- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
THERE IS A SCENE TOWARD THE END OF APOLLO 13 IN WHICH the NASA director expresses doubt about the spacecraft's landing safely. Says the director to an associate, "This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever experienced." At which point the mission's flight director cuts in, "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour."
Fourth-year UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel loves this exchange, because he feels it hits home. Saddled with the pessimism of the media and the Bruins' faithful, and hearing talk of his place on the hot seat, he references this scene often when talking to the team. "That's how you handle adversity," he says. "[You think:] Here is a chance to really pull this off and call it one of the greatest things that's ever happened."
Of course a football team can't get by on motivational quotes alone, and Neuheisel's squad went 4--8 last season with losses to Arizona State (after leading 17--0) and to USC (UCLA's fourth straight to its rival).
Trouble running a new offense and a multitude of injuries on both sides of the ball contributed to the disappointment. "No excuses," says Neuheisel, even after another blow this spring. On March 31, 300-pound junior offensive guard Jeff Baca broke his left ankle when a teammate fell on him during practice. If he isn't healthy by September, an already shallow offensive line talent pool will be shallower still.
Even after spring drills the quarterback situation was still unsettled. Last year's starter, Kevin Prince, connected on only 44.7% of his passes before suffering a right-knee injury. His replacement, junior Richard Brehaut, and freshman Brett Hundley are in contention for playing time, but neither has stood out. At least Johnathan Franklin, who is coming off a 1,000-rushing-yard season, will again lead a solid ground game.
The defense has to endure the departures of All-America safety Rahim Moore and linebacker Akeem Ayers to the NFL, but the unit has embraced new coordinator Joe Tresey (and his fast-paced 4--3 scheme) and brings back safety Tony Dye, who led the team in tackles.
In the heightened competition of the reconfigured Pac-12, finding a flight path to a .500 season won't be easy—finest hours don't come often—but for the veteran Neuheisel, who is putting his faith in new coaches and a more aggressive defense, it shouldn't be rocket science, either.
COACH Rick Neuheisel (4th year) 15--22 (8--19 in Pac-10)