EUGENE, Ore. – UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said throughout the week the Bruins were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle against no. 8 Oregon.
They saw lightning, all right. They just couldn’t catch it.
Yellow bursts of light in the familiar green jerseys, the pronounced jersey numbers almost glowing as they flashed right by, all the way into the end zone.
The Bruins could not bottle up the Ducks’ offense and Oregon ran all the way to the Rose Bowl by way of a 49-31 victory in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game at Autzen Stadium.
“Oh, man it’s tough,” said sophomore linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who had eight tackles. “There were a couple of times I didn’t even have time to look at the down and distance. Coaches did a good job getting the plays in, but that tempo is so fast.
“Tempo is definitely their best weapon.”
LaMichael James isn’t too shabby, though. Neither is Darron Thomas.
James had 219 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 attempts and added two receptions for 24 yards while Thomas completed 20 of 36 attempts for 219 yards and three scores. he completed passes to nine Ducks.
With an offensive scheme more relentless than a wildfire, Oregon caught UCLA off-guard and continued to pounce by hitting seven plays of more than 15 yards in the first half.
“I don’t think we had problems in terms of how we executed procedure,” linebackers coach Clark Lea said. “But when you get fatigued, you get misaligned and we were caught a couple times. When we got lined up, good things happened.”
UCLA did keep up with Oregon on occasion, but the Ducks forced an offense that needed to be flawless into numerous flubs.
The Bruins committed four turnovers, including a pair of fumbles by running back Johnathan Franklin, and the Ducks capitalized with 21 points off the miscues.
“That is a team that is not going to make a lot of mistakes,” junior offensive lineman Jeff Baca said. “Offensively, we felt we had to come out and score on every drive. if we did, it would’ve been a different story.”
UCLA proved how crucial takeaways could be midway through the first quarter, when junior linebacker Patrick Larimore caught a Thomas pass that bounced off Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and returned it 35 yards for the score to tie the game at seven.
But back came the Ducks, who scored on four of their next five possessions to distance themselves from the Bruins.
“You take away the turnovers – the things that make a good team into a great team like Oregon – and we win the game,” said junior tight end Joseph Fauria, who had four receptions for 50 yards. “That feels like it was the case the whole year. But that’s what makes the difference. It’s tough to swallow.”
Oregon had little problem swallowing up the UCLA running game, particularly on fourth down.
UCLA trailed 7-0 with just under nine minutes left in the first quarter when running back Derrick Coleman was stopped on fourth and one at the Oregon 23-yard line. Late in the third quarter, Franklin was jammed up on fourth down at the Oregon 46.
“They are stout up front,” said UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, who coached his last game for his alma mater after his firing on Monday. “We felt like we had good plans as to how to go about getting fourth-and-ones, and unfortunately we ended up on the short end of the stick a couple of times.”
Despite falling short, UCLA did not waver in its resolve, however, in reversing a pattern that has doomed the Bruins throughout a topsy-turvy season. with Oregon a 31-point favorite heading into the game, UCLA could’ve caved, but it did not, unrelenting until the end, including the game’s last score, a 19-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kevin Prince to senior wide receiver Nelson Rosario with less than two minutes left.
“Tonight was our last night we had coach Neuheisel,” Zumwalt said. “For one game. we just wanted it so bad for him. we showed our heart and pride for him.”
There were celebrations all over the Coliseum field Saturday night when USC ended its season with a 50-point victory over crosstown rival UCLA, but that joy also contained anger directed at the NCAA and Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel.
USC coach Lane Kiffin criticized the sanctions of the past two seasons that denied this year’s team of a chance to play for the Pacific-12 Conference championship and a likely BCS bowl game.
“The common theme (of the season) is it makes no sense,” Kiffin said. “What was the purpose of taking bowl games from these 18- to 20-year-old kids?”
The other target was Neuheisel’s “gap (between the schools) has closed” comment as Kiffin acknowledged some USC players declined to shake hands with UCLA players after the game.
“They were really insulted by that,” Kiffin said. “They even brought it up at halftime. They took it very personal. it was almost as if they were playing against him.”
Quarterback Matt Barkley said after the game he had “no clue” when he would decide whether to return or go pro. Kiffin put the quarterback’s dilemma in stark terms late Saturday.
“Unless he just wants to do it to be a special Trojan, he is not coming back,” Kiffin said.
The USC coach said no one knows when a player actually will get drafted but did say, “Knowing what a player he is, he will be drafted in the top five.”
