What a difference two weeks makes for the UCLA Bruins football team. After two weeks, UCLA was 0-2 and looking punchless. Two weeks later, the Bruins are back at .500 with a pair of wins over top-25 teams under their belt. Their win against Houston at the Rose Bowl was impressive, but it was this past Sunday’s win at Austin against the Texas Longhorns that really made people notice. Many believe it is the signature win of the still-young Rick Neuheisel era.
Neuheisel joined ESPN Radio Los Angeles to talk about his team’s ‘pistol’ offense that amassed over 200 yards of rushing against the Longhorns, the team’s continued struggles in the passing game out of the formation, what the ‘pistol’ offense is exactly, how it’s similar yet different to what the Oregon Ducks run in Eugene, and his deaf running back Derrick Coleman, who nearly racked up 100 yards on the ground this past Saturday.
On UCLA’s ‘pistol’ offense that racked up plenty of rushing yardage in the win, but left plenty to be desire in the passing department:
“You know what? Let me say this to you – we’re not sure. We’re neophytes. We knew we needed to generate more running yards, we had to be able to control the line of scrimmage, and there are some other weapons that don’t necessarily show up on the scoreboard. One is time of possession, one is field position. And when you can run the football, and when you can generate first downs….and the other one is wearing teams down. Because you’re out there and you’re taking on blocks, and you’re taking on blocks, and you’re taking on blocks, and the time of possession is starting to mount, it’s hard to sit in there and want to go toe to toe. So you have to keep preaching the physicality of the game. We’ve had success running the football through the first portion of the season, every time out. We’ve unfortunately not been great in the turnover margin. But with respect to pounding it we’ve done well. We all agree we’ve got to be better throwing it, but as that game wore on, and we were able to control the ball, control the clock, control the field possession, it wasn’t necessary to do it. Now, we want to make sure all these other great, talented kids on our team get a chance to touch the ball. We’ll keep working towards that, but for a first third of the season, it’s been okay. We’ve just got to figure out the yin and the yang of when to mix the throws into it.”
On what the ‘pistol’ offense is in a nutshell to those who may not be aware of the term:
“Well it’s basically as is the case with any option football, it’s adding one more to the numbers of the offense. You’ll hear often times on television, the talking heads, people talk they’re going to plus-one ya, they’re going to add a safety to the box, things of that nature. Basically all that is is the defense adding one more guy than the offense has to block. But when the quarterback becomes the runner, or has the ability to run the football, then you’ve now equaled the numbers. And the more you work on the slight of hand, and the ball faking, and so forth, the more you create a little hesitation for the defense. And when the defense has to be more still than just aggressive hitting the gap knowing that they have one extra, then you can add some thrust to the deal. So if you preach the physicality, and you get at the ball handling and that kind of stuff, when they add to the box, then there comes some great opportunities on the outside to throw it. And it’s just finding that balance before you can become really proficient at it.”
On if there’s a lot of similarities between his offense and the one deployed by Oregon:
“Yeah there is. From a conceptual standpoint it’s certainly very similar because their quarterback is certainly a weapon. So your numbers, you’ve got equal numbers there. They are a more lateral team. Their back for the most part, not always, but most of the time is off-set and is running lateral, sideways on the field. So they get a lateral stretch and their quarterback becomes a vertical weapon. When Masoli was there, he was a huge weapon running up inside. And their read, meaning the defender that they leave unblocked that their quarterback reads as to whether it’s a keep or read decision – they probably change that up more than we do, they read interior defensive tackles and things of that nature. But they’re further along. Mike Bellotti, when he decided to change offenses, he went and hired a guy that had been doing that his whole life in Chip Kelly and it’s obviously paid off as Coach Kelly’s been very, very successful.”
On Derrick Coleman, his mostly deaf running back that had a big game against Texas:
“You just have to remember, most of the time when you’re coaching a running back, you’re behind them. They’re hitting the hole and then you’re trying to tell them what he’s doing, you’re yelling at him as he’s going up through there. You have to wait for him to turn around because he’s an expert lip reader. But you have to be sure that he can see your mouth. And the other thing you have to do is the quarterback has to be aware that Derek’s in the game because if we’re changing plays and he’s standing behind you, you’ve got to turn around and make sure he sees what we’re doing. But we also tell Derek, don’t be bashful now, go pat him on the head and tell him you need to know what the heck we’re changing to. He’s a remarkable young man, he got hurt the other day, and had a little concussion and neck sprain. But this is important to him; he wanted to be back and came back against one of the top-1o teams in the country and runs for just under 100 yards, and made three big tackles on special teams. So I think he’s got a future. I think he can play after his collegiate days.”
On how this win changes the trajectory of the remainder of this season:
“Well, it has everybody buzzing. But we have to make sure that buzz doesn’t become something that’s false bravado and false confidence. We are the same team, same guys that were being maligned after losing to Stanford in a horrendous game. And we’ve got to figure out how to make sure we keep the standard that we’ve set the last two weeks in terms of the intensity with which we play. And I’ll be disappointed if we don’t come out and play with everything we’ve got this weekend, even though the buzz might not be the same because it’s not Texas. Washington State will be using us as an example of their ability to turn their fortunes and it starts with belief. So I’m very excited about getting out to the practice field tomorrow and making sure our guys know that if you want to keep tasting this stuff, here’s the cost. And hopefully we’ve got a hungry team.”