“Woo hoo! We don’t suck anymore!!”
This emphatically self-aware sentiment was heard from the Rose Bowl stands during UCLA’s unlikely 31-13 victory over No. 23 Houston on Saturday.
Although the preceding declaration is still up for discussion, Bruin fans can feel free to step away from the proverbial ledge on their team’s 2010 season prospects. UCLA took a big step forward against the Cougars in Pasadena after taking several steps backwards against Stanford the week before.
Perhaps there is hope for Kevin Prince, head coach Rick Neuheisel, and his Revolver offense. Maybe the Bruins won’t be the winless laughingstock we had feared might be forthcoming.
Momentum is the ideal elixir than can prepare even the most humble teams for the most daunting of adversaries. The Bruins are the same program that was trampled by the Cardinal 35-0 on Sept. 11, but their mindset is completely different having tasted the sweet nectar of success just seven days later.
With a little confidence and a lot of execution on the field at Darrell K Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium against the No. 7 Longhorns on Sept. 25, the Bruins have an opportunity to achieve a feat that will be remembered by college football historians for decades. UCLA may not match up on paper or in a sports book with UT (the point spread currently has Texas favored by more than two touchdowns), but they didn’t 13 years ago either, when these two schools first went head to head.
Many fans and alumni fondly recall where they were on September 13, 1997, when the unranked 0-2 Bruins went to Austin and humiliated then-No. 11 Texas 66-3 behind five Cade McNown touchdown passes. In spite of being a 10-point underdog, then-coach Bob Toledo conjured up the perfect game plan to give Westwood its most glorious and memorable victory over an opponent not clad in cardinal and gold in school history.
The following year, UCLA and UT resumed their home-and-away series, but in the rematch, Texas was seeking revenge for the national embarrassment it endured from the first game. The Longhorn offense came to play, but the Bruins were more efficient, and won 49-31 at the Rose Bowl.
If nothing else, history and momentum are on UCLA’s side. Let’s look at some other positives that the Bruins have working as the team looks towards its Austin-bound flight.
Revolver shooting straight
Throughout the Houston victory, RB Johnathan Franklin ran like a man escaping from captivity, and Kevin Prince played much better than his stat line would indicate. Although he was picked off on an errant throw, his performance was encouraging for both Bruin fans and coaches. The redshirt sophomore impressed with his second-quarter Tim Tebow impersonation when he imposed his will on a two-yard touchdown run, but his running clearly caught Houston off guard. UT head coach Mack Brown will be ready should Prince tuck the ball and take off.
While the Bruins can thump their chest for one week, the offensive coordinator Norm Chow knows he will have to tweak UCLA’s offensive attack for Texas, which now has loads of video on the Revolver and can game plan accordingly.
If Prince plays turnover-free and hits his receivers consistently, then the Bruins may have a shot to keep up with the Longhorns. In order for the UCLA QB to have time to find his receivers, he’ll need the protection and run blocking to stay on par with last week’s stellar performance.
O-Line is actually blocking!
What do you get when you throw five redshirt senior linemen with a limited number of starts between them together to block against the No. 23-ranked college team in the country? You get a dominant performance that yielded zero sacks and netted 257 yards rushing on Saturday.
Prince proved that he can make plays with sufficient time in the pocket to either look downfield, or take off with the ball. If left tackle Sean Sheller can guard the signal caller’s blind side against Longhorn defensive end Eddie Jones as effectively as he did against Cougar DE Zeke Riser, then UCLA’s passing offense may stand a chance to crack triple digits in yardage this week.
In all likelihood, UT’s defensive front seven will make Houston’s look like a junior varsity practice squad by comparison. The talent pool that the Big 12 Conference collects is vastly superior to that of Conference USA’s athletes, and UCLA’s overachieving big men had better be ready for the disparity in athleticism.
Franklin looks quick and powerful
Bruin fans are hoping “Jetski” saved some rushing yards for his trip to Austin. The sophomore out of Dorsey High School enjoyed a career night at the Rose Bowl against Houston with 26 carries for 157 yards and three touchdowns, but will be needed to approach those numbers against a much more stout Texas defense in a hostile environment.
Franklin stepped up as the primary halfback with Derrick Coleman in street clothes with a concussion, and true freshman Malcolm Jones afflicted by fumble-itis. Prince shouldn’t be expected to get 10 rushing attempts moving forward. If he tries to channel his inner Tebow again at the goal line in Austin, he might get pulverized by Longhorn linebackers and/or safeties, prompting the Richard Brehaut era to prematurely commence.
If Malcolm Jones can improve his ball security issues that marred the Houston victory, then the Bruins have a capable one-two punch at tailback to carry the rock, even if Coleman can’t return in time for Texas.
LBs Larimore, Ayers look scary
Linebacker Patrick Larimore made a name for himself back in Spring Ball with furious intensity and textbook tackling, and would eventually usurp a starting job by the second game of the season. On Saturday, the hype came to fruition as he won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week with 11 tackles (three for a loss) and a forced fumble against a well-oiled Houston offense that was averaging 576 yards per game. Now that Larimore has arrived, he fits comfortably as the complementary piece in a killer linebacking duo. He drew qualified praise from CRN. "He sees the field well and has good instincts," Neuheisel said. "He's going to be a bona fide big-time player."
However, CRN checked himself by saying, "You can't start putting him up for honors yet. He's done it for three games."
All-American athletic freak Akeem Ayers made the huge play that would permanently change Houston’s season. After his 77-yard interception return from the UCLA three-yard line, Cougar senior quarterback Case Keenum suffered a torn ACL that will end his college football career. Houston would need to play three more QBs to get through four quarters, rendering the team’s trip to Pasadena an unmitigated disaster.
Bruin fans are hoping the tenacious pressure from Ayers and Larimore carries over to Sept. 25, and affects the play of the rest of the defense as UCLA travels to the Lone Star State.
Texas looked sloppy against Tech last Saturday
If the Bruins are to travel to Texas and beat the heavily-favored Longhorns in their own house, then more will be required for an improbable upset than just great play from UCLA.
Texas is coming off a lackluster performance against Texas Tech last Saturday. Although the ‘Horns won the contest 24-14, any UT fan who watched the game will tell you they grew a few gray hairs while watching their team turn the ball over four times. As the UT/Tech game took place in extremely unfriendly confines of Lubbock, the Longhorns are undoubtedly looking forward to their return to Austin for some home cooking, especially against a Pac-10 program that humiliated them twice over a decade ago.
If you think Longhorn Nation has a short memory that forgets such unlikely upsets, just wait until the thunderous burnt-orange crowd greets the Bruins on Saturday.