Richard Brehaut changing his spots

LOS ANGELES -- Richard Brehaut can't pinpoint exactly what it is, he just knows something feels different.

The way his teammates look at him in the huddle has changed. So, too, has the tone of voice his coaches use when speaking with him.

This is what happens when they put you in charge.

Brehaut, a sophomore at UCLA, will start at quarterback Saturday against Arizona after taking the reins from Kevin Prince, who is out for the season after knee surgery.

It won't be the first time Brehaut has taken the field as the starter, but this is the first time he's gone through an entire week of practice and preparation as undisputed starting quarterback -- and that changes things.

"It's weird," Brehaut said. "I mean I haven't done anything different. I'm still preparing the same way I always do, but it seems like I've always been battling for the spot and now I have it. It's definitely different that the other games I've started."

Brehaut has started twice this season -- against Washington State and Oregon -- but both times Coach Rick Neuheisel did not name the starter until the day before the game. This time, there was no doubt and Brehaut has done what he can to take command of the team.

During drills earlier this week, Brehaut noticed that the offense was playing with low energy. He became vocal about it, urging his teammates to pick it up, and the next thing you know, the offense started clicking.

"He took control of the huddle," receiver Taylor Embree said. "He knows he's going to be the guy now. I think that's the biggest difference. The other games that he played, we really weren't sure if K.P. was going to play or not, but now that he knows it his job, he's taken control of it, he's taken leadership."

He's had to. His coaches have ordered him to. Brehaut had a long, heart-to-heart conversation with offensive coordinator Norm Chow on Monday. They discussed what it means to be a starting quarterback for a Division I college team.

"He can't be a rookie anymore," Chow said.

That means Brehaut must sharpen up some of the things that have kept him from winning the starting job in the first place. He's been hampered by an inability to make the correct reads in the Pistol offense and has had trouble going through the progression of receivers on pass plays.

Chow doesn't expect all that to come together now simply because Brehaut is the starter. He's still a work in progress, Chow said, but he showed against Washington State that he can lead the team to victory.

"Just manage the game," Chow said. "He doesn't have to go win it for us, he just has to go do his stuff in the frame of the game."

Against Washington State, Brehaut led UCLA to a 42-28 victory that included a 99-yard, fourth-quarter drive for a go-ahead touchdown. But against Oregon, he fumbled twice and had a pass intercepted in a 60-13 loss to the Ducks.

He has completed 35 of 61 passes for 348 yards with two interceptions and has yet to throw a touchdown pass.

But more important than statistics at this point is how much Brehaut has grown as a leader. Brehaut came to UCLA last year as a hotshot freshman who thought he could get by on talent alone. He's cleaned up that attitude and gained the respect of his teammates.

"It's like night and day with Brehaut, on and off the field," running back Johnathan Franklin said. "He definitely has matured a lot as a person and as a player. He's grown up a lot."

And that comes through when Brehaut looks at his teammates in the huddle and tells them what to do.

"What's crucial to having a good leader is having guys who are willing to follow," said senior offensive lineman Micah Kia, a team captain. "Most of us on the offense realize what he says goes and we're behind him 100%."

Brehaut takes over the team at a crucial juncture. The Bruins (3-4) need to win three of their final five games in order to become bowl eligible and need four victories to improve upon last season's finish.

But having a change at this point in the season is a good thing, Embree said.

"We need to be more urgent and he's bringing a sense of urgency to the offense," Embree said. "We've got to be urgent about everything, whether it's route running or blocking. Brehaut has been doing a good job getting us urgent."

Still, the team will miss Prince, who is a team captain. Brehaut already misses him. The two, while competing for the same job, became close. Brehaut has talked to Prince on the phone, but said it's not the same as having him there to bounce things off of.

"It's weird not having Kevin in the meeting room next to me or out here after a play talking stuff over with him," Brehaut said. "I would say that's the weirdest feeling with him not being here."

Brehaut acknowledges that the circumstances for him landing the starting gig are not ideal—that he never wanted to get the job because of an injury to his friend—but that isn't going to stop him from leading his team into the Rose Bowl Saturday.

"I'm really ready for this," he said. "I've been waiting for this opportunity since I stepped on campus here, the first day I ever got here. I've been waiting to be the guy day in and day out and this is the opportunity that's finally come and I'm ready to take advantage of it."

Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.