This season has been a roller coaster for UCLA. Lose, win, lose, win, lose, win... every time we lost a game, we'd come back the next game and win. Except we couldn't keep the train moving and would lose the next game. Tonight, we finally won a game after a win, with some luck, horrible refereeing (I may write an ANGRY LETTER) and two very importantly missed field goals. Also remember - ASU is a HORRIBLE road team. Their road win? Against UTAH, who was playing their back up QB.
In the first half, it looked the game would be the same old, same old. Taylor Embree was back there fair catching punts, Jerry Rice Jr is nowhere to be seen, Datone Jones is back at end, Eric Kendricks isn't starting, but hey, Tevin McDonald gets to play.
UCLA strikes first on the strength of our running game, with Kevin Prince with two nice runs for significant yardage. ASU might have watched the game tape but they were unable to stop Prince on our first drive. Aided by a beautiful hit by Anthony Barr, a nice catch from Nelson Rosario and a nice throw to Fauria, Jonathan Franklin goes VROOM into the end zone and we are on the board first, although the extra point was pushed wide right by Tyler Gonzalez.
However our overpursuing bug strikes the defense again, and ASU chugs down the field and scores easily. Thankfully we get a present from ASU in the form of a kickoff kicked out of bounds and we get a much shorter field. We get our first Vontaze Burfict penalty of the night, a late hit on Prince that I will take since he just glided over him instead of knocking him unconscious. But once again, we go for our "punting is winning"strategy, although more out of necessity as we do not have a kicker that can kick a 50 yard field goal. We miss you, Kai Forbath.
ASU scores. Yawn. We look like we're just going to strike right back, with a spectacular return by Josh Smith, and shockingly, no flags. Except we go backwards on our first two plays and Tyler Gonzalez puts 3 points on the board with a kick from 43 yards, with holder Nick Crissman. Good for Nick.
Finally, we rediscover Derrick Coleman and let him just eat up yardage and we march down the field, with Coleman capping off the drive with a touchdown. ASU can't take advantage of our horrible defense and penalties on their ensuing drive, but luckily for us, they miss their field goal. Spectacularly too. Way short.
To close the half, Jonathan Franklin goes off for a nice run that's negated by a penalty, of course. Then the timeout calling show begins, but UCLA goes into halftime with a 16-14 lead.
With the momentum from taking that final knee to close the first half, UCLA gets the ball and after a couple of short runs we totally fake ASU into thinking run again and throw a 76 yard bomb to Nelson Rosario for the first TD of the year for Nelson Rosario, and the longest touchdown in Prince's career.
However, the second half doesn't appear to improve, as the flags start flying. Jonathan Franklin had a nice run and is negated with a flag. Stan McKay tries to knock out Jamal Miles, and Miles calmly bounces off of McKay's attempt at a tackle, and scores. The facepalm is strong with me at this point. Kevin Prince has a nice run, and is negated by another flag. I'm thinking we're lucky Prince doesn't get hurt and doubly lucky that Jeff Locke is a fantastic punter.
In addition to the flags, we start turning the ball over. Jonathan Franklin fumbles after he bumps into Kai Maiava's backside. ASU scores and, boom, they take the lead. Josh Smith fumbles the kick off, and ASU recovers. Someone probably whispers into Rick's ear that they should fair catch kick offs. But we get a gift as the ASU kicker pushes the field goal wide. Remember that.
On our next drive, Derrick Coleman is stripped but we luckily recover. Coleman makes up for it with a beautiful run down to the 20. Unfortunately one bad snap and pass interference on Joe Fauria leads to 3rd and 29, and I start calculating if Gonzalez can kick from here. Somehow... we float a ball to Rosario and convert for the first down and three plays later, Derrick Coleman smashes the ball into the end zone. Unfortunately (I say this a lot) Fauria and Prince do not connect on the 2 point conversion and we have a precarious 29-28 lead.
In an utter fiasco at the end of our game with ridiculous flags for PI on Aaron Hester, ASU throwing the ball out of bounds but is OVERTURNED on a REVIEW THAT SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED, ASU is gifted their time out back, but on the final play, ASU misses the field goal short... and wide.
UCLA hangs on for a miraculous win that should have been a loss... or a bigger win given our opportunities. And guess what - we still control our destiny in the Pac-12 South, for the right to be annihilated by either Oregon or Stanford in the Pac-12 title game.
As for the eye test:
1) Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?
2) Do we call offensive plays to catch our opponents off guard?
3) Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?
4) Do our players play for 60 G-D minutes every game?
5) Do our players execute?
6) Do we have leaders on the field?
You can go ahead and answer it.
I do have to say kudos to Kevin Prince. Even with Richard Brehaut cleared to practice, he didn't shrivel up, and stood tall and moved the offense along. Derrick Coleman is a beast, and I love him.
UCLA is now 5-4 and one win away from being bowl eligible. Crazy thought, isn't it? Let's hope we don't completely lay an egg next week against Utah in Utah.
However, this doesn't change a thing. We may have lucked our way into a win, especially with ASU helping us out, but a few things remain the same. Dan Guerrero is still our top target, Rick Neuheisel should no longer be the head coach at UCLA, and there is a desperate need for a culture change regarding football in the Morgan Center.
Get on it, Bruin faithful. I flipped over to the LSU/Bama game after ours, and while they showed a quick highlight from our game, I didn't get the feeling they respected Neuheisel at all, or our football program. It was the sound of bewilderment coming from Verne Lundquist. I know I'm bewildered that we won, that SPTRs are still SPTRs, that we have fumble problems, and yet... our kicking game isn't as bad as ASU's... although I will be nervous if Tyler Gonzalez has to kick a game winning field goal.