Well this is the last time I get to write a game day post for 2009-10 football season. While I was hoping our team would take a gradual step forward by getting into a bowl game this year, never in my wildest dream I thought I would have the chance to see them in person right here in DC. It is going to feel pretty special (don't care how cold it is going to get) when I see the guys come out at RFK (which might be old but is still one of the most historic football venues in the country) in the road uniforms.
I am honestly not sure how our guys going to start out this (early) evening. I get the sense they have truly appreciated the opportunity to play in a bowl game that enabled them to experience something different and unique players don't get to experience in cookie-cutter, boilerplate bowl games held in places other than California and Florida. I also get the sense they understand how important this game is for the program. However, in the back of my mind I have to say I am a little nervous after the memories of recent UCLA bowl outings against programs such as Fresno State and Wyoming. Guess the comforting factor is these guys have prevailed as the favorites in games they are supposed to win under the current head coach. I believe we are something like 5-0 as the favorites and I am hoping that trend line holds today.
We have already beaten this game to death from all angles. However, if you still need a quick primer on what needs to take place (for either teams), the setup in the Philadelphia Daily News is pretty good:
Three things UCLA must do
1. Play as if it really want to be here, which isn't always the case in these spots. Especially for teams traveling long distances and going from warm to cold. A little motivation never hurts.
2. Take Temple out of its running game and force Owls to throw the ball, which hasn't necessarily been a strength.
3. Generate some offense, which will keep Temple's offense on the sideline. If possible, try to do whatever it was that Ohio did so successfully.
Three things Temple must do
1. Don't play tentatively. Act as if it has been bowling recently. It can make a difference.
2. Get Pierce and Brown going early. The Owls offensive line was the team's MVP for a reason. It can wear the other guys down.
3. Play from ahead. The Owls are not at their best when they're playing catch-up. But if they can dictate the terms of engagement, that field will start looking downhill.
That pretty much sounds about right. I think if we can grab a hold of the momentum and get up on these guys early (forcing them to throw the ball), it will be a very good sign early on. At least on paper, Rick Neuheisel and his Bruins have shown the Owl team the due respect they deserve:
UCLA finished the regular season with a 6-6 record, with all six losses coming to bowl-eligible teams. Their lone victory over a bowl-eligible team came in the second week of the season, at Tennessee. The Bruins would prefer to add Temple to the latter category, but they realize it will take more than just stopping Pierce [freshman RB Bernard Pierce, - BN Ed.] in order to be successful.
Neuheisel recalled a three-week stretch in 2006 in which Temple lost three games by a combined score of 165-7, including two 62-0 setbacks. This year's seniors were freshmen on that Temple squad.
"For them to now be at the other end of the spectrum, at 9-3 and eager to play a BCS team and rearrange their bowl situation to get this opportunity, you know this is a matchup they're looking for," Neuheisel said. "We've got to bring that same passion."
It is going to be very interesting to see the kind of mindset the Bruins come out with since we have gotten a pretty good glimpse of how they have prepared for this game, which have included a lot of emphasis on team unity through fun. If the Bruins pull this out today, I think Neuheisel is going to feel pretty vindicated with the approach he took last few days. However, if the Owls win this game with the same business like approach they have displayed coming into this question ... well I don't want to think about that scenario (not today). Let's keep the focus on how the Bruins can finish off this season on a great note. More after the jump.We have heard and read a lot about taking on an Owl program playing its first bowl game in 30 years. Jon Gold from the Daily News writes Bruins have their own reasons to be hungry:
Thirty years is a long time, so I understand their hunger and where they're coming from," UCLA senior cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "But also, we have high expectations for ourselves and for our program. We're hungry to establish ourselves again as a team that deserves to be in a bowl every year.
"Yeah, they're very hungry, but I think we're hungry in a different way."
The Bruins are starving to get back on the national scene after a 4-8 season in 2008 dropped them even further off the radar. UCLA wasn't exactly tearing up the top 25 before last season's crash - with records of 6-7, 6-6, 7-6 and 6-7 surrounding that magical 10-2 run in 2005. But the great fall of '08 was heartbreaking.
"I was hurt all last year, so I had been sitting around quite a bit - but to be home, sitting around, being there for Christmas just kind of had a weird feel to it," UCLA senior tight end Logan Paulsen said.
"An uncomfortable feeling, like I should be doing something else. Then you watch all this football, all these bowl games, and that was tough. I can't tell you how good it feels to be back."
But, as UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel has reminded his team constantly, just getting to the postseason won't suffice.
Just getting to this bowl game is not good enough for UCLA. Even thought Neuheisel will be able to use 6 win season from this year in his recruiting pitch, he and our programs needs a win badly in this game to really set ourselves up with some great momentum for next season.
A win in this game will result in UCLA's first winning season since 2006. Those who have followed our program on day to day basis realizes the kind of depth it had fallen into in Dorrell's last two years. Finishing this year with a 7 win season, I think would generate the same kind of momentum Howland was able to create after getting us back in the tournament during his second year in Westwood.
For more on the game there is also coverage in the NY Times and ESPN (WWL coverage includes video blog from Ted Miller). For the local angle in the DC region, there is a pretty interesting background piece on EagleBank bowl in the Washington Post, and some home town Northern VA coverage on Thigpen. Damien is going to have lot of family/friends in attendance. So hopefully he will have a big moment(s) in Bruin blue. Oh, the LA Times also has coverage on today's game. Not too surprisingly their articles/columns are laced with cynicism and totally devoid of the big picture in terms of what a win in this game could mean for UCLA.
Anyway, the kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 pm PST. The game thread should go up around 1:00. I will be at RFK, cheering my heart out. So rye and others will be hanging out with you guys in the game thread. Let's get a win and finish off the season in a great note.