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UCLA FOOTBALL

For Bruins, a riddle wrapped in an enigma

Their opening opponent, San Diego State, has a new coaching staff that has kept the Aztecs shrouded in secrecy. UCLA coaches are curious about their own team, too.

September 05, 2009

UCLA opens its second football season under Coach Rick Neuheisel against a San Diego State program that was 2-10 a season ago but has a new coaching staff. Neuheisel cringed this week at the suggestion this was a cream-puff game, but the Bruins are nearly 20-point favorites to get their just deserts. Times staff writer Chris Foster looks at the issues and matchups:

The suspicion around San Diego is that the city's naval base is easier to get into than a San Diego State practice.

First-year Coach Brady Hoke arrived from Ball State and immediately played hardball, not allowing boosters around training camp and limiting media access.

Hoke-us pocus

"We're playing a team that we haven't seen, hasn't played, hasn't had an open practice," Neuheisel said. "We don't have any idea exactly what they're going to do."

Whether secrecy is enough to level the playing field and offset the difference in talent is to be seen.

Neuheisel seemed to be softening the ground for a slow start. Asked what was different about his second season as the Bruins' coach, he said, "I have an idea what everybody looks like . . . except for San Diego State, of course."

Aztecs primer

As bad as UCLA's running game was last season, San Diego State's was worse.

UCLA's was ranked 116th out of 119 major-college football teams. San Diego State's was No. 117.

Rocky Long, the Aztecs' first-year defensive coordinator, is expected to blitz a lot out of his 3-3-5 defense. He has his work cut out. San Diego State gave up 35 or more points eight times last year, including a 70-7 loss to New Mexico.

Al Borges, San Diego State's first-year offensive coordinator, is expected to spread the ball around with sophomore Ryan Lindley at quarterback. Lindley had 16 touchdown passes last season with nine interceptions.

Long and Borges both are former UCLA coordinators.

Chow time?

Norm Chow, UCLA's offensive coordinator, is familiar with Long. They crossed paths in their Western Athletic Conference days.

Chow, then Brigham Young's offensive coordinator, has a 6-0 record against Long, who coached at Wyoming and New Mexico. And Chow's offenses have averaged more than 40 points a game against Long's defenses.

That came before Long began using the 3-3-5.

Fresh Prince

UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has not played in a game in two years, and a lot of eyes will be on him. Neuheisel said his advice would be: "Relax and enjoy it. Inevitably, in my mind, he is going to be a good player. Why wait?"

While "relax" and "why wait" seems a contradiction, Prince's job managing the game would be made easier if the Bruins could convert Neuheisel's "run the ball or die trying" philosophy.

If they can't, it wouldn't bode well for the rest of the season. San Diego State gave up 247.5 yards rushing per game last season, ranking next to last in the country.

So, while Prince is expected to get things moving, the onus falls again on an offensive line that appears improved. The sight of tailbacks Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman churning through holes would prompt many people beyond Prince to relax.

Hail to the victors

This series is so lopsided (20-0-1, UCLA) that San Diego State's game notes seemed to be searching for some success against the Bruins.

The stretch reached all the way to Aztecs basketball Coach Steve Fisher, who was trotted out under "SDSU-UCLA Tidbits." The connection? Fisher's team rallied from 19 points down to beat UCLA in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, Fisher's team at the time was Michigan.

By the numbers

*--* 2008 averages UCLA CATEGORY SDSU 17.7 Scoring 19.2 29.0 Points given up 37.2 200.5 Pass offense 239.2 82.8 Rush offense 73.2 283.2 Total offense 312.4 167.7 Pass defense 213.2 169.8 Rush defense 247.5 337.4 Total defense 460.8 *--*

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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