, whether it be a fly motion, the tight end falling back across the formation, those type of things.
“If you don’t have your eyes where they need to be, you’re going to be in trouble.”
There was a glimmer of good news for the Cougars (1-3 overall, 0-1 Pac-10, with 10 consecutive conference losses). UCLA (2-2, 0-1) starting quarterback Kevin Prince, who has come into his own the past two weeks, banged his knee last week at Texas, had it drained and, after not practicing, is a game-time decision.
If he can’t go, Richard Brehaut, a sophomore, should make his first start.