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U.C.L.A. Runs Back Into Contention

It wasn't quite 1998, when U.C.L.A. beat Texas by 63 points, but the Bruins dominated..

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.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    I believe UCLA had negative total yards on offense till Texas fielded and then fumbled a punt inside its 5 yard line midway through the 2nd quarter.(I was homicidal at that moment) From that point foward it was a first class tail whipping and the UCLA offensive line gradually took the game over. After all of the conference realignment whoring around that Texas engaged in, don’t you know Larry Scott loved this one. On the bright side of things, I discovered that my team has multiple 3 and 4 yard out patterns available for those 4th and 5 or 4th and 6 situations which apparently are going to be coming up a bit more than I had anticpated. More importantly, I have always wanted to go to a bowl game in Sheveport. Hook ‘em.

    against a Texas defense which seemed to tire of

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    I apologize for the typos and edit errors which are even more prevalent than usual. I am not quite sober.

    Paul: Can’t blame you. Just recover in time for Saturday.

  3. Rafe says:

    I thought UCLA wouldn’t move the ball at all against Texas after watching Texas absolutely grind Texas Tech into submission in Lubbock the previous weekend. Needless to say, as a UH fan, I feel better about the team after UCLA showed that it could play up to its talent a second week in a row. I just wish we hadn’t lost our first and second team quarterbacks in that game. It’s going to be a long, unhappy season from here on out in Houston.

  4. Uberd says:

    chow 1, muschamp 1.

  5. Uberd says:

    texas looked like they were aiming for the sun, holiday or cotton bowl with that aborted mess they revealed yesterday.

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