UCLA football: A fan's look back at Oregon
Yes, even fans need a vacation every now and then and I spent mine on the East Coast, finding among other things that Bruce Springsteen is still the best, that it's fun when the Dodgers win a playoff series no matter where you are, and that most people east of here think the only college football team west of the Rockies is USC.
But on a weekend the Trojans didn't even play, the West Coast may as well not have even existed as far as folks in the Northeast were concerned -- though after just having watched an excruciatingly frustrating replay of the Bruins' performance Saturday, the better alternative might have been to be invisible.
Here are "observations, opinions and reflections from the fan's chair" after UCLA's 24-10 loss to Oregon.
-- Let's start with some good news. Take away the touchdowns by Oregon's special teams and defense and the final score is a 10-10 tie against the No. 13 team in the country. (I won't mention UCLA's only touchdown was a defensive one though or that Oregon was playing a backup quarterback or that it was missing two top defensive backs or ...)
-- The Bruins held Oregon scoreless in the first half to extend their shutout streak against the Ducks in the Rose Bowl to eight consecutive quarters. Oregon had scored 94 points in its two previous games.
-- Overall, UCLA had only three penalties for 25 yards and didn't commit their first until the second quarter.
-- Kai Forbath's 52-yard field goal late in the first half would have been good from 60 (man, is he good). He now is tied for third on the school's all-time list with 57 field goals.
-- Punter/kickoff specialist Jeff Locke continues to do his job with such precision that it's very easy to take him for granted. Locke averaged 50.4 yards on seven punts and had one as long as 77 yards. Two of his three kickoffs were touchbacks and you saw what happened on the one that did get returned (more on that later).
-- Defensively, UCLA had several individual moments of brilliance though the overall inability to slow Oregon's running game (against a first-time starting quarterback, Nate Costa) was a negative factor in being able to grasp on to any brief momentum that was generated.
-- Speaking of individual brilliance, Akeem Ayers' interception and touchdown in one motion after pressuring Costa in the end zone had to be one of the most athletic plays I've seen in quite some time.
-- Brian Price was his usual dominant self up front and was at his best when he forced Costa into not only a 21-yard loss but an intentional grounding penalty.
-- Although I wasn't very pleased with Kevin Prince's performance at quarterback (even though he did have eight straight completions at one point) after his return from a broken jaw, he did convince me of his toughness by never shying away from contact and even lowering his helmet to take on tacklers while trying to earn a first down.
-- Freshman Richard Brehaut, on the other hand, looked strong and sharp, for the most part, in his first real under-pressure action, though his inexperience certainly showed on the sacks he took.
-- Should be quite interesting to see what Coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow decide to do at quarterback for this week's home game against California. Glad I don't have to make the call.
-- Now to that disastrous 3:56 we talked about earlier. Breaking it down even further, the Bruins saw 14 points scored against them in 26 seconds after 30 minutes of shutout football.
-- Leading 3-0 at halftime, UCLA saw the opening kickoff returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Oregon, saw Prince throw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on UCLA's first play from scrimmage in the second half and watched Prince fumble on the second play of the next possession with Oregon soon scoring on a pass play to make a 21-3 game with 11:06 left in the third quarter. Realistically, at that point it was "game over."
-- Prince totally lost his confidence after that and began telegraphing passes and falling into the quarterbacking tunnel vision trap, which caused Neuheisel to bring in Brehaut.
-- UCLA has the worst red-zone offense in the Pac-10, so it should have been a sign of the way the day would go when the Bruins couldn't convert a first and goal from the two-yard line late in the first quarter.
-- Terrence Austin came up big on a punt return late that the Bruins couldn't cash in on, but he also made a poor decision on another one early in the game by taking too long to field it.
-- On TV it wasn't acknowledged, but that was Jerzy Siewierski blocking a 51-yard field-goal attempt by Oregon in the first quarter.
-- Running back Johnathan Franklin looked strong again early but was sidelined in the second quarter because of a sprained ankle, though Oregon's 21-point outburst probably would have made it difficult for the Bruins to turn to him anyway since they were playing catchup.
-- Glad to see more of Damien Thigpen, but one thing he needs to do is make quicker decisions and focus on north-south running instead of trying to beat everyone to the outside. It doesn't always work.
-- Nice that Christian Ramirez got his first carries in more than a season. He could be a factor in the backfield yet this year.
-- Seeing LaMichael James rush for 152 yards against the Bruins, makes me really worry about playing against Jacquizz Rodgers and Oregon State on Halloween night in Corvallis.
-- Still waiting for that go-to receiver to emerge, though Taylor Embree is getting close but took a step back on UCLA's final possession. That drive ended when Brehaut threw an interception after it tipped off Embree's hands on what was a difficult but still catchable pass. It's certainly one that a go-to receiver would make.
-- I'm still wanting more from Logan Paulsen, though his one reception for 26 yards was the longest of the game for any Bruin. The reality, however, was that UCLA's tight ends were a non-factor.
-- Did you notice the tremendous open-field tackle by Alterraun Verner on James after the Oregon running back looked to be on his way to a touchdown on the last play of the first quarter? Oregon's drive stalled soon thereafter.
-- Final grade: C-minus. It easily could have been a "D" but that would take away credit from Oregon, which certainly had something to do with the way UCLA played. The lack of big plays (and playmakers, in general, on offense) is getting old and the UCLA's defense giving up 221 yards on the ground can't be a good sign. If something doesn't change this week, that 3-0 start and all the optimism and good will it created will vanish.
-- Jim Barrero
Photo: Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons on Oct. 9 at the final show at Giants Stadium. Jim Barrero was at this show. The rest of us are just jealous. Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP.