A Potentially Signature Win?

Everyone talks about "signature wins," and UCLA's big victory over Texas in Austin, 34-12, is perhaps one for Rick Neuheisel's program. It was perhaps reminiscient of another game when UCLA dominated a Big 12 opponent...

UCLA won probably its biggest victory of the Rick Neuheisel era Saturday in defeating #7-ranked Texas in Austin, 34-12.

People talk about "signature games," this was definitely one of them, beating a top 10 team on national television, and doing it in a way that really could possibly define Neuheisel's program.

Of course, everyone who watched the game from the stands or on television – all 8 million of us – realized that Texas was very over-rated as a top-10 team. The Longhorns simply weren't very good, and that's not even talking about the mistakes – the turnovers, penalties and dropped balls. The #7-team in the country shouldn't be dominated on both lines of scrimmage – at home – like they were by the Bruins.

Unless UCLA is really better than we think?

It probably is a little bit of both.

The Bruins won this game, though, make no mistake, not because of Texas's mistakes, because, really, UCLA didn't even capitalize enough on them, getting only 10 of its points from turnovers. No, UCLA won this game because of the excellent job it did in its running game, specifically how this ragtag, senior-laden offensive line created holes for its running backs. The Bruins rushed for 264 yards against what had been ranked going into the game as the #1 rushing defense in the nation. In our preview we said whichever team would be able to run the ball would probably win, and that clearly proved to be true, with Texas rushing for only 85 yards.

UCLA ran for 193 yards on 32 carries -- in the second half. If there ever was a statistic that reflected a team dominating another in a game that's it.

Here's a unique stat for you: UCLA possessed the ball for 35:29 compared to Texas's 24:31. When's the last time UCLA had possession of the ball for 10 minutes longer than its opponent?

Now, if UCLA can conjure up a passing attack over the last eight games of the season we could really be talking about having a legitimately good team that could make some real noise.

And it's not as if that's really a wildly unlikely proposition. It might sound silly after UCLA just threw for a total of 27 yards in a game, but there are clear signs that there is a potential passing game somewhere in that offense. And this might be the key: UCLA's running game now opening up its struggling passing game. In the fourth quarter against Texas, with UCLA up by three touchdowns and needing to hold on to the ball, it garnered a few first downs by Kevin Prince throwing some easy pitch-and-catches to Nelson Rosario on third down. UCLA had been pounding Texas's defense on the ground, and the Longhorns were doing everything they could to stop UCLA's running game, and that made it easy for Prince to throw a couple of easy outs to Rosario. This could be the principle on which UCLA's offense really flourishes for the rest of the season: opposing defenses having to stack their box and scheme to stop UCLA's running game, which will open up opportunities for UCLA's passing game.

Isn't it grand how this works when you actually can run the ball?

If you're talking about "signature" moments, UCLA's first drive of the second half might be remembered as the one that really established this team this season.

UCLA is up 13-3 at halftime, and you really don't know what to think at halftime – whether UCLA really has enough to hold on for a win over the next two quarters. UCLA's running game had looked okay – running for 71 yards on 24 carries, but the half had been riddled by mistakes, from both teams. Texas had four turnovers, four penalties, a number of dropped balls and just generally a bunch of bonehead plays, but UCLA had had its fair share, with two fumbles and six penalties. At halftime you kind of felt whoever wins this game will be the team that makes the less mistakes in the second half. You might have been thinking that if UCLA had just converted on one more of those first-half turnovers – and the score was 20-3 – that might be enough points for UCLA to be able to hold on.

What probably would have been delusional of a UCLA fan at that point was to envision a drive where UCLA drove the length of the field, eating up clock, dominating the line of scrimmage and putting a touchdown on the board.

Well, it was exactly what the delusional UCLA fan envisioned.

After the touchback, UCLA started at its own 20. You knew things could be different when Prince completed a quick out to Morrell Presley, for the F-back's first catch of the season, for 6 yards. Johnathan Franklin than pounded the line on the next two plays for 10 yards, to give UCLA a second-and-7 at its own 36. Franklin then scooted up the middle through a nice seam created by the offensive line for 35 yards, breaking tackles, spinning away from others, to the Texas 29-yard line. Derrick Coleman then comes in to give Franklin a blow and he runs as well as he ever has on the next two plays to gain a total of 11. Prince then kept it for a run of 7, and then Franklin, back in the game and deserving of the touchdown, bursts through a big hole for an 11-yard touchdown run.

Eight plays, seven of them on the ground, for a total of an 80-yard, signature drive. The only thing wrong with it was that UCLA's running game was too effective, eating up only 3:45 of the clock. But UCLA got its three-score cushion at 20-3.

