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Surreal (Bruin) Magic

I went to sleep last night (well I tried) trying to come up with an idea on how I would start today’s post. I will be frank. All week I had been mentally preparing to write something on what I was expecting to be a tough night at the Rose Bowl. After the injuries to Paulsen, Everett, and Bell, and the pick-6 from Craft, I was just happy to be down by only 7 points at the end of the first half. Even when Craft connected with Moya, I was scared to hope just remembering all the agony and heartbreaks of last 9 seasons. So, when Lincoln’s 34 yarder went wide left, it was a little bit more than surreal.  And it is surreal to see images like this splashed all over this early morning:


Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez/US PRESSWIRE (via ESPN)

You know what that image reminds me of?

That reminds me of the Bruin sidelines EXPLODING at the end of the Gonzaga game 2+ years ago. That was the night everyone (not just the hard core Ben Ball fans) started officially believing in the special magic taking place in the world of UCLA basketball. Well, never in my wildest imagination, I thought I would experience emotions rivaling the ones I felt the morning after Gonzaga. Now, obviously this is just one game. There is such a long way to go and we all have to grab a hold of reality and tell ourselves that we can’t expect what we experienced last night every game. That is not going to happen especially considering the injury issues and the punishing schedule that will get even harder now that all of our upcoming opponents are on notice. Yet, there is no mistake in the feelings we are all collectively experiencing here on Bruin Nation. It’s undeniable and I am not articulate enough to capture in the kind of words that would appropriately describe it’s magic.

So with that note, let’s go through the papers (and man they are fun to read) and last night’s game. I will start with Kevin Craft and how his team-mates (both from offense and defense) rallied around him. Foster from the LAT on how KC didn’t get rattled at half time:

"I didn't get rattled at halftime," Craft said. "I have played this game before."

Besides, he said, "the whole team came to me and said, 'We got your back.' Guys came up to me before the start of the second half and said the same thing."

Comforting words that led to a half of discomfort for the Volunteers.

Craft completed 18 of 25 passes for 193 yards after halftime.

KC was so sure of himself that he was ready to go out and battle, even if Lincoln connected on that 34 yarder:

"You know, if he'd made the kick in overtime to tie it again, we would have just gone back out there and tried to find a way to win," Craft said. "That's what we do."

As for his team-mates, KC mentioned how his team-mates both from offense and defense came up to him during half time to show their support. He returned the favor by showing his poise and by the end of the night emerging as the leader of his offense. From the words of Sonny Tevaga

"It's staying relentlessly positive, and we've got belief in our quarterback," UCLA offensive lineman Sonny Tevaga said. "He was on point in the second half. The first half he had the jitters, and the second half he got rid of those jitters and he did his thing. That's our quarterback right there, Kevin Craft, baby."

 Scott Glicksburg:

"That kid had so much heart, and we helped pick him up," offensive guard Scott Glicks-berg said. "A lot of people didn't think we'd get to this point. I don't have any words, it's just unbelievable."

Dominique Johnson

With fireworks exploding over the stadium and the band playing, players spoke about Craft's arrival and their own. They talked about playing the role of underdog, their patchwork line paving the way and their defense giving a dominating effort when it mattered most.

But mostly, they talked of their newfound leader and his now-battle tested resiliency.

"We let him know in the locker room we had his back," Johnson said. "We all have rough starts, and he had one tonight. But we let him know if he came back out and got it together, we would pull this victory out.

.. and Brigham Harwell:

"I love that guy," defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. "We believed in him and he showed we had a right to."

KC earned his team-mates respect, after getting an incredible boost of confidence (and injection of calm) from his head coach and his OC:

"Norm did a masterful job of calming Kevin down at halftime," Neuheisel said. "I just told him I threw four interceptions in my first start, too."

Craft led UCLA to a modest field goal in the third quarter, but it seemed enough to give him a boost of confidence.

Suddenly Chow, the UCLA offensive coordinator, found cracks in the Tennessee defense. Short passes turned into decent gains. Craft's confidence appeared to swell. The UCLA offense began to move.

"I have the best coaching staff in the world and some hard-fighting kids," Neuheisel said.

One of my favorite moments of last night were two shots of Norm Chow raising his arms and celebrating in the box during the second half. I don’t think I have ever seen him expressing that kind of emotion while watching (in horror) his Trojan offense slicing and dicing up another hapless opponent.

I repeatedly had to pinch myself over and over again during second half watching our offense just carving up a SEC defense filled with speed and athletcism. I haven’t seen a football offense I root for doing that to an opponent since the days of Cade M. You know there was also something very different in last night’s comeback vs. the multiple comebacks we experienced during the 2006 season. Last night’s comeback was methodical. It was systematic. Coaches pulled it off with their schemes and playing to our team’s strengths, rather than depending on helter-skelter plays and freakish talents of players like MJD. That comeback was real and legit, and it left no room for the opponent to point to dumb luck.

There was nothing lucky about the statement our defense made on national TV. From Ted Miller on WWL:

"DeWayne's defense kept us in the game," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We came into the game with an idea of how to manage field position. I told him to be a little more conservative on their end of the field and if they get to the 50, now use your tricks."

The defense produced two takeaways, including one on a critical Arian Foster fumble on the Bruins' 6-yard line.

It only had one sack, but it consistently pressured and rattled Vols QB Jonathan Crompton, who completed only 18 of 40 passes for 184 yards with an interception. At one point in the fourth quarter, Crompton had missed on nine of 10 passes.

Up front, the Bruins more than handled what was reputed to be the SEC's best offensive line.

"They think the Pac-10 is soft," senior tackle Brigham Harwell said. "We let the people talk and talk and talk. But talk is cheap. We had to prove it."

The Bruins produced eight tackles for a loss. Cornerback Alterraun Verner, who Walker reserved special praise for, had six tackles to go with his interception. End Korey Bosworth had the lone sack.

Brian Price and Brigham Harwell were monsters. They were even more effective because of the help they received from Bosworth twins, Blake, Carter and rest of our front-7. It’s too bad about that unfortunate face mask penalty Blake gave up in Tennessee’s last TD drive on 3rd and 15. It was the only blamish on a great night.

Also in the second half our tackling was not as tight as we would have liked but we could chalk that up to fatigue from the defense being out there too long in the early going. Once they got some rest courtesy of the offense, they charged back with the ferocious pressure on that vaunted Volunteers OL we heard and read about all week.

Some more sporadic notes from last night’s game:

  • Special teams: Special teams were fantastic all night. However, they did give us a little heartburn after that pooch kick following our last TD. I am sure that is some thing Coach Gansz will be going over with his colleagues/
  • Prevent defense: Also, I am assuming Walker went on prevent mode in the last two drives during regular period under his CRN’s directive. It worked out all right but it was bringing back the nightmares from South Bend couple of years ago. I guess coaches could afford to go prevent at that point because our offense was clicking (unlike the ones against ND). Would like to hear other’s perspective on this.
  • Discipline: It is just unreal that with a new head coach, new OC, brand new QB and offensive line, we only had 1 offensive penalty. Just 1! That is nothing short of surreal and amazing. Overall we only had 2 penalties as a team which includes the aforementioned facemask (which was an unfortunate play but resulted from our defense being aggressive which not necessarily is a bad thing)
  • OL’s valiant effort: We only had 29 yards of rushing averaging a pathetic 0.9 yards per carry. Yet I thought our boys were valiant given the fact that it was an OL featuring combined 16 starts and a former TE. They got the job done within Chow’s scheme. They rallied around Craft and gave him just enough time to get off those quick hitters. As mentioned above they were also disciplined like rest of their team. They stuck together and behind their leader pulling off a valiant effort. I am hopeful as a unit they are going to improve game by game and round into form at the end of the season.

So where did all this magic come from? Ted Miller on how CRN made our boys believe:

So he showed them film of his special wins, such as Colorado's 1994 victory over Michigan on a stunning 64-yard touchdown bomb as time expired, when he paced the sidelines moments before hopelessness became magic, telling his players they were going to win.

There was the upset of Miami in 2000 that propelled Washington into the national title hunt and a final No. 3 ranking. And what about his stellar performance in the 1984 Rose Bowl victory over Illinois as UCLA's quarterback?

He wanted them to know that there were rewards for buying in to his oft-repeated mantra of relentless optimism.

"The one thing I did tell them is that I am lucky," Neuheisel said of his pregame plan. "That I've got a horseshoe tucked somewhere -- that something good is going to happen so you believe it."

That's how a team with a quarterback who throws four (four!) first-half interceptions still wins -- with that same mess of a quarterback leading two long, high-pressure scoring drives in the fourth quarter.

That's how a team doesn't split apart when its strong defense is repeatedly put in bad positions by its floundering offense.

Even Trojan lover Bill Plaschke is now trying to drink out of the Bruin passion bucket.

 And I will leave you all with this from Gregg Patton in the Press Enterprise (emphasis added)

Clearly Neuheisel has convinced his own team that they can play with tough competition.

"He was very calm most of the time," sophomore wide receiver Dominique Johnson said of Neuheisel. "He wanted to keep us focused, sticking with our plan.

"But we saw some of the enthusiasm and some of the rah-rah stuff, too. We love it. We love it all. We fed off of it."

Slick Rick? It may be time to retire the old moniker.

How about Magic Rick?

Whatever it is … it’s the same magic … we have experienced under Ben Howland.

It’s real and it’s filled with the blue and gold passion that makes everyone in this nation tick.