I had the pleasure of exchanging emails for a day with Greg Burcham of the fantastic UCLA blog Bruins Nation, talking football, Rose Bowl, tailgating, and more. We spent some time previewing each of our teams and what to expect on Saturday. And we both agreed that our two schools are wonderfully alike. It's been a really fun series, except for the part where they win every time. Hopefully this is the year we pick up a win...
So, it's time for Round 4 of this series, and Texas fans would just as soon forget the first three. Route 66 was one of the worst losses in Texas football history, and last year's thumping wasn't much better. Both were in Austin. Awesome.
This year we visit y'all in the Rose Bowl, where last week 42,685 fans saw the Bruins beat.... Wait, what? 42,685? What's going on in Westwood? Have fans given up on Neuheisel?
Greg, Bruins Nation: Given up? Mostly no, but there's plenty of grumbling for sure. Neu has recruited tons of talent, and so expectations have been high, but the results have been more than disappointing and a lot of fans are looking over the edge. The low attendance last week was also in part because students weren't on campus yet (classes start next Mon) and we had a low profile opponent. You guys will cure that second part in a big way. Just how many fans are you guys bringing to Pasadena?
I'll be there and I know a lot of other Texas fans who will be, as well. For a lot of us, Texas playing in the Rose Bowl is a can't miss event. I do want to talk tailgating, but let's put that off and focus on the football first.
I don't doubt that UCLA (and its fans) will get up for this game. In fact, Texas seemed to be the *only* game the Bruins really got up for last year; the 34 points was a season high and though the Longhorns were down last year, to whip our defense like that in Austin was stunning. Is it safe to assume UCLA will try to ram the ball down Texas' throats again? Franklin and Coleman are a pretty dynamic pair of backs. What kind of rushing attack is UCLA deploying this year? How do you see the Bruins using each back against Texas?
Greg, Bruins Nation: The rushing attack is pretty similar, mostly coming from the Pistol formation, though the QB role is a bit up in the air. Coleman is our bruiser who finally proved too much for the smaller SJSU D last week, but we won't have that same advantage on Saturday. Franklin is still our star. He gained almost 1200 yds in last year's anemic offense, but still has some trouble holding on to the rock. If your D is still having trouble with outside contain (I'll link to your BON article), he can really take advantage of that. The question will be at QB. Kevin Prince ran for 50 yds in Austin last year, but was injured - again- in our opener and Rich Brehaut, a better passer but less threatening runner, has been at the helm since. Whoever gets the start on Saturday will determine how heavy the offense depends on the run.
We have a new OC this year in Coach Mike Johnson and a Pistol specialist in Coach Jim Mastro, who are trying to fine tune the system and add some wrinkles to the Pistol. How is your new OC working out? What is different in the Texas offense from what we saw last season?
Our offense is quite literally a work-in-progress, as the Garrett Gilbert era unceremoniously came to an end last weekend with his dismal showing against BYU. Enter sophomore Case McCoy and true freshman David Ash, Texas's two new quarterbacks, who new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin is using in combination. Ash is a terrific athlete with all the skills, but Texas has thus far used him in a more specialized manner. McCoy is a gamer with the same playmaking knack as his older brother, but he's limited in terms of his skills and build. Harsin did a terrific job using the two of them in ways to get the most out of each last week, and I'm excited to see what Ash can do as we open up more of the playbook to him.
To answer your specific question, Harsin has been fantastic and though we're still pretty rough around the edges in terms of executing what he wants us to do, it's a delight to watch him systematically probe and attack a defense over the course of a game. Last year, of course, Texas' offensive coordinator's game plan was to try and "wear out UCLA by going sideline-to-sideline." /quadruple facepalm
Texas will base its offensive attack around the running game, both with power sets featuring freshman wunderkind Malcolm Brown and quick stuff to the edge with burners like DJ Monroe. Harsin uses a ton of motion to try and set up advantages, and he calls plays that build off of one another. It's both fun and impressive to watch.
I want to follow up on the Bruins offense again, though, and ask about those quarterbacks. What's Prince's injury status? Is he likely to play? And give us the scouting report on Rich Brehaut. His early numbers look solid, and he's taking care of the ball. What are his strengths? How is he susceptible to struggle?
