UCLA Football: The Six Best Wins Of The Decade
Let's be honest and face facts, folks: The first decade of the 21st century was a very mediocre one for the UCLA Bruins football program.
That was a difficult thing to say, being a loyal alumnus and a dedicated member of Bruin Nation, but it is also the truth.
This program has had three coaches over these past ten years, including the current one, Rick Neuheisel. UCLA's two previous head honchos, Bob Toledo and Karl Dorrell, were fired after failing to live up to expectations and falling behind crosstown enemy USC in execution and success.
Let us take stock in the just completed decade:
An overall record of 67 wins and 57 losses, with a sub-par record of 41-43 in the Pacific 10 Conference.
No BCS bowl appearances and a 3-5 record in the bowls they did appear in; two Sun Bowls were as good as it got for the Bruins.
A failure to reach the top ten in the polls, with UCLA's highest ranking being at No. 11 during the 2005 season.
And worst of all, the Bruins beat the Trojans only once in ten tries, losing seven in a row in one stretch.
A performance like this wouldn't be so bad at certain schools, but compared to earlier decades in which UCLA enjoyed Pac-10 glory, Rose Bowl berths and top ten rankings, this was an unacceptable period.
However, despite all of this there were bright spots as the Bruins did achieve some big wins over significant opponents, wins that made for some good memories in Westwood.
I thought I would list the six victories that were the best in my view, in descending order, starting with...
6. UCLA 20, Alabama 17, in 2001
This was by far the biggest road triumph during the decade, as the Bruins overcame a 10-0 Crimson Tide lead in front of a typically large and hostile SEC crowd in Tuscaloosa.
The defense came alive in sacking the Tide's quarterback three times. DeShaun Foster ran for 110 yards, Cory Paus threw a 53 yard bomb for a touchdown to Tab Perry to silence the 'Bama faithful, and most significantly UCLA had no penalties or turnovers, the first and perhaps only time that has ever happened.
5. UCLA 35, Alabama 24, in 2000
After a disappointing 1999, the Bruins began the new millennium against a team that entered the season ranked third in the nation, coming off an SEC championship and a win in the Orange Bowl.
Led by DeShaun Foster's 187 yards and three rushing touchdowns along with Freddie Mitchell's 46 yard TD catch and a touchdown throw off an option play, Bob Toledo's squad overcame a 71 yard punt return and a 91 yard interception return, both ending in scores, to get the victory as the defense forced three key turnovers.
It was a pretty decent way to begin the new century.
4. UCLA 23, Michigan 20, in 2000
The biggest thing I remember abut this contest in the Rose Bowl between the Bruins and their Ann Arbor foes was that it was excruciatingly hot, with the temperature hitting 103 degrees in Pasadena; 15 people had to go to the hospital for heat exhaustion that day.
It turned out to be worth it as UCLA came back from a 20-10 deficit in the fourth quarter behind Ryan McCann's 236 yards pasing and two touchdowns. Freddie Mitchell stepped up huge in catching ten passes for 137 yards, and Jason Stephens clinched the win with a last minute pick.
For the second time in three weeks, a No. 3 ranked team fell to UCLA.
3. UCLA 41, Oklahoma 24, in 2005
This was a statement game for coach Karl Dorrell, as the Sooners from Norman were fresh off a BCS championship game appearance and had one of the game's top running backs in Adrian Peterson, who's now starring for the Minesota Vikings.
Peterson was held to 58 yards on the ground that day as the Bruins came back from an early Sooner lead to overtake OU. Drew Olson threw for 314 yards with three TDs as UCLA scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.
The defense was key as well, forcing three Oklahoma fumbles which led to 17 points.
2. UCLA 47, California 40, in 2005
This battle at the Rose Bowl between the University of California's two flagship campuses was epic, the best in the longtime series.
It marked the first time that the Bruins and Berkeley's Golden Bears met while ranked in the top 20, Cal at No. 10 and UCLA at No. 18.
Since both teams had high scoring offenses that year, it promised to be an exciting contest.
The crowd of 84,811 were not disappointed, as the game went back and forth with the Bruins overcoming a nine point Bear advantage and hundred yard rushing games by Cal running backs Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett.
Maurice Jones-Drew, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, helped to knock out the Bears with 299 yards of total offense and five touchdowns, including an 81 yard punt return for a score that electrified his UCLA teammates and fans.
The fact that the Bruins ended the game with a last minute interception deep in their territory and a final score by Drew only served to put an exclamation point on the whole thing.
UCLA showed much heart and guts in that victory, which should have earned them a permanent spot on ESPN Classic.
Now you know I could not make a list of great Bruin wins on the gridiron without including at least one triumph over their USC enemies.
Choosing this game as the best win of the decade was admittedly predictable, but as a fervent member of Bruin Nation, I feel it's my duty and obligation to do so...
1. UCLA 13, USC 9, in 2006
A game that will live for eternity in Bruin lore and, much to the delight of Bruins everywhere, in Trojan infamy.
This was unquestionably the biggest upset in the history of the crosstown rivalry, and perhaps the biggest upset not only in Bruin football history, but in the entire history of UCLA athletics.
With 'SC as a powerhouse two years removed for an epic national championship, complete with a 10-1 record, a No.2 ranking, and a spot in the BCS title game on the line, how could it not have been an upset for the ages?
Especially with the Bruins being only 6-5 that afternoon of Dec. 2nd.
Led by defensive linemen Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis, UCLA's defense were absolute studs in stuffing the vaunted Trojan offensive attack time after time, particularly on 4th down conversions.
Before 90,266 rabid fans, Eric McNeal's tipped interception to stop a potential game winning drive and Aaron Perez's 63 yard punt sealed the deal on a victory that broke a streak of 63 games in which USC scored at least 20 points.
Most importantly, it denied those Men of Troy a shot at the national championship.
It was the highest ranked team that UCLA had ever beaten, as well as Karl Dorrell's signature win.
And I had the privilege, pleasure, and honor of being at the Rose Bowl to witness it.
I hope these recollections of this past decade's bright spots provided happy memories for Bruin fans and alumni, in light of the overall disappointment that these past ten years have brought to Westwood.
Perhaps the next decade that's upon us will bring better results for UCLA football, and I'll be able to make a list in 2020 of at least ten of the greatest Bruin wins instead of a mere six.
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