Despite a season fraught with disappointment, the UCLA Bruins finally gave their fans a conference victory they can feel good about.
In one game, the Bruins went from ninth place in the Pac-10 to two wins away from postseason contention.
The Sons of Westwood needed some help from the referees and replay official upstairs to avoid overtime against Oregon State on Nov. 6 in Pasadena.
But after an additional second was added to the clock before each of the last two plays, UCLA emerged victorious on the leg of Kai Forbath’s 51-yard field goal as time expired.
“Death, taxes and Forbath—three things you can count on,” said a jovial coach Rick Neuheisel after the game.
Although the two-time Lou Groza award winner saved the Bruins’ season when the situation was most critical, “King Kai” hardly played his best game, as he missed his first two field goal attempts.
In spite of going 1-for-3 against the Beavers, Forbath has surely attracted a smattering of interest from several NFL teams looking to upgrade their kicking game for the next decade or so.
Already considered the best placekicker in college football, the senior had yet to hit a game-winner with time expiring until he cemented the victory over Oregon State.
As uplifting as the home win over a favored OSU team was, the Bruins have a lot more work to do as they hit the road for a critical two-game trip that will effectively decide if they get invited to a bowl game.
First, coach Neuheisel will have almost two weeks to prepare for a trip to Seattle to face his former team, the Washington Huskies.
CRN coached UW from 1999-2002, winning the Rose Bowl in 2001. As head coach of the Bruins, he has won each of his first two games against the Huskies in 2008-09.
Coupled with the fact that Washington has had a letdown season after a top-25 preseason ranking, Thursday, Nov. 18 provides an excellent opportunity for UCLA to regain some of the national respect they lost since beating then-No. 7 Texas back in September.
The matchup in Seattle will be televised on ESPN, and will showcase a more seasoned Richard Brehaut pitted against a Husky defense that currently ranks 109th in points allowed out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams across the nation.
With the momentum of a road victory at Husky Stadium, the Bruins can carry substantial confidence to then travel to Tempe to best an Arizona State squad that currently owns the same 4-5 (2-4 conference) record as the Bruins.
The Bruins have two winnable games on the horizon before their final regular-season matchup against USC on Dec. 4.
Although the latter contest will take place at the Rose Bowl, UCLA fans are reluctant to circle a win against the Trojans, who will have nothing but pride on the line as they play their last game of the season. Southern Cal is banned from postseason play until 2012.
Sudden Depth at MLB
The Bruins have established solid depth at middle linebacker. True freshman Jordan Zumwalt has exceeded expectations for a player fresh out of high school.
Initially expected to be buried on the depth chart for the first year of his collegiate career, Zumwalt was thrust into the starting lineup last week for an injured Patrick Larimore against Oregon State.
The Huntington Beach native responded with nine tackles (seven solo) and a second-quarter sack of QB Ryan Katz that put the Beavers beyond field goal range.
Larimore dislocated his left shoulder on Oct. 21 against Oregon. Although the sophomore was expected to return to practice by now, rest has not healed the injury as hoped. He was scheduled to have the shoulder re-examined on Tuesday night.
Bruin fans are holding their breath that Larimore hasn’t torn his labrum, and that surgery won’t be required for the middle linebacker who has made himself a fixture in the Bruin linebacking corps in 2010.
UPDATE: Larimore will have season-ending surgery on his shoulder next week.
Zumwalt has proven to be a formidable starter who can step up when called on. The freshman has gotten much more playing time in his inaugural season than he anticipated, and has shown he's a player. Although Larimore will be missed by the Bruin defense, Neuheisel looks to have made a fine get in bringing Zumwalt to Westwood.
Speaking of recruits, did you see the hit that S Dietrich Riley laid on the 2008 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year? RB Jacquizz Rodgers was shaken up in the second quarter, and this play undoubtedly sent a message to both sidelines that UCLA was not afraid to smack OSU in the mouth.
Riley was considered to be quite the coup for CRN’s recruiting team when the Pasadena native committed to play for the powder blue and gold in his hometown, and has shown flashes of brilliance in limited play thus far in his Bruin career.
While junior Tony Dye is entrenched as the starting strong safety in 2011, defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough could elect to shift the athletically gifted Riley over to free safety next year should Rahim Moore elect to skip his senior season and go pro.
On the injury front, RG Eddie Williams has been wearing a walking boot all week after suffering an ankle sprain against Oregon State. Coach Neuheisel fully expects the senior to be ready for practice on Sunday. Senior Micah Kia would start if Williams were unable to play in the Washington game on Nov. 18.
FS Dalton Hilliard sustained a concussion in the victory over the Beavers, and is expected to return to practice with a red non-contact jersey this week. Neuheisel is hopeful the sophomore can resume hitting in Sunday’s practice. Rahim Moore might take on even more snaps if Hilliard is unable to play against Washington, with freshman Alex Mascarenas sliding in as Moore’s backup.
Jake Locker has had a disappointing 2010 campaign, and the senior was sidelined for the Nov. 6 Oregon game with a broken rib. Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian said during Monday’s press teleconference that if his starting quarterback isn’t able to practice leading up to the UCLA matchup, then the future NFL draftee won’t get a chance to showcase his skills on national television next Thursday.
Locker received medical clearance on Tuesday, Nov. 16, but remains a game-time decision for Thursday's game.
Price received an onerous assignment in his first start against No. 1 Oregon at boisterous Autzen Stadium on Nov. 6. Although UW was blown out 53-16, Sarkisian was pleased with Price’s ability to manage the offense and not turn the ball over.
While Locker is a larger, stronger quarterback, Sarkisian describes Price as “a little bit quicker, he’s got a quicker release, [Price] is more of a sudden movement guy.”
Regardless of whether a healthy Price starts versus an injured Locker (does this scenario sound familiar, Bruin fans?), UCLA appears to have caught a break with the Huskies’ quarterback situation in a state of flux.