Greg, Bruins Nation: Yeah, we were pretty fortunate that Texas didn't try to attack down the field last year, Our defense was fast side to side, but had trouble with pursuit angles and tackling and giving soft cushions in coverage. Unfortunately, those problems still exist. Oh, don't tell Coach Harsin that, ok?
Prince suffered a mild concussion and separated shoulder in week 1, but was supposedly available last week though Brehaut went the whole way. Neuheisel didn't name the starter until game day, and he is playing the same card again so far this week. There may be some value to that, as Prince is definitely a bigger running threat and defenses would have to prepare differently for the two. Brehaut isn't as fast or aggressive carrying the ball, but has a better arm in terms of accuracy and zip, and opens up the passing game over Prince. The coaches seem to have concerns with his decision making. Since Brehaut is less likley to tuck and run, he forces some balls in to bad spots at times.
On the good side, the receiving corps has been much improved for him, and our OC this year remembered we have a tight end, so Brehaut has more targets. He can be solid, but he isn't the kind to dominate with a passing attack at this point.
It's another example of the team having a lot of weapons but not much pop. Bruin fans are pretty frustrated with a pretty vanilla offense so far. The Horns saw Neuheisel when he has with CU, and with UDub in the Holiday Bowl. Do you remember him to be so conservative back then? How does your defense match up with this?
With his mostly NFL background, I thought Mike Johnson was a bit of a curious hire for Neuheisel, who has done a good job amassing talent in Westwood but has struggled to do much with it. Then again, y'all have had some wretched luck with injuries over the last three years, and at this point in his tenure Neuheisel might think it too difficult to pivot too far in a different direction.
As you know, Texas has a new defensive coordinator in Manny Diaz, and it's difficult to overstate how much I love his strategic approach to playing defense. First, Diaz wants his defense to dictate, rather than react, to the offense. And second, Diaz designs his defense both to protect against big plays down the middle of the field while forcing defenses to grind out long, sustained drives in order to score touchdowns.
What does that mean for Saturday's match up with UCLA? Well, the two things you most want your offense to have when facing a Manny Diaz defense are: (1) a passing game that can work Texas on the outside (e.g. Jones-to-Broyles or Weeden-to-Blackmon), and (2) a running game that can line up and power it. Especially after last year, Texas fans know that UCLA can and will pound it on the ground, and though I'm hopeful that we won't see Texas' defense get pushed around this year, if either of the QBs enables a balanced Bruins attack, I worry about Coleman and Franklin steadily gashing us on the ground.
Speaking of defense, we haven't said a word yet about UCLA on that side of the ball. Given the quarterback situation, Texas likely won't possess much of a downfield passing threat, but Harsin and Applewhite will call on their offense to do pretty much everything else. Where is the Bruins defense most vulnerable?
Greg, Bruins Nation: Well, so far this year, the Bruins defense has been most vulnerable between the sidelines and between the end zones.
We have a new DC as well, this year in Jim Tresey. The Bruin faithful were really hopeful for a change from the vanilla, never blitz, soft cushion, poor fundamentals, can't tackle, bend bend bend until they score defense under our previous DC. Well, this year we blitz more.
The defense has been our biggest disappointment so far this year. The issues with poor angles and sloppy tackling still exist. The pass rush has not been very effective. Our LB's are a bit undersized and aren't too fast. The secondary has talent but hasn't been utilized well. For instance, against Houston, our DB's started the game playing 7-10 yards off the receivers, so Keenum threw 5-7 yard passes. He also threw some 5-7 yard slants and drags across the middle because our linebackers weren't fast enough for their backs and slots. The quick passing attack negated our pash rush because the ball was already gone. And it went that way all night long because the D never made any adjustments. We never took away the cushion on the outside and pressed their receivers. Never went dime to account for the short/intermediate middle. Never went with a zone blitz when the D line couldn't get to the QB in time. It was maddening. We do have a lot of talent at DE and in the secondary, but there are also real concerns that some younger players with more talent are sitting behind some veterans. To me, it's on the coaches not putting the best kids in the best place to make the best plays. If the Texas offense is wise, they should find a small set of plays that work, and run them over and over until the UCLA defense proves it will stop them. Even the SJSU offense, using its second string QB, had some success with this approach. We haven't given up any big plays, but we can get stabbed to death with a stickpin, because we don't seem to adjust. If Harsin doesn't overthink things and can be patien and resist the urge to open the playbook, which might actually fit well with the young QB's, your offense can be very steadily effective.
