For Thursday's evening post practice meeting with the media, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel was much more back to his old self, using his brand of self-deprecating humor and his upbeat manner that has been missing for most of the week. This could be a good sign. Something might have happened at the halftime of the Stanford game that woke this team up.
This game on Saturday Night could be the precursor of things to come, good or bad. The following is what transpired between Neuheisel and the beat media.
Neuheisel: "I thought another good week of practice. I was pleased with the way people adapted to the scheduling changes. I believe our guys are anxious to play. We're going to talk more about the challenge ahead with Washington State right now, but looking forward to Saturday Night and anxious to play an inspired game and get ourselves a second win in the conference and see if we can't fight our way into this conference race."
Has Sheldon Price's knee showed any marked improvement?
Neuheisel: "Absolutely and we expect him to be available in the Arizona game."
A lot of people put a lot of stock in how many points a team score and they say that's a huge improvement, but the teams that Washington State have beat were not very good. Do you convey to your players you can't look at them as this world beater or is it the opposite?
Neuheisel: "I think it is important to concentrate on your level of play. Concentrate on what we can do. We squandered some scoring opportunities this last weekend. One on a fourth down, first and goal opportunity on the first drive that didn't result in points. One a on fumbled punt that cost us a drive that was going to begin at the 50 yard line. One on downs. We got down on their end of the field and didn't convert on third or fourth down and yet we still scored three touchdowns. So there was an opportunity to score five maybe six.
"To get where we want to go, we have to learn how to do that. Now what keeps you from doing that are the little things that start to bog down offenses and that's what we need to do.
"Now defensively, we have to figure out how to get people stopped. We are a good team when we can get people stopped on third down and we have had lots of opportunities and certainly we credit the opponent for being good enough to move the chains, but we have to find ways to get off the field and if we can get those two things accomplished then we are going to be fine because we certainly have enough explosiveness as an offense to score with these teams that we are going to be playing and we certainly have the ability to control the clock with the teams that we are going to be able to play and now defensively we need to be able handle the ability to get off the field. That's where it comes down to."
How much will you guys draw on last's year's game for this game?
Neuheisel: "It is a great barometer and it is certainly helps me as a head coach to make sure that my team is ready because there was a team that hasn't had much success coming into our game and yet there they were ahead 28-20 late in the game. We are not going to overlook them. That won't be the problem. I hope there is no problem. I hope that we play our tails off and play inspired football as we did last week. I just hope it is cleaner and I hope the result is different."
That was Richard Brehaut's first career start last year?
Neuheisel: "Yeah and I thought he played well. He didn't have a turnover. He was 12-23. Took what the defense gave him and I know certainly he has improved a lot since that time and hopefully he is poised for another big game from him."
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Neuheisel: "He obviously adds quality depth to our secondary. He adds experience to our secondary. It is hard to say experience when he has only been on this team for a brief time, but he has been in this defense and he is also that gregarious kid that has kind of made a bunch of friends so far so it is easy to accept him into the brood and I think he's a very popular guy and he's going to have a huge impact helping our defense."
Is Graham up to speed to play a lot?
Neuheisel: "No question. That was not going to be, mentally at least, be a problem. Physically we will wait and see. I think he's ready to play, what his role calls for, which is somewhere between 20 and 30 plays."
Tony Dye has been limited a lot of the year and Datone Jones hasn't had the year that we thought. Those two might be your best defensive players. How much do you think that has changed the complexion of the defense?
Neuheisel: "Well we are still not to the halfway point of the season. So I am not ready to make summary statements. I just think that both are quality young men. Both have played good football and I think we are excited about them getting a chance to have their best part of the season right now and beyond."
What do you think about the team getting together and talking about leadership?
Neuheisel: "I think they understand that this team has the talent to be good and I think they want to make sure that they are impressing upon it on each other. Not just hearing it from me or the position coaches. I took it as a positive sign. I don't feel any lack of dedication. I don't feel any lack of belief in what we are doing. I think we are on the verge of a breakthrough and I am hopeful that it is Saturday Night."
When you guys were inside the five against Stanford, you said maybe Brehaut should have kept the ball on one of those, how close is he to really grasping what he should give and when he should keep it?
Neuheisel: "I think he gets better all the time. As anybody would. It's not an offense that he grew up in, but he's handled it well. He has kept the turnover margin down and I think we are going to see him get better and better."
Given Kip Smith's status now are you solidified on what you are going to do on Saturday regarding the kicking game?
Neuheisel: "We are going to let Tyler Gonzalez have a shot, at least in the short stuff and we will see how it plays itself out, but it is a heck of a story, now. From soccer manager to starting kicker. I mean shoot..."
He doesn't have to wash uniforms here, does he?
Neuheisel: "No, no we have actually taken that load off of him (laughs)..."
No pun intended...Do you have an idea what Tyler's range is?
Neuheisel: "He can make it from 50, but I don't know if we would ask him to go back that far."
How can you calm him down?
Neuheisel: "I think it will be more me being calmed down than him. I think it is a great story. I think he's going to go in there and do fabulous."
After making that decision can you see sending him out there for a game winner? If it comes down to that?
Neuheisel: "If it comes down to it, go make the kick. Every great movie needs a great ending. Let's create it."
You wouldn't use Jeff Locke in a longer yardage situation?
Neuheisel: "Longer yardage situation, yes. Jeff has proven that he can do that and I still don't lack confidence in Jeff. I'm just taking it off of him. I just want him to go back to being the best punter in country."
Do you have an idea where the demarcation line is for long field goals?
Neuheisel: "In my mind, I think 40, but we will see how things go."
Chris Ward, is that a multiple week thing at this point?
Neuheisel: "Well, my guess is he is getting better. The reports are that he is getting better and given that we don't play next week, I am expecting that Chris, like Sheldon, to be available for Arizona."
Guys like that, if we don't necessarily need them against Washington State going into a bye week, can you not play that game right now?
Neuheisel: "That's not the game. If he were available, he would be going, but we have to trust the more learned people in such matters, but my guess is that the 12 days between this game and the next that he will be ready."