A week after an abysmal performance against Washington, the Bruins got back to basics and used a balanced offense to beat the Cardinal. 31-0, evening their Pac-10 record at 1-1, and improving to 3-1 overall.
In a total of 72 plays, UCLA passed 38 times and ran the ball 34 times, totaling 389 yards in offense.
It wasn't without its miscues: Ben Olson throwing two more interceptions and being held without a touchdown pass for the second game in a row.
In the second half, Olson looked sharper, and despite a couple of overthrown passes on consecutive plays, either one likely to go for a touchdown, he seemed to be more comfortable in the pocket compared to a week ago.
Still, the offense struggled with its consistency. The playcalling was generally pretty good, but the execution became the issue.
On Saturday, the Bruins re-introduced the tight ends back into the passing game, with Ryan Moya and Logan Paulsen each catching four passes, for 64 and 40 yards respectively. William Snead, seeing his first action at tight end in a UCLA uniform, was in on a goalline series and had a pass thrown his way, but Olson couldn't connect.
Chris Markey had another productive game, rushing for 88 yards while Bell ran for 53 yards on eight carries.
It looks like UCLA may have found the heir to Manuel White in their short-yardage offense in the form of a Train. Chane Moline saw his first carries since the opener against Utah and turned the two he had into the first two touchdowns of his collegiate career. He finished with only three yards, but did what a running back in fantasy football does: score. It would have been nice to see him uncovered earlier in the game, specifically the end of the first half when the Bruins had the ball inside the three-yard line and called a sweep on fourth down to Markey that netted no points and kept them from taking a 14-0 lead into the locker room.
Olson, like he did against Utah, spread the ball around to his receivers, with nine different Bruins catching a pass. There were times where he held the ball too long and on his first interception, threw it to an area where only white jerseys resided and a blue jersey wasn't in sight. His second pick was tipped. In the second half, he had a nice run when his receivers were covered and also did a nice job of checking off his receivers on another play, and dumping it off to Bell.
Compared to a week ago, Olson was understandably in higher spirits following this game, but will again be tested this coming week when the Mike Stoops-led Arizona defense comes into the Rose Bowl.
On special teams, UCLA turned the game their way right off the bat. Gavin Ketchum blocked a punt following Stanford's first possession and Eric McNeal picked it up and took it in for the scored. The Bruins got close on another punt block later in the game. The punt return game was again with adventure, Terrence Austin muffing a punt that Stanford recovered in Bruin territory.
Which leads us to the story of the game: The UCLA Defense.
It is obvious to anyone who has followed UCLA football over the past decade or so that DeWayne Walker is making the difference just about everyone expected him to make. They swarmed to the ball, they wrapped up and they tightened up when they needed to.
Following Austin's muffed punt, the defense held Stanford to a field goal attempt, which they promptly missed.
In the second half, Christian Taylor intercepted Edwards on the first series for the Cardinal. In their only real legitimate threat to score a touchdown, and with the game still only a 14-0 lead, Trey Brown picked off Edwards to turn another drive away.
UCLA had seven sacks on the day, three interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries.
The defense clearly set the tone, and it was refreshing to again hear the "Defense" chants when the game was completed.
In Stanford's last two visits to the Rose Bowl, they have yet to score a point, losing 21-0 in 2004 and 31-0 this year. The last time they scored in the Rose Bowl was in the 2nd quarter in 2002 on a field goal. In fact, since Stanford scored to go up 24-3 at the halfway point of the 4th quarter in last year's overtime thriller, UCLA has outscored them 59-3, the lone points coming on a field goal in overtime last year.
In fact, probably flourishing the most in the new attacking defense are the two ends, Davis and Hickman. Davis had 2.5 sacks against Stanford and Hickman had 1.5. On the half sack, it was the two of them who combined.
Davis has been one of those guys who always seemed like he was ready to break out and an injury or personal frustration would prevent it from happening. But he is looking like a new player in 2006, and talked with us after the game about that same thing. Hickman had three sacks against Stanford last year so he was eager as anyone to see the Cardinal offensive line.
Rodney Van was picked on in the few times that Edwards was able to throw, but he also made a nice adjustment to one ball and got the breakup.
The only negative defensively was that Edwards did have a couple of runs that enabled drives to continue. At the same time, UCLA had seven sacks and tallied 56 yards in losses, so it's a bit of nit-picking.
It was also good to see Kenneth Lombard score a touchdown following an Edwards fumble (caused by Hickman). Lombard had difficulty fielding it initially (he's a defensive lineman, not a shortstop), but once he got it into his hands it was clear sailing into the end zone.
With another strong defensive performance under their belt, the Bruins will welcome the Arizona offense who, led by Willie Tuitama, embarrassed them a year ago. But the Wildcats are struggling offensively, and have scored only 13 points in their last two games. In fact, if you take out their 28 points against Stephen F. Austin, then the Wildcats have only scored 32 points in their four games against I-A schools.
Though Walker wasn't here a year ago, just about every key member of the defense was, and this game has been on their minds since the game ended.
The contest against Arizona could classify again as a "must-win" since the two games following it will be against top-15 teams, both on the road and at places where the home team definitely has the advantage. UCLA needs to hold serve at home and steal a road game at some point this year. A win over Arizona, while not necessarily glamorous on a national scale, will further rid themselves of the bitter taste from the Washington contest and put them at 4-1 heading into Oregon/Notre Dame back-to-back.