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Can Bruins stand their ground in first game of Coach Rick Neuheisel's crucial third year?

The Bruins' rebuilt defense will face a rugged, experienced and disciplined Kansas State running attack on Saturday, one of several key matchups in the season opener at Manhattan, Kan.

September 03, 2010|By Chris Foster

Will the third year be the charm for UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, allowing the Bruins to play a January game at the Rose Bowl? That will be settled down the line. Staff writer Chris Foster looks at the issues facing UCLA as it visits Manhattan, Kan., Saturday for its opener against Kansas State:

Run, or be run over

Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder treats football practice like it's a national secret, but there is nothing hush-hush about his strategy on offense: The Wildcats are going to run the ball.

Snyder's football philosophy makes Kansas politics seem liberal. But it makes sense for a team that returns running back Daniel Thomas, a 1,265-yard rusher, and four starters along the offensive line.

UCLA limited Thomas to 54 yards rushing last season, but strong-side linebacker Akeem Ayers is the only starter who returns along the Bruins' front seven.

Tackling an issue

If this were flag football, the Bruins would certainly be ready. But tackle? UCLA hasn't gone "live" in practice since its scrimmage Aug. 21, when starting center Kai Maiava sustained a broken ankle.

The physical approach Kansas State is expected to use on offense will test the Bruins' ability to hit and tackle.

"We didn't miss a lot of tackles during the scrimmage. I feel good about that," Neuheisel said. "I still think there's enough experience on the defensive side that we'll wrap and get guys down."

Who's in charge?

As secretive as Snyder can be, at least everyone knows that Carson Coffman will be Kansas State's starting quarterback.

Neuheisel is still being coy.

Told that Snyder had 'fessed up, UCLA's coach smiled and said, "Good for him."

Kevin Prince, the Bruins' No. 1 quarterback, practiced all week but missed much of the previous three weeks because of a small tear in a back muscle. Richard Brehaut, a sophomore with limited experience, is Plan B for the Bruins.

Line dancing

UCLA was going to "run the ball or die trying," Neuheisel said last season.

Now the Bruins find out if there is life after death.

A new "pistol" offense has been brought in to improve the ground game.

Prince not only has a torn muscle in his back, but a bull's eye on it given that even Manhattan, Kan. has Internet access and the Wildcats know where he might be tender.

But Prince is just one among several playmakers for UCLA, including Jonathan Franklin at running back and Josh Smith and Nelson Rosario at wide receiver.

Still, the production of everyone hinges on the offensive line, which has only one player who was a starter when last season began.

The upside is that the Bruins line is comprised of five seniors — Sean Sheller, Darius Savage, Ryan Taylor, Eddie Williams and Micah Kia.

For openers

Kansas State has won 20 consecutive home openers — but there's a qualifier.

The Wildcats have played only two Bowl Championship Series conference schools in that stretch. Instead, the Wildcats have faced the likes of Florida International, Illinois State and Louisiana Lafayette. Last season, Kansas State barely survived against Massachusetts, winning, 21-17.

To be fair, though, the Wildcats have also fared well against formidable foes. Kansas State defeated USC in 2001 in Pete Carroll's second game as coach of the Trojans, and the Wildcats defeated Texas Tech in 1997.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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