U.C.L.A. Runs Back Into Contention
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 26, 2010
The biggest surprise stemming from U.C.L.A.’s dominant win over Texas wasn’t that the Longhorns continue to struggle running the football: we knew U.T. lacked the mentality needed to grind out tough yards. The biggest surprise — outside of the final score, of course — was that U.C.L.A. has fully embraced its ability to run the ball with consistency. More specifically, we see that Rick Neuheisel has eschewed any semblance of a passing game in favor of a powerful ground game run out of the Pistol formation; color me impressed, if also surprised.
The season is a long way from over: U.C.L.A. has played one conference game, losing in one-sided fashion to Stanford, but Pac-10 action does not begin in earnest until this coming Saturday. However, it’s amazing to note just how quickly a team’s fortunes can turn, how rapidly the tenor of a season can change in only two weeks.
It’s already been a tale of two seasons for the Bruins, each split into two-week segments. There’s the first two weeks, when U.C.L.A. first lost to Kansas State before being demoralized by the Cardinal. One factor defined both losses — two, actually, though one above the other: the offense was pathetically inept, the defense slightly less so.
What a difference we’ve seen over the past two weeks. Nearly universally left for dead heading into a game with Houston a week ago, U.C.L.A. responded on both sides of the ball: the defense limited U.H. to only 360 yards of total defense — and only 13 points — while the offense exploded in a 31-point performance punctuated by 266 yards on the ground.
It was a similar story yesterday afternoon, though Texas consistently ruined its own chances offensively with a careless disregard for protecting the football. Does the five-turnover performance fall solely on U.T.’s doorstep? Hardly: credit U.C.L.A. for being aggressive and opportunistic, helping turn four first half giveaways into a 13-3 halftime edge.
The running game took over from there — where has it been over the previous two seasons under Neuheisel? The change to the Pistol, which I questioned over the summer, has led to a superb effort on the ground, though the passing game has been nonexistent. The Bruins carried the ball 56 times in the win, averaging 4.7 yards per carry — even quarterback Kevin Prince got into the act on the ground, with his 50-yard effort defined by a 38-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter. That made the score 27-6, U.C.L.A., and sent the Texas faithful to the parking lot.
Neuheisel has clearly swallowed his ego: perhaps he saw the writing on the wall, knowing that another four-win finish — which was where U.C.L.A. seemed headed after two weeks — would thoroughly tarnish his reputation in Westwood. Prince attempted only eight passes in the win, with one for a touchdown, giving him all of 25 attempts over the last two weeks; he attempted 26 passes alone in U.C.L.A.’s season-opening loss to the Wildcats.
The new mentality — with Norm Chow also deserving of credit — has pushed U.C.L.A. from the brink of irrelevancy to a trendy pick to make noise in the Pac-10. Yeah, that’s just what this deep conference needs: another dark horse contender.
Can U.C.L.A. keep it up? There’s little reason to think otherwise: the Bruins just ran all over one of the nation’s best defenses, after all. The two-headed backfield of Johnathan Franklin — who’s an all-conference performer as of today — and Derrick Coleman combined for more than 210 yards yesterday. While held in check by the Longhorns, freshman Malcolm Jones has had an immediate impact. Most impressively, this much-maligned offensive line has bought into the system. Again, if U.C.L.A. can run on Texas, it can run on any team in the Pac-10.
So the ball moves into the defense’s court: keep getting spots, and the Bruins should be in a position to finish above .500 in conference action. Few considered this a possibility merely two weeks ago.
Tags: Kevin Prince, U.C.L.A.
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