UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has turned the ball over in the Rose Bowl. He has been injured in the Rose Bowl. He has been booed in the Rose Bowl.
Saturday, he ran all over the Rose Bowl.
The quarterback some think should be placed in a plastic bubble for safekeeping was set free against California, a liberating moment for a football team that now has a chance to do what no one thought possible.
Prince’s 163 yards rushing led the Bruins to a 31-14 victory over California that leaves the UCLA with sit down a clear path to the Rose Bowl game.
The Bruins can control their own destiny in the Pacific 12 Conference South Division by beating Arizona State next week. UCLA (4-4 overall, 3-2 in conference play) can move into a first-place tie with a victory, which would also give them the tiebreaker with the Sun Devils (6-2, 4-1).
“The Pac-12 title was our goal and it’s still our goal,” Prince said.
Saturday’s victory, Coach Rick Neuheisel said, “puts us around.”
No one would dare talk about conference titles around Westwood the past week. The chatter was mostly about who the Bruins’ new coach would be after Arizona administered a 48-12 defeat Oct. 20.
But the defense that had powder-blue-pylon look against the Wildcats came up with five turnovers — three on interceptions by safety Tevin McDonald — that led to 24 points against the Bears.
“We kept saying this was a phone booth fight,” McDonald said. “You have to be aggressive. You want to be the one to claw your way out of that booth.”
The Bruins gave up 573 total yards to Arizona last week. They held California (4-4, 1-4) to 333.
“When I had idle, it was killing me,” defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. “When I was with the kids, coaching football, I was OK. When I was sitting in my chair late at night, I was going, ‘Oh my God, we got to find a way.’”
Desperate times called for desperate measures, so Neuheisel untethered Prince.
There was risk in this. Prince has the type of medical history that insurance carriers have been known to cancel policies over, including two shoulder injuries and a concussion this season.
But Neuheisel said, “I told him you cannot run not to get hurt tonight. I told him I wanted 100 yards and I would be on his tail if he didn’t get his shoulder pads down and go.”
Neuheisel and his staff had studied how Nevada’s version of the “pistol” offense had confounded California a year ago in a 52-31 victory in 2010. Wolfpack quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained 142 yards rushing in that game.
“The quarterback being able to run is what makes this offense go,” Neuheisel said.
That the Bruins were without four wide receivers, who were suspended after an on-field brawl against Arizona, made it more a necessity.
Prince ran without worry.
“Running against Arizona last week, I was a little more cautious,” Prince said. “Coach Neuheisel said to run as hard as I could tonight. It’s fun, as long as I can stay healthy.”
Prince had a 21-yard run on the Bruins’ first touchdown drive, setting the tone. His running created more room inside. Derrick Coleman finished with 80 yards, including touchdown runs of two, 20 and 24 yards. Johnathan Franklin had 45 yards rushing, 11 coming on a first-quarter touchdown run that tied the score, 7-7.
UCLA finished with 294 yards rushing.
“I’m happy with what Kevin did, but at the time, I’m kind of mad,” Coleman said. “I can live with Johnathan getting 100 yards, but a quarterback getting 100 yards and I didn’t? I don’t know.”