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Neuheisel plays big-game card

November 30, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

Over the last few weeks, UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel tried to inspire his players with the reminder that they still had a chance to become bowl eligible.

Not anymore.

Coming off Friday night's loss to Arizona State -- assuring UCLA of a losing record -- the coach said he would switch to a different motivational tactic for the season finale.

"This is the USC game. This is plenty enough," he said. "When you come to UCLA, bowl games are terrific, but they're icing on the cake. The excitement is this game."

The Bruins figure to be heavy underdogs against the fifth-ranked Trojans, but Neuheisel said he had an answer for that too.

The 1989 UCLA team entered the USC game with a 3-7 record. Quarterback Bret Johnson was inexperienced, just like current quarterback Kevin Craft.

"You know, a lot of similarities," Neuheisel said.

The Bruins would have won that year if kicker Alfredo Velasco's 54-yard field goal attempt had not bounced off the crossbar at the Coliseum. The final score was 10-10.

Option quarterback

On the trip home from Arizona State, Neuheisel told Craft that he admired the quarterback's work ethic. And, upon reviewing film of the loss, Neuheisel blamed some of Craft's struggles on poor offensive line play and route-running mistakes by the receivers.

But, he added, "It's the quarterback's job not to throw it to the other team."

Though Craft's turnovers were the difference against the Sun Devils, there were no plans as of Saturday night to replace him in the starting lineup. Neuheisel knows that might frustrate some fans.

"I can understand that," he said. "It frustrates me that there isn't another option that gives us a better chance to win, but we have to do what's in our best interest."

No worries

Back on the topic of USC, Neuheisel was asked if he worried about his team getting embarrassed on the field next Saturday.

"If you start worrying that way," he said, "you're taking yourself out of the focus of how to play the best football."

The coach says he believes it is better to concentrate on schemes and strategy.

"To worry about embarrassment or the possibility of such, I think is counterproductive," he said.


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