Pistol-packin' Norm Chow out of ammo at UCLA?

By Chris Foster

Los Angeles Times

Published: Friday, Nov. 26 2010 1:18 a.m. MST

LOS ANGELES — UCLA's passing game seems pistol whipped.

The Bruins have five touchdown passes this season, a day's work for Matt Leinart at the University of Southern California under Norm Chow, who is now UCLA's offensive coordinator.

The Bruins have topped 200 yards passing in a game only once, an eyebrow raiser given the pass-happy genes residing in UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel.

Neuheisel offered reasons for the "pistol" offense's firing blanks. There was the overemphasis on the running game while installing the offense, as well as the injuries — particularly to starting quarterback Kevin Prince.

But he also said, "You can attribute it to just ineffectiveness at choosing when and where to do it."

Since Chow calls the plays, the "ineffectiveness" seems to have been put at his office door.

Finding a more famous college assistant coach would be difficult. Chow has been associated with overworked scoreboards throughout most of his 26 seasons as an offensive coordinator on the college level.

The Bruins are averaging 19.4 points a game this season after averaging 22.0 in 2009 and 17.7 in 2008 — the three lowest averages of Chow's career.

But during those three seasons, the Bruins have had three starting quarterbacks and an offensive line that has been an ongoing rebuilding project worthy of a government grant. Only one player on the current line was a starter last season.

"We haven't protected well enough," Neuheisel said of the Bruins this season. "We haven't thrown the ball down the field well enough. We haven't caught it well enough."

All the while, the giddiness UCLA fans felt when Chow was hired in 2008 has dissipated. Back-room concerns from boosters and Internet carping by fans seemed to coincide with Neuheisel's failure to back Chow during a news conference Monday.

Chow was recently awarded a two-year contract extension, but when Neuheisel was repeatedly asked about the coach's future, he said it would be "evaluated" at the end of the season.

Chow passes on such questions, and he said he had no concerns whether his legacy had been damaged by three seasons in Westwood.

"I never really sat back and thought about it," Chow said. "There were some awfully good times, which you can remember fondly. But not specifics, more the people you were with."

The pistol was a staff decision, all say. But Chow is a proponent of quarterbacks playing under center, a scheme that produced three Heisman Trophy winners and three national championships. The quarterback is four yards deep in the pistol.

Chow said the new offense was "an adjustment," but "something needed to be done, and we thought it would give us the best chance." The Bruins improved their running game, averaging 185 yards this season.

"The biggest change for me was, I was never a shotgun believer," Chow said. "I felt like the footwork for a quarterback was messed up. I think most guys, older guys, I guess, who had a hard time dealing with the shotgun, had those frustrations."

The Bruins kept many of the same passing schemes from 2009, trying to make them mesh with the pistol.

"A passing game is simple concepts," Chow said. "I think we have most of the concepts that we always believed in."

But, he said, "You need different types of protections than (the pistol) has. At times, it does very well. Other times, it's not so well."

UCLA ranks last in passing efficiency among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Bruins are 117th in passing offense.

The concern was such that, before UCLA's game against Washington, Neuheisel sent Chow, offensive line coach Bob Palcic and running backs coach Wayne Moses to Reno to meet Nevada Coach Chris Ault, inventor of the pistol.

They did not return with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, master craftsman of the Nevada offense, so there was no quick fix.

UCLA gained 163 total yards in a 24-7 loss to Washington.

"We just wanted to see if there was anything else we could figure out, if there was some new wrinkle," Neuheisel said. "It was also an opportunity to give them some of our problems and see what the solutions are."

And the solutions were?

"They didn't give us the Grail," Neuheisel said.

Asked specifics about what is wrong, Neuheisel said, "To pore over that question now and not get ready next game is a difficult thing to do."

That would indicate answers could come after the season. Where this will leave Chow, and his reputation, remains to be seen.

"I never worry about that stuff," Chow said. "You just look around every day and do the things you do, the things you think you do best."

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