PULLMAN – After two games this season, the Bruins of UCLA were in ruins.
A disappointing loss at Kansas State was followed by a home blowout by Stanford. They were 0-2 and coach Rick Neuheisel was being roasted everywhere from letters to the editor to talk radio to fan sites.
Two weeks later, he’s the toast of Los Angeles. And all it took were two upsets of ranked Texas schools – the Houston Cougars and the state’s flagship, the Texas Longhorns. That, and the pop of a new offense.
“Most great ideas are born out of necessity,” coach Rick Neuheisel said Tuesday of UCLA’s new-this-year pistol offense. “We needed to run the football better and looking at the personnel we had in my first two years at UCLA, it just wasn’t working.”
So the UCLA coaching staff spent offseason time in Reno, Nev., not to get married or to gamble but to learn the offense invented by Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault.
After misfiring with the new scheme in games one and two, the Bruins put holes in both Houston and Texas’ defenses, running the ball 107 times in the two games for 530 yards.
“We poured ourselves into it,” Neuheisel said. “You can’t make something work if you’re not wholly committed to it. It was a little bit of a leap of faith, but we choose to do it and we’re starting to reap the benefit from it.”
Neuheisel admits the Bruins have only scratched the surface of an offense he calls, at its most basic, the veer from the shotgun.
But no matter the scheme, it looked as if the Bruins would struggle on offense this season just because their offensive line was in such disarray. Three starters from last year were lost before the first snap of the season for a variety of reasons – Latter-day Saints mission, academic ineligibility and a broken ankle, respectively – leaving UCLA thin up front.
But line coach Bob Palcic put together a senior-dominated group, made up of guys who hadn’t seen all that much action in their previous years in Westwood. He gave them a catchy nickname – “The Filthy Five” – and threw them out there. They jelled.
“The odds would have been long,” Neuheisel said of the group even playing together, let alone being successful. “If you had looked five years ago at the guys, if you would have looked a year ago at the guys, the odds would have been long.”
The Bruins also have one of the better young running backs in the conference – Johnathon Franklin is third in rushing, averaging 102.2 yards per game – and an aggressive defense anchored by an All-America candidate linebacker – 6-foot-4, 255-pound Akeem Ayers.
But after two big wins, isn’t it possible the Bruins will look past 1-3 Washington State?
“We would be considered the dumbest people in America if we overlook anybody,” Neuheisel said. “Two weeks ago we were the bottom of the heap, so we can’t think just because we had a little success we can forget how we achieved it.”
Around the conference
The Oregon State Beavers have started slowly the past few years but by the middle of the season were playing as well as anyone. They’ve completed the first part of that formula already this season – they are 1-2 after nonconference play – but even coach Mike Riley isn’t sure this team can complete the second part. “The only thing I try to stress with them, is you know from experience and your knowledge of the past that it can be done,” Riley said. “But it is certainly not given to you by right of passage.” Working to improve is the only way to guarantee success, he said. … USC coach Lane Kiffin and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian are best of friends, having spent much of their formative coaching years working together in Los Angeles. But this week, when their two teams meet in the Coliseum? “My relationship with him, which is a great relationship, really has nothing to do with this game,” Kiffin said. But something is going on. Kiffin said Tuesday he’s texted Sarkisian a couple of times and Sarkisian hasn’t responded. “I don’t know what trick he’s up to,” Kiffin said. Sarkisian’s take on ignoring Kiffin’s texts? “That’s not true.” He does agree with Kiffin, however, about the game itself. “The game isn’t about Lane Kiffin or myself,” he said. “It’s about our players and their ability to go out an play in a big time Pac-10 matchup.” … Arizona State had a shot to upset Oregon last Saturday night but instead gave the game to the Ducks 42-31, with seven turnovers. “When you turn over the ball seven times, you have no chance to win,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. … With the great weekend the Pac-10 had against outside competition – with Stanford winning at Notre Dame and UCLA upsetting Texas in Austin – Arizona coach Mike Stoops believes the reputation of the Pac-10 is on the rise nationally. “The quality of teams, the depth in the conference, has never been greater than it is right now,” Stoops said. … Arizona and California have byes this week.