SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 31: Kevin Prince #4 of the UCLA Bruins fumbles the snap against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park on December 31, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Well folks, the 2011 UCLA Football season is now officially over with this afternoon's 20-14 loss to Illinois in the Fight Hunger Bowl, wrapping up UCLA's first ever 6-8 season. With Mike Johnson in total control of the Offense - and the team - this afternoon, we did see some changes in the offensive playcalling. The Bruins did not exclusively use the Pistol formation, and we saw Kevin Prince attempt several longer passes. Sadly the result may have been the worst offensive performance of an already bad season, with that unit totaling just 220 yards (84 of which came in the final drive) and 14 points, 7 of those coming in the final minute when the game was all but over. Coming into the game, this was expected to be a low-scoring matchup, and the Illini Defense lived up to that promise, sacking Kevin Prince 5 times, pressuring him on several other occasions and shutting down the Bruin run game. When KP was able to get the ball away, the receivers were not on their game, dropping passes throughout the contest.
For the game, Kevin Prince was 13-28 passing for 201 yards, throwing for 2 touchdowns and a crucial 3rd quarter pick-6. And that was the bright point of the UCLA offensive performance, with the Illini holding the Bruins to just 19 yards rushing on 30 carries. Johnathan Franklin ran for 28 yards - most of that coming on one carry, while Derrick Coleman ended his UCLA career with 40 yards on 8 carries. He did reasonably well against the Illinois front 7, and I would have preferred to see him get more carries this afternoon. Nelson Rosario and Joseph Fauria led the team in receiving - 3/70/1 and 5/36 respectively - While Taylor Embree caught the Bruins first TD for his only catch, and the final touch of his time in Westwood.
The first half definitely lived up to the low-scoring, no offense promise of the Bruins and Illini. The respective offenses certainly did not look to have showed up to the ballpark for kickoff, as the Bruins gained 39 yards in the 1st quarter; Illinois did a little better with 84 yards, but with 2 punts, an interception and a failed 4th down conversion ending those possessions. UCLA started the 2nd quarter with a couple of nice plays on offense, capped by Taylor Embree's TD, but the offense did nothing for the remainder of the half - in 7 first half possessions, the Bruins scored on Embree's TD, punted 5 times and fumbled on their last drive inside their own 30 yard line, setting Illinois up for their first score, a 35 yard FG to end the half.The second half started with Illinois taking possession, but doing little with the ball, punting after getting one first down on that opening drive. UCLA was initially able to drive down field, highlighted with a long completion to Josh Smith, but after stalling in the redzone, the Bruin drive ended with a missed 35 yard FG. After getting the ball back, Illinois drove down field before missing their own field goal. But the Bruins bailed out the Illini for that failure, with Kevin Prince quickly throwing the pick-6 that would give Illinois the lead for good. That defensive TD woke up the Illini offense, with drives resulting in a field goal and a touchdown in their following 2 possessions. Meanwhile, the Bruins continued to punt - the 3 UCLA possessions following that interception resulted in 12 plays for just 10 yards and 3 punts - until finally putting together a drive in the final 3 minutes that led to Rosario's last second TD. The Bruins tried and failed to pull off the onside kick, and that was the ballgame. On the bright side, we only committed 3 - 5 yard - penalties for the game.
While the offense did not play to impress, the defense held their own into the 2nd half. Not counting the 1st half ending field goal set up by a turnover, the Bruin defense did not allow Illinois to score until early in the 4th quarter. While the game effectively was ended by that 4th quarter FG and a touchdown on the next Illini possession, Jordan Zumwalt, Eric Kendricks and Tevin McDonald showed the nation the talent that Rick Neuheisel and Joe Tresey elected not to put on the field enough this season. Their play put on display just some of the younger talent that Coach Mora will have at his disposal in 2012 - and providing support for the high standards that we will be holding the football program to next fall.
With this game in the rear view mirror, it is time for the Jim Mora era in Westwood. Best of luck to him in the final weeks of recruiting and in building up his coaching staff (without Chianti Dan forcing some hires, unlike the last time). This is your postgame thread.