It’s a statement game for UCLA for all the wrong reasons
Under a full moon, in a full stadium, in the full eyes of a national television audience, a college football team spent Thursday night fully proving its celebrated reputation.
Yep, right now, UCLA is really, really bad.
Oh, this was supposed to be about Oregon, in its first game since being ranked first in the nation for the first time in school history?
Well, sigh, OK, the Ducks were decent in a 60-13 victory, but the real revelation was elsewhere.
Yep, right now, UCLA is really, really bad.
I cannot make that more clear. UCLA fans cannot be more embarrassed. Less than a month after the Bruins rolled over Texas like longhorns, they came up here and ducked.
Amid the thumping and rolling yellow waves of Autzen Stadium, this wasn’t a game, it was a circus, with the Bruins serving as the three rings.
There was a stocky Ducks tight end making open catches like a trapeze artist. There was a lanky Ducks quarterback breaking open sideline runs like a tightrope walker. Then — send in the clowns — there was a Ducks punt return team so confident it tried an across-the-field lateral seemingly just for the heck of it.
There was 582 yards of Oregon offense against a team that did not rush a passer, cover a receiver, or lock up a runner. There was 290 yards of UCLA offense that could only score a touchdown in the final moments when it was the first team against the scrubs.
This was the Bruins wearing their Halloween costume 10 days early.
They went as a bye week.
“Obviously, the game got out of hand, and we’ve got some serious work to do in rebuilding our program,” said Bruins Coach Rick Neuheisel. “We have to answer some tough questions on both sides of the ball — are we putting our kids in a position to succeed?”
The Bruins entered on a cool night, but walked away with the heat turned up. This team has now suffered three Pacific 10 losses by a combined 130-20 margin while equaling its second-worst conference loss since World War II. It is one thing for UCLA to disappear from the national football landscape, but to be so badly beaten up in its own backyard?
Since when did UCLA become the University of California at Portland State?
Dan Guerrero, the UCLA athletic director, has publicly supported Neuheisel throughout his 14-18 record in three seasons, but his patience must be wearing thin, and somebody is going to be held accountable. Will it be offensive coordinator Norm Chow, whose reputation is taking a beating with each botched call? Will it be defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough, whose defensive players admitted they did not communicate while allowing Oregon to score on every drive in the first half?
On a cool Thursday night that spit rain and relentlessness, the game ended with Oregon fans racing on to the field around dazed UCLA kids who deserve better. Sitting in front of his locker, Bruins linebacker Sean Westgate looked punch drunk.
“We got beat,” he said, pausing. “Bad.”
Down the row, safety Tony Dye looked lost.
“We were ready for this football game,” he said strongly, then his voice softened. “Then we went out there and made all kinds of mistakes.”
It was so bad, the Ducks’ Heisman Trophy-worthy running back LaMichael James not only gained 123 yards and scored twice, but deked the Bruins when he wasn’t even on the field.
It happened at the end of the first quarter, when he was gang-tackled for the first time all night. He crumpled to the ground in apparent agony. He was slowly lifted up and basically carried to the sidelines by two Oregon officials with brave faces.
On the first play of the Ducks’ next possession, James ran out, took a handoff, and weaved around for 27 yards.
“The onslaught continued,” said Westgate.
It was so bad, at the start of the fourth quarter, the Ducks brought in their reserves, and they struck even quicker than the starters, racing downfield in four plays to score in 1 minute 5 seconds.
The Bruins had one shot. One. It occurred on the game’s first possession, when they drove 49 yard in seven plays and had seemingly found a nice running rhythm. Then, on third down on the Oregon 30, Chow asked backup quarterback Richard Brehaut to throw downfield.
A fat lob. An interception. An ensuing two-minute drive the other way that ended in a Ducks touchdown that essentially ended the game before it started.
The bad news in all that being: It was announced Thursday that starting quarterback Kevin Prince will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery Saturday and will be gone indefinitely.
The only bad news for Oregon fans was that, given the lack of competition here, it was hard for their team to prove its national worth. How good are the Ducks? I’m not sure. Their offense is a gimmick and their defense can be soft and this same system was pounded last year by Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and, you know, let’s wait a week and ask USC.
Not that this UCLA season is over, but late Thursday, I passed a UCLA fan in the press box who said, “Hey, just wait for basketball.”
Yeah, well, about that …
Go beyond the scoreboard
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