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BILL PLASCHKE

Kevin Prince is UCLA's best quarterback option

Redshirt freshman's play against Washington before being sidelined because of a helmet-to-helmet hit leaves no doubt about who the Bruins' starter should be.

November 08, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

Did you see what I saw? Did you see what Rick Neuheisel should be seeing?

The UCLA football team has its quarterback. No ifs, ands or subs. No sharing. No waffling. No lie.

The UCLA football team has its quarterback, and his name is Kevin Prince, and while he was knocked silly Saturday, there should be no more wobble in the Bruins' decision.

Kevin Prince is the guy, or did you not watch him in UCLA's 24-23 victory over Washington?

"Slingin' rocks," he said with a grin.

Like David once slung rocks, yeah, throwing darts on the run, in the grasp, falling backward, through traffic, on a dead run, out of every tight spot.

He tossed a touchdown pass on fourth down, completed five passes on five third-down plays, failed to complete only four of his first 17 passes and threw for 212 yards, the freshman acting like a veteran and a leader and. . . .

Well, OK, he also tried to act like a running back, and that didn't work out so well, linebacker Donald Butler cheaply nailing him helmet to helmet, knocking him out of consciousness and the game before halftime.

Yeah, he had all those stats in less than two quarters.

"I don't really remember what happened," Prince said of the hit.

But the Bruins' fans who rocked the Rose Bowl will remember what happened before that. And though one can't blame Neuheisel for trying to juggle young egos, the coach needs to also remember and react.

Give the football to the kid, give the kid to Norm Chow, and leave them both alone.

"The young man is starting to get it a little bit, isn't he?" Chow, the Bruins' offensive coordinator, said with a chuckle.

Across the happy clamor of the locker room, the young man sighed.

"I feel like Coach Chow and I are in the flow of things," Prince said.

It has taken a broken jaw and broken plays and threats of broken playing time. It has taken a decision by Neuheisel and Chow to finally open the playbook and let the kid fling more of those stones. But, yeah, the flow is there, and should not be stopped.

Counting the last quarter of the Bruins' last game, at Oregon State, in three quarters Prince has completed 21 of 30 passes for 410 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

No other freshman quarterback in this town has had a streak so impressive. If Prince has indeed recovered from the concussion Saturday like he is already claiming -- "I'm fine, I'll be ready to go next week" -- then the best part of UCLA's season could just be starting.

"Today Kevin changed the play at the line several times and made it work like a veteran," receiver Terrence Austin said. "He is seeing things he hasn't seen before."

Austin made a catch we haven't seen before, a juggling, falling touchdown grab of a Kevin Craft pass after Prince left the game, one of several big plays by the Bruins in pulling out their first win since school started in the fall.

Craft, the target of Neuheisel's wrath last season, continues to impress in his resiliency by completing 10 of 14 passes to help UCLA overcome five turnovers.

Nelson Rosario, the lanky sophomore receiver, showed flashes of his potential with 111 yards worth of catches.

And, yes, the defense did what USC's defense could not do, stopping Jake Locker on a potential game-winning drive, Rahim Moore picking off a pass deep in Bruins territory in the game's final minute.

By then, Prince had returned to the field to watch and cheer from underneath a white baseball cap.

"It was great to see everyone finally dancing around," he said.

It was interesting not only to see, but to hear. After the game, after his usual speech to the Bruins fans, for the first time Neuheisel actually led Bruins fans in singing the school fight song.

After hearing 100,000 fans in Tennessee singing "Rocky Top" earlier this year, he proposed doing it here, and finally he got his chance.

The coach knew the words. He was not so comfortable with the high notes.

"Hey, after spending all afternoon yelling, my voice is shot," Neuheisel complained.

While this might seem like an impossible task for the former quarterback, Neuheisel needs to continue to soften his tone with Prince.

Yes, the coach wants to keep freshman Richard Brehaut involved so the quarterback will still be around next year. But Brehaut, who has lost fumbles on his last two pass plays, needs to understand that the redshirt Prince has already been in the system for a season. And, seriously, even in this era of get-it-now, sometimes in life you just have to wait your turn.

This is one of those times. The job should belong to Prince, and there should be no quibbling about it.

"You can just feel it, this guy is emerging," Neuheisel said about his starter. "You've got to get through that fire, and he is getting through it."

There will always, of course, be fire. Early in the second quarter, Prince never saw defensive back Desmond Trufant on a pass over the middle for an interception that led to a Washington field goal.

"He got me that time," Prince said.

Later, he also apparently never realized that diving for extra yards during a scramble can make everything go black, not to mention bad.

Said Prince: "Yeah, I probably should have slid."

Said Chow: "He definitely should have slid."

And it's not that he can't slide. After the game, standing in front of his locker, he was sliding his feet and moving his body in rhythm to a teammates' rap song.

"This is really fun," Prince said.

Keep giving him the ball, and it will be.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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