Learning to win is the next step for UCLA’s football team.
The Bruins, aching while going through growing pains in their first three games, came up with their most consistent game of the season Saturday, give or take a defensive breakdown and offensive gaffe.
But the 36-31 loss to Fresno State showed that effort isn’t always enough.
“I think we’re satisfied with the effort,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “But there are things we can get better at.”
Neuheisel offered a short laundry list of those things; among them was “third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball.”
The Bruins were two for nine on third-down plays. That included failing on three third-down plays inside the Fresno State 20-yard line.
The Bruins settled for field goals on two of those drives and came up short on a fourth-and-one play, turning the ball over on downs.
“We should have had touchdowns when we had field goals,” offensive coordinator Norm Chow said after the game.
The defense had its own third-down issues. A pass interference penalty on third down kept alive a Fresno State drive that ended in a field goal.
The Bulldogs also scored touchdowns on two third-down plays in the third quarter -- one after being given a do-over when Neuheisel accepted a holding penalty.
Fresno State also converted on third down twice and fourth down once while holding on to the ball for the final 8 minutes 55 seconds of the game.
“Our third-down situation is not improving,” defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. “We’re going to have to go back and look at it.”
UCLA’s offense has converted on 17 of 55 third-down plays (31%).
Meanwhile, the Bruins’ defense has failed to stop opponents on third down 31 of 64 times (48%).
Neuheisel’s solution, after watching tape, was simple.
“We have to learn to continue to make plays,” he said. “There was improvement and we closed the gap on being a good team this week.”
Offensive lineman Micah Reed, who returned Saturday from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, sprained the MCL in his left knee during the game. He is expected to be out two to four weeks.