The tone of the game completely shifted after that drive. In the first half it was really uncertain which team was the better one. Was UCLA really superior or was it just benefitting from Texas's mistakes? Even if the Bruins didn't convert many points on those turnovers, they were still taking the ball out of Texas's hands. But that first drive of the second half laid down the law; UCLA took over the game from that point on and there was no looking back.

Again, it's amazing what a good running game can do for you.

Texas didn't turn over the ball in the second half. They did commit a few more penalties – one huge one (an illegal substitution that gave UCLA a first down) in fact – but the momentum of the game had already shifted significantly.

There had been some discussion about how UCLA looked like they tired out in the second half of the Kansas State game. But here in Austin, in 90-degree weather and some considerable humidity, the Bruins got stronger in the second half.

Again it's amazing what a running game can do for you -- when you possess the ball on offense for so long you wear down the other team's defense and keep your own defense off the field.

UCLA's defense, God bless ‘em, has been carrying the UCLA program for as long as we all can remember. In this game, for truly the first time in a long time, they were able to stay fresh because UCLA's offense stayed on the field. As a result you had a defense that kept Texas to a total of 349 yards and just 85 yards rushing, and an average of just 3.7 yards per carry.

UCLA's first string D actually posted better numbers than the final stats. UCLA's second string allowed Texas its only true drive and touchdown, the 80-yard one in the fourth quarter.

UCLA's first string defense, really, kept Texas out of the end zone the entire game.

Of course, you don't want to attribute UCLA's excellent defensive effort to the UCLA offense merely being able to run the ball, because that would be slighting the defense again. The defense was solid, with the front seven looking particularly good, especially now that it appears the guys who have definitely shown they can play are the ones getting the bulk of the minutes. There has been a marked difference in the defense's effectiveness since Keenan Graham was installed as the virtual starter, and Akeem Ayers playing primarily at defensive end, which enables Nate Chandler to plug in at defensive tackle. UCLA, with that line-up, gets pressure on the quarterback by rushing just four linemen, which enables UCLA to utilize its nickel more, making it better against the pass, quicker and more athletic in its pursuit. UCLA's defense clearly looked like the quicker, more athletic unit on the field, mostly because the Bruins have now gotten speed on the field by moving Ayers to DE and inserting Dalton Hilliard or Andrew Abbott at the nickel spot.

Now, we can discuss ad nauseum that it seemingly took the UCLA defensive brain trust a while to come up with this idea. Many thought that these personnel moves were obvious coming out of fall camp, but no matter. Let's give the coaching staff credit for making the move regardless.

It's now exciting to think about the prospects of this defense. UCLA, with its personnel options, moves between different formations and utilizes players at different spots. As we said in our season preview, the defense would struggle at the beginning of the season because of its inexperience – with six of the seven front seven being new starters – but we also thought that, because of the inherent talent, by the end of the season the defense could be formidable. It appears UCLA's defense has taken some considerable steps in that maturation.

Back in September of 1988 there was a game that really resonates as one of UCLA's defining moments in its football history. UCLA took on Nebraska, and completely dominated them, particularly on the line of scrimmage. The now immortal headline in Sports Illustrated was "Powder-blue Bullies." (Article is Here). The article mostly discussed how UCLA had physically dominated Nebraska for the first time.

We're not saying that this game approaches that one. UCLA, in the late ‘80s, was one of the best programs in college football.

But the victory over Texas felt similar in many ways, mostly because UCLA dominated both lines of scrimmage. Texas, in the second half, even stacked the box against the Bruins' running game. UCLA's offense was, to be blunt, completely one-dimensional, but the Longhorns couldn't stop UCLA's offensive line and its running game.

Again, it's amazing what a running game can do for you.

Much of the credit goes to the new offensive scheme. The Pistol really was the star of the game. Even without a passing game, the Pistol's running scheme is so unpredictable that it's still hard to stop on the ground. Give UCLA's coaches a great deal of credit for recognizing the Pistol as a means to jump-starting UCLA's running game.

Watching Kevin Prince score on his touchdown scamper, and see him punching the air in triumph as he crossed the goal line was something great to witness, for him and for UCLA fans, especially those cheering wildly in Texas Memorial Stadium. And the much-publicized moment when Prince was on the sideline being attended to for an injured knee, and UCLA recovers the fumble on the punt, and he basically tells the trainer to get out of his way because he needs to get back into the game, is a defining, signature moment.

When Neuheisel brought the team out onto the field before the fourth quarter to get them fired up, it was a good motivational move. But really, it was probably unnecessary. UCLA had already won the game in the trenches, and in their own hearts. While they might not yet be on the same caliber of 1988's Powder-blue Bullies, this game was potentially a defining moment in taking them down the path toward that kind of excellence.

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