Seems we both saw some major coordinator shake ups from last season. I think that really throws last year's game out the window in terms of predicting this year's. Of course, when you guys come to the Pac-12, we'll get to see you all the time, and we'll both know exactly what to expect, right?
If we lose to y'all yet again on Saturday and Texas makes its way to the Pac-12, UCLA will be, wait for it... Kansas State! A high honor, I know, but the fact is we can't beat them either. They come to Austin, they light the tower purple. It's depressing, as will be another loss to UCLA, rebuilding year be damned.
But enough of that; let's finish this on a high note. I get to take another trip to the Rose Bowl! Now, I'm throwing a big tailgate and I'm excited, but from what I hear there are some new restrictions on tailgating this year. What's the deal?
Greg, Bruins Nation: Kansas St beat us last year, too. Well, unlike K St grads, at least neither of us are burdened with reverie for Manhattan.
Tailgaiting at the Rose Bowl will always be a highlight from my college days. There's nothing like a warm sunny afternoon with a good barbecue and some beverages before the game. The Rose Bowl sits in an arroyo at the base of the San Gabriel mountains and provides a beautiful scene. The weather and the So Cal ladies also help to provide some incredible scenery. And there aren't any fire ants in the grass, so lie back and enjoy. There is parking on a golf course on the north side of the Rose Bowl, and large lots and fields on the south side, and parking info and directions can be found here.
There are some new restrictions this year, though. Following Newton's less heralded 4th Law, "For every action there must be a gross overreaction by the authorities", a parking lot brawl at last year's UCLA-*$c game (not triggered by students or alums) resulted in some serious changes to the tailgate rules for everyone this year. Some of the new rules include: No drinking games such as beer pong; tents must be less than 10' x 10'; tailgating can only be in front of or behind your car, no glass containers; no drinking in the parking lots after kickoff, and other annoyances. Our frontpager Tydides did a good summary here. You can see in the comments that the new rules were enforced somewhat randomly and inconsistently, though it seemed that most people behaving themselves didn't have a problem. With a 12:30 kickoff, there won't be as much time for the pregame as we'd like, but TV counts for more than the fans' enjoyment. And speaking of TV, the Rose Bowl is in the middle of some renovations and has a new jumbo TV in the north end. However, some of the auxiliary scoreboards haven't been installed yet, so finding the game info inside the stadium can be a hassle, depending on your seats.
I sincerely hope none of these issues puts a crimp into your tailgate and game experience, although I fully expect a good Longhorn to show up equipped with a grill that a 20' x 20' tent couldn't cover. Hopefully that will simply intimidate security and they'll leave you alone. But in all seriousness, all the Bruins who traveled to Texas last year had nothing but great things to say about the fans in Austin, and I sincerely hope that the Bruins in Pasadena return the favor and more. As much as we live for college football, it's just as important that visiting fans return home from the Rose Bowl and tell everyone that southern hospitality is alive and well in Los Angeles. Wish I could be there to help play host.
After the game, there are a lot of nice bars/restaurants nearby in Old Town Pasadena. The gorgeous U.C.L.A. campus is in Westwood (about 20 miles and a less than 4 hour drive west) and also has some cool student bars if you find yourself heading toward the beach. And you can never go wrong taking in Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, or Hermosa Beach to the west, or Huntington or Newport Beach to the south. Or Malibu or Santa Barbara a bit north. Or Laguna or San Diego way south. Well, you get the picture.
That probably just about covers it. We always talk on BN about the other big public research universities with great athletic traditions like Michigan, Cal, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and of course, Texas. I think our schools have a lot in common, and you'll find the majority of Bruins are rooting for the Longhorns when we aren't going head to head. I hope your trip to Pasadena is perfect, with the final score being the lone exception. Good luck this weekend and in the rest of the season.
Fantastic, Greg. Almost every Texas fan I know feels the same way about UCLA. And really, y'all seem like a sleeping giant similar to where we were before Mack Brown got us going again. If only y'all could always play as well as you do against us.
Hopefully this is the year we register a win in the series, but either way it's going to be a blast to take in this game at the Rose Bowl. Good luck, especially after Saturday.