Coach Rick Neuheisel addressed the issue of his job security with his players over the weekend, telling them that they need to keep the focus on the field if they are to make this a successful season.
"I told them only that our job is to focus on what we can do on the field and to forget all that outside stuff," Neuheisel said Sunday during his weekly conference call with reporters. "Nothing can be accomplished by worrying about that stuff. We do the best we can and we have to have the right mindset to go forward and the mindset has to be about playing a complete football game and enjoying playing with one another and looking forward rather than looking backward."
Neuheisel's job status has been the subject of rampant debate since Thursday's 48-12 thrashing at Arizona in which the teams engaged in a bench-clearing brawl just before halftime. Neuheisel admittedly entered this season on the hot seat and Thursday's performance seemed to seal his fate.
Athletic director Dan Guerrero said he would not fire Neuheisel during the season, but that hasn't stopped the speculation the coach is going to be let go as soon as the season ends.
"That’s for someone else to talk about," Neuheisel said. "My focus is strictly on the task at hand, which is trying to get our team ready to play a great game against Cal and see if we can’t get our third conference win."
Other highlights from the call:
Neuheisel said he respected the decision of the Pac-12 Conference to suspend six players for Saturday's game against California in the wake of the on-field brawl at Arizona. Receivers Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Ricky Marvray and Randall Carroll and defensive lineman Cassius Marsh will be out the entire game and offensive lineman Albert Cid is out for a half. "I am not going to second guess the league," Neuheisel said. "I’m disappointed that it took place. The circumstances surrounding how it took place are nothing short of bizarre, but I’m not going to second guess the league." Neuheisel added that neither the team nor the school would hand down further penalties. "We don’t feel that’s necessary," he said.
The receiving corps is clearly thinned because of the suspensions, leaving Neuheisel scrambling to find a way to get through the Cal game because Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith are the only receivers with significant experience who will be eligible. Jerry Johnson, recovering from a broken ankle, could return and Jerry Rice Jr. is also expected to make his Bruins debut. "We’ll have to use personnel grouping that only have two wide receivers," Neuheisel said. "So it’s a precarious situation, that’s true, but we feel like with our athletes and some of the stuff we can do in the running game, we can neutralize the effect of it."
True freshman Devin Lucien, a standout in training camp and on the scout team, is also available but using him now might not make the most sense because he hasn't played yet and can still use this season as a redshirt year. "He’s not off the table, but it’s important that be a family decision," Neuheisel said. "These guys are going to be back after one game so I want to make sure we’re doing something prudent for Devin and making sure that he understands what the situation actually is."
Neuheisel pointed to several defensive issues that accounted for the dismal showing Thursday night. Arizona, which entered the game No. 119 in rushing offense, gained 254 yards on the ground against UCLA and had 174 yards rushing in the first half. "We got pushed off the line of scrimmage, which is uncharacteristic," Neuheisel said. "We’ve got to make sure we get our pads down and come off the ball better than we did in the early portion of that game. We had some safeties that didn’t make the tackles that they need to make. They were in position to do it and didn’t get it done so that has to get shored up."
There were also issues in pass coverage as Arizona quarterback Nick Foles completed 22 of 27 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. "We have to make plays when we’re covering man to man outside," Neuheisel said. "We were in position to make plays and unfortunately had some pass interference calls and just didn’t get our hands up and get the ball knocked away. And all put together, that made for a very, very poor first half of defensive football."
With the game out of reach by halftime, Neuheisel said he toyed with the idea of using freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who has yet to play this season. He couldn't quite pull the trigger, though. "I thought about it, but in that kind of game, I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do in terms of the rest of his year," Neuheisel said. "I think when you make the decision to go to Brett Hundley, you’ve got to commit that you’re going to do it the rest of the time or at least a good package of things for the rest of the time. As I wrestle with it, I want to make sure that he’s ready for that and that it will be a worthwhile venture."
Offensive lineman Chris Ward (knee) and defensive backs Aaron Hester (shoulder) and Andrew Abbott (shoulder) were injured Thursday against Arizona, but Neuheisel said he was hopeful that all can play Saturday. He called Ward "between questionable and probable" and said of Hester and Abbott: "Both are probable."