Rick Neuheisel returns to Husky Stadium as the head coach of his alma mater UCLA. Rick thinks he will get BOO'ed upon his return, but I am not so sure he will. In fact he is probably still a lot more popular than current Husky head man Ty Willingham. After three years of "Paint Dry Ty" UW fans are nostalgic for the days when Husky football used to be fun under Neuheisel.
I like Rick, and I think he is a potentially great coach who learned a lot of tough lessons the hard way while at Colorado, and UW. I am pretty sure Neuheisel is going to put it all together during his tenure at UCLA, but it probably won't be in the first year.
Starting off at QB Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan have shared starting duties over the last two years. Pretty much whoever happened to be healthy would play. The duo started the spring in good shape, but that did not last long. With two days left before the end of spring practice, the bad luck set in. Cowan tore the ACL in his left knee and will miss his final season. Literally minutes later Olson broke his foot. Luckily, Olson should be back for the opener, but junior college transfer Kevin Craft needs to be ready.
Wide receivers Brandon Breazell and Joe Cowan are gone and now it is up to Dominique Johnson to develop into the main threat. At 6-3, the sophomore certainly has the potential to be a great player, but having some more experienced options would help him develop. At running back UCLA will be fine if Kahlil Bell can stay healthy. Otherwise a bunch of freshmen will have to play a big part in the offense.
The need is greatest on the offensive line. Micah Reed started eight games at guard last season and will shift to center. Tackles Alexis Landis, who was bothered by knee problems, and Micah Kia, who had troubles with consistency, are the only other linemen returning who started a game last season.
That has resulted in some position shifts. Tight ends Scott Glicksberg and Adam Heater have moved to center and Darius Savage is getting a look at guard. Neuheisel said that the staff worked out an offensive line depth chart after watching workouts this winter.
“That’s the unit of most concern,” Neuheisel said. “We can’t hope to get help somewhere else, so we got to stay healthy and come together as a group. We’re very lucky to have offensive line coach Bob Palcic and offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who I think get that and are good at putting those units together.”
Brian Price returns at defensive tackle and will be joined by Brigham Harwell, who was a starter in 2006 before missing most of last season with an injury. Those two will be the start of what should be another decent front seven. Tom Blake is now a senior and needs to start looking more like the departed Bruce Davis on the end. Highly touted incoming freshmen Damien Holmes and Datone Jones probably will be in the rotation right away out on the ends.
Christian Taylor will be missed, but linebackers Kyle Bosworth and Reggie Carter return. Carter will be moving to the middle linebacker spot and that leaves an opening on the outside for senior John Hale. With all experience up front, the run defense should be alright. But more important than stopping the run will be getting pressure on the quarterback to help out a very inexperienced secondary.
Corners Trey Brown and Rodney Van and safeties Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes are gone. That leaves a whole lot of inexperienced players left on the roster. Alterraun Verner has starting experience at corner and everybody is raving about redshirt freshman Courtney Viney. Brett Lockett, and Aaron Ware take over at safety. Four of the 11 players on the DB depth chart are walk-ons which means this team could be relying on true freshman if injuries arise.
How do you beat UCLA?
You have success throwing against their rebuilding secondary, and you shut down an offense that has some holes. You also have to out scheme Norm Chow, and Rick Neuheisel so it will be a big test for the Husky staff. I think any Rick Neuhesiel team is dangerous because he can really motivate his players to perform above their talent level on game day.
You need to attack the Bruin's weakest point which will be on the offensive line. If you stunt all day, keep them off balance, and put significant pressure on the QB you should come out with a win.
Talking about QB, since this is a late season game UCLA may be out of them by the time they play UW. The same thing can be said for the offensive line, and defensive back. You win with depth later in the season, and this team lacks it in some critical areas.
What Do I think?
Traditionally I always think we can beat UCLA every year then something nasty happens in the fourth quarter.
Make no mistake, this is a real big game for Rick Neuheisel, there is nothing he would rather do than beat the university that gave him the percieved shaft and sent him to college coaching purgatory. Say what you want about Rick, but in the end the old UW administration treated him like a sacrificial lamb when the NCAA came hunting.
Going into this one I have to give UW a decided edge with Locker at QB, and since this game is at home I am going with UW.
We all know that California teams hate to play in Seattle late in the year, plus UCLA historically packs it in after the 6th game of the year. To me that is Rick's biggest challenge, keeping his team together an entire season because the last two coaches couldn't get it done.