LOS ANGELES (AP) – After nearly 3 1/2 seasons of building and recruiting, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel insists the ingredients for a winning football team are in his locker room.
Neuheisel also realizes the Bruins had better prove it in the next seven games.
Neuheisel maintained confidence in his Bruins (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) Monday heading into an important visit from Washington State. UCLA was routed by No. 7 Stanford last week, but could still get to its bye week at .500 with a win over the improved Cougars (3-1, 1-0).
“We want for nothing,” Neuheisel said Monday. “We don’t need anything else from outside. We just need everybody to get a little bit incrementally better each week, and we’re going to turn the corner and become the team everybody wants us to be.”
Although the Bruins’ injury report is dotted with defensive backs, Neuheisel thinks he has enough healthy players to compete with the Pac-12′s passing games. He also believes the Bruins are loaded with talented offensive skill players, an assertion that’s backed up by his players’ recruiting profiles, if not their production at UCLA.
Neuheisel is keeping the faith in a team that has been outscored by 41 points this season while yielding 2,091 yards — just over 418 per game, or third-most in the Pac-12. The coach believes the difference between his Bruins and the three teams that have beaten them isn’t in its ability, but in its execution.
He also sees improvement in that execution despite numerous lapses against the Cardinal, who led 24-7 less than a minute after halftime last weekend.
“I think we’re on the verge of it,” Neuheisel said. “If you’d been in our locker room at halftime, you would have felt a lot of energy. These kids are into it. They’re dying to be the team we want us to be. I don’t see any reason for us to go backwards.”
The engine driving UCLA forward is its running game, which ranks second in the Pac-12 with 199.4 yards per game. The Bruins also lead the conference with 196 rushing attempts, which means Neuheisel is emphasizing the ground game with tailbacks Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman.
Yet UCLA’s inability to throw the ball for big gains has hamstrung the offense. The Bruins rank last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 198.2 yards per game, more than 22 yards fewer than 11th-place Utah.
Richard Brehaut has settled into a decent rhythm as UCLA’s starter, throwing six touchdown passes without an interception while playing in all five games. Yet the Bruins’ inability to create big plays has hindered the passing game’s development: Tight end Joseph Fauria’s 110-yard performance against Houston in last month’s season opener is the only 100-yard receiving performance by a UCLA player this season.
Neuheisel remains confident in his quarterback, tailbacks and receivers, and he also insists his offense creates opportunities for those players to improve their pedestrian numbers. He believes that potential can be realized when the Bruins figure out how to improve their 39-percent conversion rate on third down.
“I think we have a number of talented guys in the skill positions,” Neuheisel said. “We’re still a little depleted depth-wise in our front, especially offensively, and injuries and issues over the last few years have caused that, but I believe we’re on course to be a very, very good football team.”
A loss to Washington State would be an enormous setback for Neuheisel’s bowl quest, but the Cougars aren’t the pushovers of the previous three seasons. Washington State rallied past Colorado last weekend to go to 3-1, preventing the Bruins from discounting the Cougars, who have won in three of their last five trips to Pasadena.
“They’re going to be hungry and anxious to have a rematch,” Neuheisel said. “We’re still sitting right in the middle of our side of the conference, and look forward to hopefully getting a big home victory.”