Kiffin added, “I look up to Matt Barkley. He has been through a lot of adversity. Basically all of his dreams about football were taken away with the sanctions. I don’t know any 39-year-olds that can handle things the way he did, much less any 19-year-olds.”
Kiffin said Sunday wide receiver Robert Woods, one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, is “probably the second-best receiver on the team” behind freshman Marqise Lee.
“Robert is an awesome player,” Kiffin said. “(But against Oregon and UCLA) it was hard to argue that, outside of the quarterback, Marqise wasn’t the best player on the field.”
It was an odd statement considering Woods requires ankle surgery, could barely move his shoulder against Washington and still set a Pacific-12 Conference record for receptions (111).
But Kiffin tends to search for novel ways to praise freshmen to portray a bright future. He said Lee could “be the best receiver to ever play here.”
Kiffin said USC’s image changed during the course of the season.
“I told the kids I really believe USC is the most disliked team in the nation,” he said. “I think a lot of people in the country came to love them. this group of kids made me better.”
Kiffin made it clear tailback Dillon Baxter, who was given his release earlier this month, no was longer part of the football program.
“Nor will he ever be in our program,” he said.
Tailback Amir Carlisle will undergo knee surgery after USC concludes finals in mid-December. USC ended the season with 11 scholarship players out with injuries.
Stat of the season
Despite being labeled the weak spot of the team before the season, USC’s offensive line allowed fewer sacks (eight) than any team in the Pacific-12 Conference.
UCLA needed a win over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl to take over a winning record last season, as they finished up the 2009 campaign at 7-6. the Bruins however were just 3-6 in Pac-10 play, finishing ahead of only Arizona State and Washington State. the Bruins head into the 2010 season with 13 starters back, and enter the third season under head coach Rick Neuheisel. the talent is starting to grow on this team, and while they likely won’t win the conference this season, they could really surprise a lot of teams. Here is a quick breakdown of what the Bruins will look like this season, plus my prediction on where they finish the year in the Pac-10.
The Bruins are hoping to get improved play out of quarterback Kevin Prince, who enters into his sophomore season after a pretty good freshman run, where he threw for 2,050 yards and eight touchdowns. If Prince improves as everyone expects he will, the Bruins should have one of their best offenses in years.
The running game will feature another talented sophomore in Johnathan Franklin, who led the Bruins with 566 yards and five touchdowns in 2009. also back in the mix in the running game is junior Derrick Coleman, who had 244 yards on just 54 carries last season.
The Bruins will get their top two threats in the passing game back for the upcoming season, in juniors Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, but they may end up taking a seat behind the talented freshman Malcolm Jones, who is expected to start right away. the Bruins are expected to fill the void at tight end with sophomore Joseph Fauria.
The offensive line welcomes back four starters from last season, but will have to find a new starting left tackle for the upcoming season. Heading into the fall it looks as though senior Micah Kia will take over that responsibility, as he has starting experience but was forced to sit out last season with a ACL injury.
The Bruins only return five starters on this side of the ball, and were hit the hardest up front where they lose three starters, including the very talented defensive tackle Brian Price. Senior Kevin Carter and junior Nate Chandler are expected to take over in the middle, while freshman Owamagbe Odighizuwa looks to make an immediate impact starting opposite of junior Datone Jones at defensive end.
At linebacker the Bruins will have one of the best linebackers in the conference in junior strong-side linebacker Akeem Ayers, but they must replace both other spots this fall. it looks as though junior Steve Sloan will take over in the middle, while junior Sean Westgate is the leading candidate to take over on the weak side.
The Bruins bring back three starters in the secondary, and this unit will likely be one of the best the Pac-10 has to offer this season. A couple of sophomores will start at corner in Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester, and Price is expected to be one of the best in conference after a solid freshman season. at safety the Bruins have two very talented playmakers in junior free safety Rahim Moore and junior strong safety Tony Dye.
PAC 10 Prediction – Tie for 7th: the Bruins are a tough team to predict in 2010, as they have a lot of very good young talent. despite the five conference home games the schedule is very tough for the Bruins this season, as the Pac-10 really looks strong in 2010. This team has a chance to be one of the surprise stories of the season, and could easily finish much higher than I have them predicted.
For a complete look at how the conference will play out this season, check out our 2010 Pac-10 predictions.
If you are looking to make some money betting the college football odds this season, be sure to stop back for our expert college football picks when the season gets underway.