Irrelevant little Bruins? It could happen
He stood on a box surrounded by nobody. He spoke to a Rose Bowl that had been nearly emptied.
When Rick Neuheisel gave his traditional postgame pep talk to the UCLA football fans from the sidelines Saturday night, I was walking down through the opposite stands, but I stopped to listen, because he sounded so futile and he seemed so alone.
I only heard half of it. The rest was drowned out by boos.
“We will get (booooo). ... We will (booooo). …You can’t get any farther down than (booooo). ...”
The legendary charm is wearing thin. The resilient smile is fooling nobody. The few folks who stayed until the end of the Bruins’ 35-0 loss to Stanford had seen enough, and could hear no more.
“Stop talking and win a game!” shouted one.
Two games into a 12-game season, and the Bruins have already been pushed to the edge. Two games into what one tailgater told me was a, “show me” season, and the Bruins have shown nothing.
Fill the headlines vacated by probation-pillaged USC? Replace the buzz that went silent upon the departure of Trojan coach Pete Carroll?
Not here, not now, the Bruins following a mistake-filled loss at Kansas State with a complete embarrassment here against Stanford, the honeymoon of this new Bruin era long since become a hangover.
“This was a very difficult night for UCLA football,” said Neuheisel after his team rarely competed, rarely executed, and basically stunk.
While the defense was rolled against Kansas State, this was more about the offense. Who would have imagined that a group orchestrated by legendary coordinator Norm Chow would gain 233 yards, lose two fumbles, lose two interceptions and convert one – one! – third down.
Said Neuheisel: “It was an offensive disaster.”
Said Chow: “He said it was a disaster?”
Put it another way: Less than 90 minutes into the Bruins’ first home game of the 2010 season, their fans were booing as loud as I’ve ever heard any UCLA crowd boo.
They were furious with a horrendous lob pass by a scrambling Kevin Prince that was intercepted in front of the end zone by a thrilled Richard Sherman.
They were angry with the pass, angry with an earlier offsides penalty that led to the pass, angry with a desperation that has seemingly overtaken the UCLA effort.
Those are the kind of boos that eventually led to the firings of Bob Toledo and Karl Dorrell. That’s not happening here, not yet, Dan Guerrero likely to give Neuheisel at least the five years that Dorrell was given.
But goodness, two games into the season, and it feels like they are already two feet under. With upcoming games at Texas, Cal, Oregon, Washington and USC, this already feels like a team teetering on the brink of the worst thing that can happen to a sports team in this town.
They are in serious danger of becoming irrelevant, and once that happens, the Rose Bowl stands becomes even emptier than on Saturday night (with students not yet in school, there were huge sections of empty seats), and their roster will have even fewer top local recruits.
“There is a solution to this,” said Neuheisel. “We have a bunch of guys who believe there is a solution and are willing to roll up their sleeves and work on it.”
A solution? Kevin Prince, the quarterback who is supposed to run this wreck, has a sore shoulder and little confidence, but his backup Richard Brehaut is clearly not ready to assume control. The eventual answer may be Brett Hundley, a star prep quarterback from Arizona who recently verbally committed to come here next year, except Hundley was at the Rose Bowl Saturday, and he could not have been impressed.
Another solution? Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones combined for 127 yards Saturday, but how much will they grow while running behind the third different starting offensive line in three years?
Defensively? They can’t seem to find a playmaker there, with no forced turnovers Saturday and only two in two games this season. Stanford scored the clinching touchdown in the third quarter on a drive that lasted — I’m not making this up — 18 plays. It covered 68 yards and lasted nearly 10 minutes and ended with Stanford flattening the Bruins at the goal line on consecutive plays, Luck plowing Aaron Hester on the first one, Owen Marecic rolling for a one-yard touchdown on the second one.
“Tonight was an embarrassment, but these are our guys, we’ll keep working with them, we’ll keep getting better. We don’t have a choice,” said Chow.
You want to believe the Bruins’ celebrated coaching duo is speaking not just from the heart, but from the brain, yet folks are starting to wonder.
If Neuheisel was not could not win immediately here — and the Dorrell cupboard was indeed bare — then the hope would be that he would at least bring in players who would make us want to watch. So far, going 11-16 in his first 17 games here, he has done neither.
He won just one of his first seven games against ranked opponents, now losing six in a row, and on Saturday the gritty little excuses just didn’t work.
They couldn’t win because they have tougher academic standards? Not against Stanford. They couldn’t win because they were playing a more established coach and program? Jim Harbaugh has been at Stanford only one more season than Neuheisel, and already he has beaten USC twice.
On Saturday night, UCLA looked like the tiny wannabe school with anonymous players while Stanford looked like the established Pac-10 power with cool Pac-10 quarterback Andrew Luck, and Bruin fans must be asking, when did that happen?
“If people want to panic, they certainly have the right to, but I don’t think that’s the right choice,” said Neuheisel.
He’s got a better idea?