Bruins still give a dam — UCLA turns the tide, by stuffing Oregon State on two key 4th quarter 4th down attempts, to pelt the Beavs 27-19, go to 1-0 in Conference play, and temporarily close the floodgates on fan disgust
UCLA and Rick Neuheisel have been drowning in fan discontent this year, and the only thing that could have made it worse would’ve been to blow a big lead and lose to a winless team. That’s exactly what ALMOST happened today, when Oregon State had a chance to completely erase a Bruin 18-point lead. UCLA had built a 21-3 lead in the 1st half, by converting two OSU Turnovers into Touchdowns, but after a Beaver 85-yard Punt Return TD just before Halftime and a 3rd quarter FG and TD drive, it was 21-19, and Oregon State had the ball, looking for the lead. But early in the 4th quarter, the Beavers tried to pound it out on a 4th and short, and Glenn Love and Damien Holmes stopped the runner in his tracks. Then later, with the score 27-19, they tried to pass for a 4th down conversion, but Sheldon Price broke it up, allowing UCLA to run out the clock and escape with the victory.
The reason why the Beavers had a chance at all is that the Bruins went conservative with the lead. Except for one failed 4th down try of their own, the UCLA Coaching staff went away from the pass, and tried to rely on the Bruin Running game. With Jonathan Franklin dinged up, it was Derrick Coleman and Malcolm Jones carrying the load. They had been pretty successful all game, but as the Bruins stopped going to the air, the Beavers started to slow down the Running plays. Nonetheless, Neuheisel decided to play not to lose, and wanted to keep the clock running. It almost came back to bite him, but thanks to the D stepping up, he survived.
The game started out familiarly ugly. After a Bruin punt, the Beavers easily marched down the field. But then UCLA tightened up in the red zone, holding OSU to a Field Goal. Then the Bruins came back with a quick strike drive, which included a Richard Brehaut bomb to Josh Smith, and culminated with a TD pass into double coverage, to Taylor Embree for 6. After an Interception by much-maligned Sean Westgate, the Bruins added another TD, on a 5-yard run by Brehaut. Then, after an OSU fumble, Jordon James capped off a drive with a 4-yard TD run on a Fly Sweep.
That’s when the big punt return right before Intermission cut it to 21-10. Neuheisel says that the punt was supposed to be kicked out of bounds, but they failed to communicate that to Jeff Locke. Instead, he kicked it right to the Returner, and during the runback, got leveled by a devastating block. Locke might have been shaken, because he went on to have a FG and a PAT get blocked, because he wasn’t able to get any trajectory on the boots. The PAT miss, after Anthony Barr’s 1-yard TD run, allowed the game to stay up for grabs down to the end, because it kept the margin at only 8.
But the Bruin Defense made all the right adjustments after that first drive, to keep the Beavers at bay. The Bruins were still extremely vulnerable to the short pass over the middle, but they were able to shut down the Oregon State Running attack, and most importantly, they stepped up on the crucial 4th down plays to save the game, and the season.
Neuheisel critics will still be vocal, about the overly-conservative approach, and about burning two timeouts that could have been needed later, but the bottom line is that the Bruins left the field in first place in their division, after a Conference ROAD UPSET, something that they haven’t accomplished too often in the last 8 years. Neuheisel SUPPORTERS, if there are any left, will point to improved tackling, better Defensive schemes and adjustments, and a mistake-free performance by Brehaut as reasons for optimism. But even those folks don’t expect the Bruins to win next week at Stanford. If UCLA were to pull off the stunner in Palo Alto, the whole culture in Westwood would be turned on its head… and Neuheisel could stop working on his resume. The win today was nice, but it didn’t really do that much to assure Neuheisel of another year of employment. It will take more than beating a team that lost to Sacramento State to get Rick that vote of confidence. Maybe just COMPETING next week would be another step in the right direction.