After going to last week's UCLA Spring Game, I can tell the progress made in both camps was noticeable. For USC, it was extremely positive, for UCLA, it was quite the opposite.
The quarterback situation is a huge bonus...I'm sure the Bruins are envious. Sanchez, except for one mis-fire on a flea-flicker, looked terrific. He was accurate, poised and showed great leadership in the huddle. He's also very big and strong. Aaron Corp also made his case as to why he should be the second stringer, and coupled with Mitch Mustains' whiney antics, "I didn't come here to be a back-up", Carroll should have an easy decision to make; Corp as the back-up to Sanchez.
Three concerns last year- the poor WR play, RB situation and the young, incoming O-line- were addressed. Last season, Turner and Hazleton dropped a ton of passes, thus making TE Fred Davis the primary/possession receiver, for good reason. This Spring game proved that they learned their lesson. On one over the middle pass play, Patrick Turner got drilled by S Taylor Mays, but hung unto the ball, even though he ended up shaken up and leaving with an eye injury. All the receivers looked like they were making crisp routes, and taking care of the ball. Both Turner and Patterson stood out, but Hazleton was impressive too. The TEs pick up where Davis left off...solid, stable, and great hands. Both McCoy and Ellison had a good game.
The RB situation has worked out some glitches, with some of them gone. (Congrats Chauncey!) CJ Gable and Stafon Johnson look like the two starters after a slow start.
Surprisingly, the O-line looked pretty good. I didn't notice any missed blocking assignments, and they gave Sanchez protection, although he did have to roll out a few times. The left side is being anchored by Byers moving from Center, and it's a good thing with all these new guys. The good news is that almost all of the linemen have started some games, so it's not a virgin line. They had problems establishing a running game early on, but Sanchez indicated that he thought it was due to playing the best defense in the country, and I tend to agree.
On to the D. WOW. Scary defense. Intense, fast, strong, and I pity Virginia in the season opener. New DE Washington made a huge splash with lots of pressure, and why Chris Galippo isn't starting is a mystery. If you want to know who will wear the #55 next year, it has to be him. He had nine tackles, 6 for a loss, and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown. The secondary stayed close with the receivers, and really laid some hits on the WRs. One concern...they (CBs) look really small, but then again, most CBs are six inches shorter than our WRs. The LB unit will be ranked #1 in the country. Cushing, Maualuga and Maiava (didn't play due to injury) will ALL be Butkus watch-listers.
A concern: as usual, the special teams play didn't look very special. The punt return coverage looked like a sieve with guys not staying in their lanes. The kicker missed a PAT. (Mario is missed) The kicking (Buehler) looked fine, and let's just hope SC doesn't have to punt too much. After watching the Spring Game, I think that's looking like the case. :)
Overall, the biggest concern is the left side of the O-line- Sanchez' blind spot. But it looked better than I thought it would, so other than kick/punt coverage, it's business as usual. The offense looks better this year than last. I have full confidence in Mark Sanchez.
Take the over, and lay 20 points on the Cavaliers.
We now know why Karl Dorrell got fired...he left a shell of a team. Poor planning, not burning his red shirts wisely, and not developing his quarterback reserves spell disaster for this season. The good news is that they have their Dream team of Neuheisel, Chow and Walker. The bad news is that the offense is dismal, thanks to two quarterback injuries that left the Bruins shell-shocked.
Quarterbacks: Cowan is out for the season and Olson is out for minimum two months. Enter Kevin Craft, who had been on campus a total of two days before being put on the starting team. Chris Forcier was on the second team. Both had poor showings, mostly because they were not used to being in this role. They are both inexperienced. They both are tall, but undersized, and should be in the weight room all summer. How bad is the QB situation? UCLA has asked a QB to enroll early at UCLA. That pretty much says it all.
O-Line: Huge concern. No running game established, with Chase Moline averaging just a bit over 2.5 yards on 16 carries. Missed assignments, and no intensity were the biggest problems. Again, not the current staff's fault, it's Dorrell's.
Receivers: Hard to gauge how good they are, mostly because not a lot of passes were accurate. But the Bruins are usually solid in this position, so let's assume it's good to go.
On to the better news, the D.
The secondary looks brilliant, with the biggest playmaker being Alterraun Verner. The CB broke up a sidelines pass, a for-sure TD pass, and had an interception. He was like glue on the receivers. Look for him to make All-American. I like this kid a lot.
The D-line: They put lots of pressure on the QB, but again, are they that good, or is the O-line that bad? The consensus is the latter, but still, there should have been more sacks against that O-line. Overall, they look good, considering the level of competition they had.
Linebackers: Some overcommits on the run, and a lack of intensity, mostly due to youth. This group should be decent, but right now, too early to tell.
Kicking game: Good news! Perez must have titanium in his foot. One punt went 65 yards! No problems with special teams that I could see. A strong point.
Overall, the new coaching staff should get more out of this very young team than one thinks is imaginable. Neuheisel is a winner, and highly motivated. He was impressive to listen to. Chow will have some schemes to address the quarterback issues, and besides, he's a master with quarterbacks, so don't fret yet Bruins. Look for plenty of rollouts, shotguns and screens to counter-attack the impending blitzes on the young O-line. With some creativity, the O could be fine. Right now, it's not, and a huge concern, but hey, it's only Spring. Walker seems to have some more returners on the D than Chow has on the O. Either that, or they have had more starts. In either case, the Bruins can let out a deep sigh. The D should be fine.
The O is worriesome, and with the Vols, BYU and Fresno State in the first 3 of 4 games, the Bruins could be in a deep hole early in the season. Just remember, this isn't Neuheisel's fault. He got dealt a very, very, young team with no experience. Think rebuilding to 2009. Then fasten your seatbelts.
Take the over and don't take the Bruins in any spread.
Sorry for the quick notes and writing style, but I wanted to get this out as quick as possible.