Chiccoa: A Little Big Win

Football columnist happily takes us back to the Washington game, the offensive explosion, the exploits of both Kevins, the possibility of Milton Knox, and the possibilities for the rest of the season...

In a game that should have been much easier, you finally had to feel grateful UCLA didn't actually blow it to Washington. If Sheldon Price and Rahim Moore don't combine for that pick at midfield, the Bruins could've been tagged with a new school record, eighth consecutive conference loss… and that hole they've been digging would've been even wider and deeper. Thank heavens for small favors? No, that second half was a huge (though well-deserved) favor.

All bets were off once UDub's Donald Butler head-butted Kevin Prince out of the game. (Had he grown up across the Atlantic, Butler would've made a great pub brawler in Edinburgh or the north of England. Think Begby in "Trainspotting.")

With the Bruins trailing by two, Prince finished for the day, Richard Brehaut headed for the bench after yet another disastrous series, it was time to strap yourself in for another Kevin Craft Experience (this kid has more lives than the proverbial cat). Fortunately, this one turned out as good as it gets. The second half was easily Craft's greatest moment as a Bruin.

Of the fourteen passes Craft threw, ten were well thrown, four were poorly thrown (including that grotesque pick he just threw up for grabs) and, sorry, but that miraculous 29-yard touchdown to Terrence Austin was not a good pass. On the play, Austin popped wide open, but Craft's throw was low and led him too much. Austin, however, laid out and got both hands under the ball. (On replay, it was clear the ball hit the ground, popped up and finally lodged nicely in Austin's gut as he was rolling over. "I jumped up and started celebrating so it would look like a catch," said Terrence, spilling the beans.

Luckily enough, the Bruins were able to run out the extra point unit before the old birds up in the booth could decide whether to give it a second look. With as many backbreaking calls that have gone against UCLA recently (and over the years), you have to figure the Bruins were owed something like this. In any case, it was an altogether great play by Austin, who had set up the short drive with that nice 60-yard kickoff return. Down, 23-14 at the time, following Johnathan Franklin's fumble (which set up Jake Locker's second scoring throw to Jermaine Kearse), the Bruins would've been in deep, deep trouble had they not answered so decisively.

While the offense was then able to muster only one more score - the short field goal by the automatic Kai Forbath which proved to be the difference - they would rack up crucial first downs while eating up valuable clock. (The Bruins dominated time of possession, 31:41 to 28:19.)

For UCLA's "maligned and beleaguered" defense, it was at least a marginally better showing than the previous five games; but then Washington isn't in the class of those previous five opponents. Locker, Kearse and tailback Chris Polk, however, are certainly a handful to defend. Now that Locker has become a genuine pocket passer, he's the most physically gifted quarterback in the conference, if not the nation. Kearse overpowered both Alterraun Verner and, more easily, Sheldon Price for a pair of touchdowns, and Polk broke off several long runs, gaining 132 yards rushing.

As usual, the defense was more effective in the second half, giving up about a hundred less yards after allowing almost 250 in the opening half. Not surprisingly, increased pressure and more blitzing seemed to make a difference. Unfortunately, this business of feeling out the opponent has become a tradition… one that needs to go. Sure, "All's well that ends well," but Bruin fans might feel much better if Chuck Bullough would start getting serious from the opening kickoff. Having to wait on second-half adjustments makes for a depressing halftime; it's bad enough just moving around the cramped confines of the Rose Bowl trying to get your overpriced hot dogs, tri tip sandwiches and cokes before the game resumes.


I'm grateful Rick Neuheisel seems to have taken the suspense out of Prince's availability for the game in Pullman; let's hope we don't get a last minute surprise. I mean, how easy would you feel at the thought of Craft starting a must-win game on the road, even vs. Washington State? And am I wrong, or is Craft becoming something like our very own "Rudy" (only he wasn't some obscure, undersized walk-on). Guess it's human nature to feel sympathetic and protective of someone who's gone through a season like Craft endured last year. But in light of Brehaut's apparent hang-loose style thus far, Craft is solidly in place as the backup quarterback… just one big hit from the field. My advice to Prince would be, keep your head on a swivel… and slide, Kevin, slide.

It also appears Milton Knox is set to become a factor. (My guess is that he's been ready for quite a while.) Too bad it's taken some disenchantment with other running backs in order for Knox to get on the field. (He was starting to remind me of Derrick Williams.) It's not at all clear that Knox is any less talented than Franklin. Knox doesn't hesitate at the line of scrimmage; he's compact and elusive; and he seems at least as strong as Franklin. Franklin, of course, would beat him in a straight-up sprint. Anyway, Knox seems to me a hugely intriguing player who needs to see more action. And not just in the Wildcat set.

Until Butler put out his lights, Prince seemed well on his way to 400 yards passing, which would have made 600 yards in his last five quarters. Whether this is just a hot streak or a genuine breakout, Norm Chow's declaration about Prince having the "it factor" looks pretty good today. One hopes it had less to do with UDub's mediocre defense (both Prince and Craft had all day to throw) than with Prince's growing experience finally paying off. A couple of weeks ago, who would have thought that Prince would be looking comparable to Matt Barkley? Or that the Bruin offense might stand a chance of moving the ball against the "fearsome" Trojan defense? But I'm getting ahead of myself…

Until the fourth quarter of the game at Oregon State, the Bruin season was just laying there, flat-lining on the field, ready for burial. Now, not only are there signs of life, there are even signs of health and imminent recovery. Finally, there's tangible evidence of that growth and progress the coaches are forever on about. Washington State and ASU must be disposed of. Those games are fat and ripe for the picking; neither team has a quarterback, and the Cougars look more like a bad mid-major than a Pac-10 program. So… depending on how SC plays vs. Stanford, the Bruins could go into November 28th a respectable underdog at the Coliseum rather than the hopeless, double=digit dog they figured to be only a few weeks ago.

Here we had a five-game losing streak and now the football gods have seen fit to… well, I don't even want to hint at that elusive image and that six-letter word that begins with c and ends in r. Hey, just beat Wazzu!

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