UCLA Wins With An Asterisk

In beating winless Washington, 27-7, in Seattle, UCLA had its most balanced offensive attack yet this season and the defense stifled the Dawgs. But even the most delusional Bruin fan knows that the game has an asterisk next to it since it was against a once-in-a-lifetime bad Husky team...

There's nothing like playing one of the worst teams in recent memory for UCLA to get a much-needed win.

If Washington doesn't beat Washington State in the Apple Cupt, it would be only the fourth time in conference history that a team has gone winless. Washington's 0-10 record is the first time that's ever been done in school history.

We had said that Washington State very well could be the worst Pac-10 we can remember. But this season's Washington Huskies could very well be the second-worst.

When UCLA beat Washington Saturday, 27-7, there wasn't anyone in the building – or any watching the game on television – that fooled themselves into believing that UCLA had made a major step forward.

Even the coaches, even Rick Neuheisel, has to temper his comments about the game. It would be delusional for him to say anything like, "This was turning a corner," or "We got our program on track."

This was a one-game track.

For Neuheisel, to make his return to Washington, and lose to this team would have been complete embarrassment. It would have given the bitter Washington fans that still resent Neuheisel one, measley, little crumb of satisfaction in one of the worst seasons in their history. To beat the coach that many Washington fans feel first set them on their dismal course toward this season would have been something to gloat about.

For UCLA, it's not something they can gain much confidence from. Even relentlessly positive athletes who need to always believe in themselves wouldn't be capable of convincing themselves that this was anything other than it was.

But it, at least, avoids destroying their psyche heading into the last two games of the season. It sustains their will to keep plugging with games remaining against Arizona State and USC. Because if the Bruins had lost this game, it's hard to imagine how they would have been able to trudge on for those two games. This, at least, keeps their chin up.

Can you get any positives takeaways from this game? Or is anything you would assert really a false-positive?

Well, you probably can't.

But if you were going to, if you were going to try to delude yourself, you would say that it was probably UCLA's best display of a balanced offense this season. UCLA ran the ball decently, gaining 158 yards on the ground. It created some holes, and the running backs, particularly Kahlil Bell, found them and made some positive yardage out of them. While you could also assert that freshman Derrick Coleman looked good, I can't be that delusional. We've said this before – Bell is an average tailback, and he's banged up, too. But he looks far better than Coleman. Coleman is slow-footed, doesn't find daylight well, has almost no elusiveness and, for his size, doesn't break many tackles. We're rooting for the kid, but think his future is at fullback.

Raymond Carter and Aundre Dean got some garbage time carries. Even with this potentially delusional game, it reinforced what we knew about Carter --- that he's a straight-ahead guy with no shake. It's hard to take anything from the last series of the game, but Dean flashed the quickness that the position sorely lacks.

The offensive line did a good job, creating running room and in pass protection (And, of course, that's with an asterisk, since, well this was against Washington. But, oh, yeah, we're talking as if we were deluding ourselves). Kevin Craft generally had a decent amount of time to throw. In fact, he had enough that would you have liked to see him throw more down the field. In the second quarter, Craft aired one out for Dominique Johnson, and you thought maybe we were going to see more. There were a few other small moments of note for the passing game, with Gavin Ketchum making a couple of nice catches.

But it was clear, after Craft threw his usual three interceptions, the coaches weren't going to experiment. They could keep the ball on the ground and escape with a 27-7 win, and not allow Craft to literally throw the game away. It was questionable whether the first pick was entirely his fault, but the last two were quintessential Craft – throwing into traffic as if he doesn't see the guys in the other jerseys. It's not as if a UCLA receiver has even a slight seal on his defender; sometimes there are one, and maybe even two or three, defenders in front of the UCLA receiver when Craft throws.

It's fun to delude yourself, though. It's why people drink, or take drugs. You like to lose yourself in the fantasy, to escape reality. That first UCLA drive, which went 80 yards on 12 plays and was probably UCLA's best drive of the season, was fun to watch – and fun to imagine it was against some other team.

The only real thing of substance offensively you can take from this game, as it's been all season, is the scheme. When Norm Chow has his offense running downhill, like they were at times in this game, the play-calling is beautiful. It's crafted, like a good radio DJ playing songs that lead into each other, complement each other and play off each other. It's DJ Fresh Norm the Storm. The scheme is the thing, word. It's the infrastructure that can't be diminished by the variable execution and performance.

It was the one thing about this game that made you be able to really springboard into fantasy about what could be.

When Chow gets some talent, it's going to be a piece of art.

The defense should be given credit, even though its performance has the Washington asterisk next to it. It limited the Huskies to 135 total yards, and just 50 passing. Yes, UW's quarterback, Ronnie Fouch, isn't very good, and if he's the quarterback of the future, the Huskies are looking at a very bleak one. But UCLA's defense gave up just one score, when Washington had a very short field after a Craft interception. Other than that, the Bruins kept the Huskies out of the endzone, and limited them to no more than three first downs in any series, and only ten for the game. Washington, miraculously, is the third-best offense in the Pac-10 in terms of third-down conversions, but UCLA's defense stopped them from sustaining a drive, consistently putting them in difficult third-down situations that they couldn't convert. Give credit to DeWayne Walker's game plan; he realized, like he has at other times this season, that he didn't have to force trying to get the pressure on the quarterback that doesn't come naturally from his unit, but play solid pass defense knowing a poor quarterback wouldn't be able to beat you.

It's encouraging to see youngsters like Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore playing well. You have to love Ayers, who is just a redshirt freshman, flying all over the field, always around the ball. His tip of a Fouch pass that led to the interception by defensive tackle Jerzy Sierwierski was pretty. His sack and forced fumble on Fouch was a great example of stick-to-it-iveness. It's good to know that Korey Bosworth is returning for another season. He had a number of plays that stuck out in this game, particularly when he ran the entire width of the field to run down Fouch, and the fumble recovery. And you have to give it up for Bret Lockett, easily the most maligned defensive player for the Bruins this season. Lockett had a couple of tackles for loss, and had excellent timing in hitting a Washington receiver to separate him from the ball on a third-down throw. You have to also give some Love to Mike Norris, probably the second-most maligned UCLA defender, who was good in run support and in coverage.

Probably, besides Chow's offensive scheme, the most substantive thing you can take away from this game is the fact that UCLA, with one of its worst teams in memory, is still 20 points better than Washington, with one of its worst teams in memory, in Husky Stadium.


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