UCLA beat Oregon State Saturday, 25-7, and kept their hopes alive at a bowl bid (one more win away from being bowl eligible).
It also renewed some hope that UCLA could possibly finish out with a winning regular-season record.
That's right. The victory provides just a little bit of a premise that UCLA could beat ASU and USC.
Hey, Oregon State beat USC and UCLA beat Oregon State, so therefore, UCLA should beat USC, right?
Uh, well, maybe we shouldn't go there.
But, at the very least, there is now some hope for the rest of the season, after a very bleak four weeks.
Conversely, maybe it took away hope for those Bruin fans who were sporting "Dump Dorrell" t-shirts at the Rose Bowl.
However you want to look at it, UCLA gave itself a chance to pull out the season. And it was interesting the way it happened.
There was quite a bit of build-up before the game about UCLA facing its former quarterback, Matt Moore, and the coach, Mike Riley, that might have been UCLA's head coach instead of Karl Dorrell. There was talk about how it would be sweet vengeance for Moore and Riley to come to the Rose Bowl riding a four-game hot streak and knock off the team that had scorned you, and put a nail in UCLA's coffin for the season.
But it didn't happen that way. In fact, Moore and Riley didn't just fail to pull off their triumph, both were big contributors to UCLA winning.
UCLA and OSU played pretty evenly in the first half. You might even give a little bit of a nod to OSU, with the Beavers owning a 7-6 lead, having gained more yardage and looking more fluid on offense. But then in the first few minutes of the second half, the Bruins took control of the momentum of the game and didn't relinquish it for the remainder of the night. And you have to give some of the credit to Riley. With only two minutes gone in the second half, Oregon State had a 4th-and-1 at its own 48 and Riley chose to go for it. UCLA had just stuffed them on a 3rd-and-1, and it was so early still in the game, and not worth creating a potential momentum-shifting play for UCLA if it stuffed you on fourth down. But it's exactly what Riley did.
UCLA then took over on downs, and on first down quarterback Patrick Cowan dropped back and floated a beautiful, 48-yard strike into the hands of Marcus Everett, who had gotten a couple of steps behind his defender, in the endzone, for a touchdown. UCLA went up just 13-7, but from then on out, you felt UCLA owned the game and OSU was out of it.
And not to rub anything in the wounds of Moore, but he definitely contributed to UCLA's win, perhaps playing one of his worst games of the season. He threw for just 175 yards, was sacked five times and fumbled the ball three times. In our preview, we said the team that was able to pressure the opposing quarterback and rattle him would probably be the team that won, and UCLA became that in the second half, with Moore most of the time looking confused in the pocket while trying to fend off a fairly strong UCLA rush. Moore's longest throw from scrimmage was 22 yards, often times not being able to find receivers down field and dumping off short, and inaccurately. While UCLA's pass rush was good, still, Moore was off for the night.
Of course, you have to give credit to UCLA, too, and not just attribute the win to Riley's blunder or Moore's poor performance. UCLA did some things in the second half that cemented control of the game, and you have to also appreciate the heart of a team that was spiraling in a four-game losing streak to get back up on the horse and beat a surging OSU team.
Cowan struggled particularly in the first half, , throwing for just 44 yards on 8-of-16 and with one interception. It didn't bode well for UCLA. He was struggling to find the open receiver and then also struggling to get him the ball.
In his post-game comments, Dorrell said he and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jim Svoboda talked to Cowan at halftime, to settle him down and simplify things for him. It definitely worked. He came out and threw that touchdown strike with authority. But there was also a drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter where Cowan really looked like he took his game to another level, at least, for this game. Cowan drove UCLA 45 yards to a touchdown that put them up 19-7 (missing the two-point conversion), and did so with great command, scrambling for two first downs to keep the drive alive, and then executing a great touchdown pass. At the 11-yard line, Cowan rolled, didn't see anyone open initially, kept his composure, and then found Everett sneaking along the back of the endzone and hit him with a nice pass.
Those two series by Cowan, the first of the third quarter and the first of the fourth quarter, were enough for UCLA to win this game.
