Bruins grab opportunity by the ‘Horns

One of college football’s most famous chants was dumped on its 10-gallon lid Saturday, the purveyors of a cute little steer cheer becoming the unwitting victims of a goring.

UCLA hooked them ‘Horns.

I didn’t believe it either, not until I was standing on the Texas Memorial Stadium field and a bunch of sweat-soaked kids in heaving pads were waving UCLA flags and dancing when five feet away — boom! — the Texas cheerleaders fired a cannon.

Nobody jumped. Nobody even flinched. The smoke settled and the hoedown continued.

“It’s like we were in a dream and we didn’t want it to end,” linebacker Patrick Larimore later said, his face still red and eyes still wide.

UCLA hooked them ‘Horns but good, unleashing the sucker punch of the college football season in embarrassing seventh-ranked Texas, 34-12.

“Nobody gave us a chance, this was an automatic win for Texas, it was like we didn’t even exist,” Larimore said. “So we turned up the fire.”

In 90-degree heat that was so oppressive even the regal Texas band wore shorts, the Bruins blasted the Longhorns’ top-ranked rushing defense with 264 yards rushing, boiled their 30-point offense into one touchdown and hit them so hard that the mighty Longhorns simply quit.

“As the game progressed, you could see it in the way they got up slow, the way they were just jogging around,” safety Tony Dye said. “We could tell what was happening because earlier this season, we did the same thing.”

Oh yeah, that. The irrelevant little Bruins — my words, two weeks ago — wobbled into this college football cathedral with wrinkled shirts and muddy shoes.

They had lost two of their first three games. They had been shut out by Stanford in one of the worst losses in recent school history. They ranked 105th in the nation in points scored and rushing defense. This season was their big chance to leap into the gap left by probation-cuffed USC, and they had already fallen on their faces.

They were so bad that after the Stanford loss, when Coach Rick Neuheisel tried to give a pep talk to the fans, he was booed. There was talk of a two-win season. There were wonders about Neuheisel’s future. I ripped them from my first paragraph to my last word, and barely a handful of Bruins fans disagreed.

And now, Texas? A team that lost in last season’s national championship game? A team that had won 16 consecutive games at home? UCLA had not beaten a top-10 team on the road in a dozen years. Even the Bruins band didn’t make this trip.

“Watching TV this week, nobody even brought up the game as a topic, nobody discussed it, nobody bothered predicting it, it was such a sure thing,” Larimore said. “We heard all of that. We took all of that in.”

Five plays into the game, they started taking it out. Malcolm Williams caught a ball and was leveled by Bruins safety Dalton Hilliard. Fozzy Whittaker took a short pass in the open field and was caught and dropped by linebacker Akeem Ayers.

“They were taken aback by our toughness,” Dye said. “They thought we were just a bunch of laid-back California kids, and we showed them different.”

This defense has always had great athletes, but they seemed to be finally set free on schemes that showed it. Meanwhile, the Bruins offense finally realized that it had to put grind before glitz.

Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman pounded it outside and inside, quarterback Kevin Prince was smart enough to avoid interceptions and tough enough to run for 85 yards, and Neuheisel finally gave up on his love of the long ball.

No, he could never remember winning a game with only 27 yards passing, but didn’t his former Baltimore Ravens team win a Super Bowl that way?

“At one point, I looked up and said, ‘Who am I?’ ” Neuheisel said with a grin.

Five Texas turnovers and one game-changing 80-yard drive at the start of the second half later, Neuheisel was a winner, his biggest since coming back to UCLA in 2009, a signature victory that could quiet the critics for at least, I don’t know, a week?

Give him credit not letting the program capsize in the early swells. But now he is charged with making sure this win is no apparition. After a seemingly easy date with Washington State next week at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins travel to California and Oregon on consecutive weekends. We’ll know more then.

“The world was looking at us like, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ and calling us names,” Neuheisel said, sighing. “I feel like maybe we’re getting closer to being a program that can be counted on.”

After pumping his fists to Bruins fans in the corners of the stadium late Saturday afternoon, Neuheisel stood still on the field for a moment and talked into a cell phone. It was his wife, Susan, who was in Los Angeles caring for their son, Jerry, who had suffered a concussion in a high school football game.

“He’s fine, they’re all fine, I can’t wait to get home,” he said.

At least for now, home will be a different place than when he left. Hooked them Horns. Hooked us all.