Bruins Struggle Mightily In Provo

Fresh off a win over Tennessee, UCLA plunged to the other side of the emotional spectrum, getting thrashed by BYU in Provo and suffering one of its worst losses in school history. But it wasn't like the warning signs weren't there...

It's probably safe to assume that UCLA is done scheduling games in the state of Utah for the forseeable future.

It's probably also safe to assume that this UCLA team isn't near as good as we had convinced ourselves they were. After all the back slaps and accolades handed out from the win over Tennessee, and then the bye week, which gave us more time to reinforce that UCLA might be pretty good (there were people on the message board saying that 6-0 was very reasonable), we all came down to Earth when UCLA suffered one of the biggest losses in its history, losing to BYU Saturday, 59-0.

What it did was give us a sober appraisal of the state of the program. And while you don't want to look back or pass the blame, much of the culpability for the current state of the program lies at the feet of Karl Dorrell. If Karl Dorrell hadn't been fired, he would have lost to BYU Saturday in a very similar fashion – while being six years into his tenure at UCLA. Losing that way is almost excusable when you're in your first year in the program, but a loss like that after being six years deep into your coaching tenure is unfathomable.

But this is the reality of the situation. And you can look away, until Rick Neuheisel gets some talent and gets them coached up, or you can take your lumps like a good Bruin fan and ride through it.

The game was like one of those old-fashioned flip movies, where you flip through the pages of scenes. Sometimes the pages run together, and it just keeps coming fast and furious, and you lose track of the story. This game was a blur, like that.

This is kind of how it flashed by.

Kevin Craft struggled from the beginning. On a 3rd-and-long on the first drive, he overthrew Gavin Ketchum, who made a nice grab but came up short of the first down, and the ensuing drive BYU put together was an ominous sign things weren't going to go UCLA's way.

Max Hall, who may end up being the best quarterback the Bruins face this season, picked apart the defense, leading to an easy touchdown drive, finalized by a scoring throw to tight end Dennis Pitta. Sure, there was the fortuitous bounce on a fumble by Harvey Unga that BYU recovered to pick up a first down.

UCLA was forced to punt again and then the defense had one of their few highlights, forcing a three and out. An ugly UCLA offensive series followed and UCLA was forced to punt. BYU got the ball back, and if there was a play that pretty much set the tone for the afternoon, it was the 3rd-and-6 pass Hall threw for 25 yards to Michael Reed. BYU got a couple of other nice bounces, a deflected pass that BYU's tight end smartly knocked away, then a fumble out of bounds. But then came a familiar sight: Hall to Austin Collie for a touchdown.

On the first play of the next series, Craft had a nice throw to freshman tight end Cory Harkey for a first down, but that was the last of the positives. Craft fumbled the ball, without even being touched, then fumbled again, only this time BYU recovered it. One play later, Hall found Collie for the score. 21-0 BYU.

Then UCLA tried to mix in the option again, one of the wrinkles that was included in this week's offensive game plan, but Raymond Carter was drilled, with the ball popping loose. BYU scored five plays later, 28-0.

Terrence Austin's fumble of the ensuing kickoff led to another BYU score a few plays later to bump it to 35-0.

UCLA's next offensive series showed some positives, a 30-yard Craft pass to Austin and then a first down pickup by Harkey.

Then came déjà vu -- Forbath getting a field goal blocked and BYU returning it to midfield. Of course, BYU would score. Again.

42-0 and it was finally halftime.

The second-half positive was that UCLA didn't give up 42 points. Rahim Moore had an interception, the first of his young career, but even the interception was bittersweet, not really something to greatly celebrate by that time. Moore, a fiery and emotional player, was relatively subdued as he ran off the field.

On one of the series, UCLA held BYU to a field goal. But then, quickly, it was 59-0. And you thought 66-19 was bad.

The offense was pretty much expected to struggle this year, but the Tennessee game might have brought some false hope. The offense looked more like the first half of that game, except it looked like it for 60 minutes.

Running lanes would close quick. Craft struggled to execute, and underthrew his receivers. His Hail Mary to end the first half was about 25 yards short of the end zone. Tailback Chane Moline didn't do much against BYU, dropping a short flare pass and going down easy on a couple of runs. Then came a drop in the open field after Craft broke loose from a pass rush. Mercifully, the officials flagged G Pittman for defensive holding. Craft really didn't look that bad in the second half, but by then, the game was so far out of reach, that it didn't really matter.

The offensive line, especially Micah Kia, struggled from the get-go. The only consistent blocker, former walk-on Micah Reed, went down with an injury in the second half. It kind of summed up UCLA's day. In fact, much of Moline's struggles stemmed from the fact he had nowhere to run.