It was enough since UCLA's defense also played very soundly. It was a bit surprising, too, since, if you had to guess, you would have said that UCLA's defense was probably following a trend to slide away in this last third of the season. The season was getting away from the team, UCLA's defense was showing big holes of vulnerability in recent weeks compared to the beginning of the season, probably more because it was getting tired of carrying the team, and it was facing another good, hot offense in OSU. But it didn't go like you might have predicted; UCLA's defense showed some considerable heart to play like it did against OSU, limiting the Beavers to 260 total yards, well below the 365 per game it had been averaging. UCLA's passing defense had really slipped in the last month, but it stepped up Saturday, keeping the Beavers to just 175 yards through the air, when they were averaging 242, and had been really on a roll in recent weeks.
Oregon State didn't score in the second half, a team that had scored an average of 38.5 points in its last two games, with one of those games being against USC.
You can't just point to one reason why UCLA's defense did well. UCLA's pass rush rejunvenated, with defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker throwing pressure at Moore from many different spots. Five different Bruins registered sacks on the night. UCLA, though, was in Moore's face many times because he couldn't find anyone open downfield; UCLA's secondary did a very good job of covering OSU's tough receivers, with improved play from safety Dennis Keyes and the cornerbacks. The Bruins d-line, also, had a very good night, with it appearing like tackle Brigham Harwell is emerging as a potential star, being the guy who stuffed the OSU running back on that fourth-and-one, while also getting two other tackles for loss. Now that he's stronger, his quickness is becoming hard for o-lineman to handle. You have to give Walker credit; it appeared like his defensive game plan stymied OSU's offense.
On offense, besides Cowan and Everett, the O-line perhaps probably had its best performance of the season. It gave Cowan good protection to throw (allowing just one sack) against the best pass-rushing defense in the conference, while it also opened up good holes for the running game, against a team that was one of the best rushing defenses in the conference. This was perhaps the most impressive performance of the night among Bruin performances and the one that should perhaps give Bruin fans the most to be hopeful about in the next two games. Could it be that this young line is starting to really gel?
Chris Markey put in a workman-like performance, getting 88 yards on 23 carries. As we've said before, he's not a big play-busting threat, and there were some holes provided to him against OSU that, if he were, might have gone for much bigger gains. But in the last several weeks he's been running very well for the first 5-7 yards from scrimmage, and he'll get you those yards more consistently than some backs who might be big-play busters. On Saturday night, UCLA needed Markey, to grind out those yards in the second half and keep the clock ticking and the ball away from OSU's offense.
It was a game that was probably the perfect scenario for a win for Karl Dorrell. His team, which always for the most part plays with heart, takes advantage of a few opportunities, gets the momentum of the game, and then grinds it out through fairly conservative play-calling to keep control of that momentum.
It was, also, a generally sloppy game, for both teams, and moreso for OSU. UCLA's penalties were its biggest negative, getting penalized 13 times for a whopping 155 yards. There were so many penalties that it almost appeared like UCLA was trying as hard as it could to make it difficult on its offense to get a first down. The personal fouls, too, were a disturbing sign; you wouldn't want to think that the coaching staff has lost any control over the team at this point in the season. We'd like to just attribute it to UCLA's frustration after four losses.
The win puts UCLA in a very interesting position. It's one game away from being bowl eligible, but there's quite a log jam in the middle of the Pac-10 standings. One win might not get the Bruins in a bowl game. If you didn't notice, it was a crazy Saturday for the conference, and not just at the top (Arizona beating Cal), but, in particular, with Arizona State trouncing Washington State. In fact, if you're one of those guys that tries to determine how two teams might match-up by common opponents, try to work out who should win next week between UCLA and Arizona State since: ASU trounced WSU, which beat UCLA, but UCLA soundly beat OSU, who beat up on ASU, but UCLA lost to WSU.
With Arizona beating Cal, that puts the Wildcats right into the bowl picture, too, with UCLA, ASU and Arizona all at 3-4 in the conference and tied for sixth place, but only ASU currently bowl eligible with six wins. If UCLA does beat ASU next week, it would then give them victories over both Arizona and ASU, and Arizona plays Oregon in Eugene next week.
But even if UCLA wins next week, there's still a question of whether it will go to a bowl game.
UCLA needs the bowl game. It needs to get to seven wins and pull out a positive spin on the season. It's critical for the program and for Karl Dorrell.
And who knows? With the few signs it showed against OSU Saturday, maybe that seventh win could come against USC. It's not as far-fetched as you might have thought.
Hey, UCLA beat OSU and OSU beat USC.