UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel spoke to the media after the USC game Saturday.
‘'We just made too many mistakes, particularly on offense to be there. I was really proud of our effort to get the game to 14-7 with about six minutes left and unfortunately they put together a great drive there to cement the game. But we're gaining. We're getting better. And we look forward to playing again as soon as we can.''
Can you explain the last minute, what happened there? I guess they were throwing it back at you for calling the timeout …
‘'Yeah, I had three timeouts. They took a knee on first down, I took a timeout. I was trying to make them punt and if they were going to run the ball then maybe I could cause a fumble. But it's our job to cover. I mean, they have every right to throw the ball deep. We've got to cover it.''
So you're not upset at the fact that they threw it?
‘'Well, I mean, people draw their own conclusions. It's our job to stop the play.''
What about the offense in the first half, where you guys were at?
‘'Well, we were moving the ball fairly well throwing, but we were struggling with the running game, which has been kind of who we've been. We were trying to find answers and unfortunately had a little turnover when they did the review at the end of the half. I'll wait to see the evidence because it was right in front of me, it looked like he was down to me. But I was hoping we could catch a field goal there and make it a 7-3 game at half, but it wasn't to be.''
What happened with Kevin Prince?
"He was running, trying to make a play, and got hit and hurt his shoulder. He said he could play, wanted to be valiant, went back in there and unfortunately that throw resulted to the second interception, which led to their second touchdown. It probably was wrong of me to let him try, but he was John Wayne-ing, wanting to be in there, and I let him try.''
He was hurt before the interception?
‘'Yeah. He was hurt on the third down play prior to that series and was over there working on it and said he could do it. I was getting ready to go with Kevin Craft because I didn't see it, the evidence, and he came over to me and pleaded that he was ready and I gave him a shot … probably a mistake on my part.''
Who deserves more blame, your offense throughout the game or their defense?
‘'Oh, you have to give credit to their defense. They played well. You know, the extra week helped. They had some extra stuff. But, no excuses. We've got to play better.''
What does this do for the rivalry?
‘'Oh, it's a rivalry regardless of what happens. It's unfortunate it got to the point where it did at the end of the game because that doesn't belong in this deal.''
The defense held up early in the game, had the interception … what's your take on your defense?
‘'I thought our defense played really well, really valiantly. I would have believed that we were going to get the ball back with the 14-7. I thought we were going to have a great chance to go down and tie the game, to get it to overtime and put the pressure on them, but they made the plays when they needed to. That third down and three or four play where they hit the pass down to about the 12 yard line was a huge play in the ball game.''
What was your message to the team?
‘'My message to the team was that there's nothing we can do about the disappointment that we feel right now except use it as fuel to get ourselves ready to play whenever we get a chance to play again and remember that we're gaining. The program is getting better. We've got to make huge steps again before the next time we play as we go forward and become the program we want to be.''
Is that going to be in December, you think?
‘'I hope so.''
So you deserve to?
‘'Absolutely. Given the schedule we've played and the way we've played over the last month of the season, absolutely. And we'll give anybody that offers us a heck of a show.''
What does this game tell you about where the program is right now? ‘
'It tells us we've got to get a little older and a little stronger. You know, we've got to develop physically so we can handle the point of attack and be thorough that way. But we get an offseason now to do that. We're going to gain on it. We're in the midst of a great recruiting class and we've got to go out and show that, and I think that anybody watching this game knows that these programs are not far apart other than a ball at the end of a game. These programs are not far apart. There was an interception for a touchdown that was really the difference in the game. And I believe that we can gain.''
Does this remind you of what happened last week with Arizona State?
‘'Yeah, exactly. In these games you cannot turn the ball over and you cannot forfeit field position. That's critical, and unfortunately, we blinked first.''
Take away those offensive mistakes and where do you think your team lines up?
‘'You know, you don't get to take away that stuff. It's part of the game, so we tip our hat. They got us. But we're going to have another chance next year.''
How close were things to getting out of hand there at the end?
‘'You know, I don't think very close. But I know looking at it on television it can look like it's very close. But the bottom line is that doesn't belong in these games. There's too much pride on that field and it doesn't belong.''
When you called time out, did you get a sense they could do what they did?
‘'No, I had three timeouts. It was first down. I called a time out. If they run the ball on second down, I call another time out. I'm trying to get the ball back. If they fumble, I've got a chance. That's all I'm thinking. We should have said we need to back up and think they're going to throw over the top of us. It was a great play by them. I don't blame them for doing that. It's our job to cover it.''
When I asked Damian Williams about it, he said they were trying to end the game the way they should end the game, but when you guys called time out …
‘'They have their take on it. I was not … I was just trying to keep the game alive.''
Is that a play that you might remember next year?
‘'I don't forget very much, you know …''