LOS ANGELES - With questions falling on UCLA like raindrops heading into Week 1 - What can it expect from its freshmen? How can you prepare for a team with no practice or game film? Will there even be a Week 1? - the Bruins went out and had the best "Thursday practice" Rick Neuheisel had ever seen on Wednesday.
"Thursday" practices are treasured days for Neuheisel, those rare episodes in which the focus is entirely on execution.
Early in the week, practice is devoted to learning the scheme, understanding the why and not just the what, getting the steps just right.
Thursday is about putting it into play.
"I have a routine of what we call the perfect Thursday," Neuheisel said. "For the first game of the year, I always plan two Thursday practices. This was my best first Thursday practice. Hopefully (today) will be indicative of where we are. I just thought that concentration was good and guys were on it and into it."
Surprising, because a cloud hung over their heads Wednesday.
A cloud of ash.
While not nearly toxic as the air directly over the Los Angeles fire, Neuheisel made mention of the poor practice conditions during the hot, muggy day.
The players knew about the possibility of a postponement of Saturday's season opener against San Diego State at the Rose Bowl. They played throughout practice wondering if they were even preparing for the right team.
Still, Neuheisel said the players were entirely focused on San Diego State, pushing thoughts of a postponement to the back of their minds.
"We're 100 miles an hour going toward game day," Neuheisel said. "I think our confidence level is where it ought to be. A lot of nervous anxiety, guys playing for the first time. It will be here before we know it."
UCLA officials were told that a decision regarding the possibility of a postponement of the season opener would come today, after a conference call between several fire and city officials Wednesday.
Neuheisel remained optimistic the game would be played as scheduled, and the school issued a statement stating that it had asked for additional information.
Embree making a name
Sophomore Taylor Embree, who broke the UCLA freshman record for receiving yardage and receptions last season, continues to make spectacular plays as the team's split receiver.
Midway through practice, redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince lofted a pass to the very back of the end zone. Embree caught up to it, leapt from his feet, snagged it with one hand and tapped a toe in the end zone, eliciting a roar from the field.
Embree was not impressed.
"You get chances to make big catches like that, and obviously those are the big ones that everyone remembers, but for me, I want to be known as someone who catches every ball," Embree said. "That's my goal; shoot, I mean if you can make the spectacular catches but can't catch a slant in traffic, what good is it?"