Before last Saturday's battle with the Arizona State Sun Devils, I felt that UCLA's seniors were primed to have a big day,being that it was their last home game and all.
After the Bruins' 23-13 win at the Rose Bowl before a surprisingly small crowd of 46,151, it's safe to say that the seniors stepped up.
Alterraun Verner began the scoring with a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown, his record fourth pick-six this year, on ASU's very first possession. He also recovered a fumble later in the game.
Chane Moline was a truck at running back, chewing up yards, sustaining drives, and linebacker Reggie Carter was all over the field.
The key to the UCLA victory, however, were the six turnovers that the Sun Devils committed, including five fumbles, one that was returned by linebacker Akeem Ayers for a TD in the second quarter. Those giveaways killed ASU, given that their defense, ranked in the nation's Top 20, only allowed three Kai Forbath field goals by the Bruins offense.
Samson Szakacsy did well in his first Sun Devil start, completing 15 out of 22 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, one of them a 70-yard strike to cut the Bruin lead to 10 in the fourth quarter.
The UCLA offense was led by Moline's 84 yards on 25 carries, as well as Kevin Prince's 161 yards on 15-of-31 passing. Though they didn't turn the ball over, the Bruins were rather stagnant once they got into the red zone, getting only those three field goals; the two Bruin touchdowns were generated by the defense.
Penalties were the biggest problem, as the Bruins were flagged 11 times for 100 yards, including three personal fouls. A false start in the red zone cost UCLA a TD in the second quarter and an offside call nullified a fumble recovery.
Despite that, the Bruin defense was beastly and stout, getting four sacks in addition to the six turnovers and generally slamming the door on any chance for an Arizona State comeback. Jerry Siewierski saw to that when with a couple of minutes left in the fourth quarter, he forced a fumble which Brian Price,who had two sacks,recovered the football.
That pretty much ended the Sun Devils' day.
The win earned the Bruins (6-5, 3-5 in the Pac-10 Conference) bowl eligibility for the first time in coach Rick Neuheisel's tenure, giving them momentum going into their upcoming crosstown war with USC this Saturday in the Coliseum.
Now that they have have that sixth win, they are officially eligible for the postseason and are on a three-game winning streak. I feel that unlike in most recent years, UCLA has a good shot to beat the Trojans.
Among the keys to that game will be to avoid the penalties and mistakes that were committed against ASU and to take better advantage of scoring opportunities inside the 20-yard line.
The Bruin defense also needs to perform well against USC like it did against the Sun Devils (4-6, 2-6 in the Pac-10) and Washington State two weeks ago, by creating havoc in the backfield and disrupting the Trojans' offense.
Forcing a few turnovers would help too.
In light of how UCLA has bounced back after going winless in October, this has the potential to be a most interesting and competitive rivalry game.