A QB sneak on a 4th-and-3 was stopped well short of the first down marker. Suddenly, the first half of the Tennessee game looked appealing to Craft.

Raymond Carter's fumble was only an insult to what was another injury to his knee.

When UCLA had their best chance to score a touchdown, the lanes closed, again. Then came a false start by Sonny Tevaga and UCLA was facing a 2nd and goal from the 14. On 4th down Forbath's BYU demons continued to haunt him and he missed a short field goal.

Defensively, it was very easy to see the problem. You're facing an All-American caliber quarterback who had time enough to have a cup of tea in the pocket before finding his receivers. There was almost no pressure at all on Hall. Cornerbacks, playing man-to-man, were getting eaten up by Reed and Collie. UCLA's pass rushers were inconsequential, almost swallowed whole by BYU's massive line. UCLA tried to blitz, but it was completely ineffectual, with BYU doing an excellent job of picking them up. In fact, I don't remember Hall being touched the entire game, going 27-for-35 for 258 yards and an eye-popping seven touchdowns before getting taken out early in the third quarter. It was like a 7-on-7 scrimmage where there is no pass rush.

In UCLA's last two match-ups with BYU last season, the Bruins' defense was able to out-play BYU's offense. One BYU player in the week prior to this game said something about UCLA now not having Bruce Davis to apply pressure. He hit it on the head; UCLA lost some experienced talent from last year's defense to this one, and the difference was definitely exposed against BYU. Not only was there a drop-off in talent, but a drop-off in technique. Overpursuit on runs, poor angles and break downs in coverage were the standard for UCLA's defense in this one.

In terms of coaching, there really wasn't much you could expect from the coaching staff. It wasn't as if you were watching what was going on and saying, "Wow, the coaching is really killing us." You could almost telepathically understand what Neuheisel was thinking on the sideline, and empathize – basically that there is almost nothing you can do from a coaching standpoint to counter the onslaught but just try to ride it out and get out of the stadium.

Just about the only question in terms of coaching we can get out of this is why freshman running backs Aundre Dean or Johnathan Franklin didn't see action in this game. With Carter out and Moline struggling, this would have been an ideal time to get those guys in. When you consider UCLA is now down to one healthy experienced runner in Moline, who is very suspect, you'd think that it would be time, more than ever, for the coaching staff to get some work for Dean or Franklin. It wasn't like they were going to make a big mistake and blow the game, when you're down 49-0.

It's understandable that Neuheisel and Chow stuck with Craft for the entirety of the game, probably wanting to get Craft as much game experience as possible. But why wouldn't they think the same thing about Dean or Franklin?

The best news about the game was that it ended. It's the worst loss for UCLA in recent memory, yes, even worse than the Arizona and USC debacles of 2005. A 59-0 loss, albeit to a very good team, is still a 59-point loss. And a shutout to boot.

Let's desperately look at the couple of positive signs, as the coaches probably will have to do. Terrence Austin bounced back from his fumbled kick return to catch eight passes for 86 yards. Harkey had a couple of receptions in the first half, and even thought he didn't see the ball in the second half, at least showed he's got the potential to be a dependable option in the passing game. Again, the play-calling and offensive scheme is clearly a good one. It's frightening to think if this game would have been played with Dorrell's offense.

But there were plenty of negatives. Generally, we've been saying for a while that this wasn't going to be an easy year for UCLA. We warned you all through fall camp. The Tennessee win probably created a huge vat of false hope since there were plenty of signs in that game to make even the most optimistic Bruin fan a little cynical.

BYU churned out over 500 yards in offense while UCLA couldn't even get to 250. Third down was a walk in the park for BYU, converting on over 80% of their attempts. Meanwhile, UCLA was 2-for-10.

So now UCLA has a week to regroup before they kick off conference play against Arizona next week. It's almost inconceivable how the UCLA coaches will try to get the machine back on the track and running forward again.

It wouldn't hurt to get Kahlil Bell back next week, but he may be out. If Moline is the only running back able to go, then they have to get one of the freshmen some significant carries.

More importantly, we'll see what Rick Neuheisel's famous "relentlessly positive" attitude can do for a team's psyche that has to be fragile now, and to keep the season from spiraling away.

But it could be a very tough road, this season, like we said from the outset. There might be some highs dotted here and there, but you can also probably expect some comparable lows to this game.

But hang in there, Bruin fans. If you don't look away, it will be so much sweeter when the program is rolling in a few years. And we fully expect it to be. The highs are only truly high if you've been low.


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