It's one of the oldest clichés in sports – but it truly was a tale of two halves. UCLA basically stunk it up in the first half and then adjusted in the second half to dominate an athletically inferior Temple team.
Even when UCLA fell behind 21-7 in the first half, there was still a pretty clear indication that the Bruins could dominate the game man for man, it was really just a matter of them getting out of their own way.
The defense did what it typically has done all season, allowing an opposing offense to gain some yards and sustain some drives in the first half, only to adjust and shut them down in the second half.
The offense, too, did what it essentially has done for most of the season – that is, fail to execute, but get enough execution and performance out of a handful of guys on a handful of plays to beat an inferior opponent.
Quarterback Kevin Prince would probably readily admit that he was not very good in the first half. He was 7 for 16 for 90 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but the stats really didn't even show how poorly he executed the quarterback position. Very often, with time to throw, there were receivers open and he either didn't see them or threw inaccurately. He did make a very nice throw on Nelson Rosario's touchdown catch, but you'd have to say that the primary "element" working against UCLA's offense in the first half was the quarterback.
The defense allowed one initial scoring drive to Temple, and then held them for six straight possessions. Then, in the second quarter, Temple's offensive coaches started calling plays at the line of scrimmage after seeing what defensive alignment UCLA was in, and the Bruin defense was on its heels as Temple drove the field and scored to go ahead 14-7. A Prince interception and another bad "element" of a personal foul call on a face mask, and Temple had possession at UCLA's 15-yard line, which led to another touchdown, 21-7.
We said special teams would be a factor, and it was when Temple's substitute punter, Jake Brownell, slipped on the icy turf and shanked a punt for 28 yards. That set up UCLA and Prince at their own 45-yard line with 17 seconds remaining, enough time for Prince to make two completions to get in field goal range for Kai Forbath, which brought the halftime score to 21-10.
At that point, the one thing that was potentially scary about the Temple offense was how it had executed that one drive calling plays at the line of scrimmage. It was maybe an "element" of the game that Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough couldn't adjust to in the second half.
But those worries were for nothing. Bullough, as was his M.O. all season (and as we wrote in the game preview), adjusted his defense in the second half and held Temple scoreless. It helped that the Owls' star tailback, Bernard Pierce, reinjured his shoulder in the second quarter and didn't play the rest of the way, but UCLA's defense was so much more athletic than Temple's offense Pierce might not have made that much of a difference.
We did say in the game preview that ultimately the bigger and better athletes would win, and that's pretty much what happened. UCLA's Pac-10 level defensive team speed and pursuit was too much for the MAC-level athleticism of Temple's offense.
UCLA gave up 241 in the first half and then 41 in the second.
We even said in the preview that this game could be one where an athletically superior defensive player like Akeem Ayers has a big day. Well, that was pretty much crystal ball-quality predicting since Ayers consistently made plays – and made the play of the season in intercepting Vaughn Charlton's pass at the four-yard line and running it in for the winning touchdown. It was much like what was probably the second best play of the season when he intercepted an Oregon pass in the endzone for a touchdown. But in this one, Ayers slipped after lining up at defense end, which probably made Charlton lose track of him when he threw the ball. Perhaps it should be in the repertoire.
Ayers was named the Player of the Game, and rightfully so. If he hadn't made a tackle the entire game but just made that play it was deserved.
There was one play, though, that typified Ayers' – and UCLA's – superior athleticism. In the third quarter, Temple pitched the ball to tailback Matt Brown, with Temple's fullback leading the way. Ayers' job is to blow up the play basically by blowing up the fullback's block, which he did. Ayers actually lifted the guy off his feet and and put him on his butt, forcing Brown inside to where he was wrapped up by Bruin tacklers.
Of course, in the second half Rahim Moore got an interception (it wouldn't be a UCLA game without one). This one wasn't as much a "Rahim" ball as the others, Moore actually wasn't just fielding an errant throw but had to move over and take it out of the hands of the receiver. After 13 picks this season, you have to start believing Moore' talent for it is probably more of a factor than pure luck, and this one was definitely more about talent.
Brian Price, who had been fairly quiet in the first half, stepped up in the second half. He pretty much single-handedly was responsible for one three-and-out Temple possession where he made a tackle for a loss on first down, and caught the running back from behind on second down.
Also give some credit to the line judge on UCLA's side of the field, as a BRO poster, colby7, pointed out on the message boards. On Temple's first possession of the second half, they had mounted a good drive to inside UCLA's 20, basically running through UCLA's defense, which still seemed back on hits heels. The back-up tailback, Mack Brown, on third and two at UCLA's 10-yard line looked like he did indeed gain a first down but the line judge marked it about a yard short, which set up the big fourth-and-short in which UCLA's Reggie Carter shot through a gap and stopped brown for no gain. As many BROs have recognized, that stop was a significant momentum-shifting turning point of the game, and it seemed to take the air out of the Temple team, and disrupt their focus.
The Bruin defense seemed to have a step on the Owl offense from that point on. Temple ran 20 more plays from scrimmage for the rest of the game for a total of -2 yards.
The offense – and Prince – got on track in the second half. As we said, it was just enough that was needed to win. Prince went 9 for 15 for 131 yards in the second half, made some good plays, especially on finding secondary receivers.
There were some mysterious play calls, as there has been all year. When the Bruins had the ball at about the 50-yard line in the fourth quarter, down by a score, it doesn't seem the right time to go to your quirky playbook on first down. The reverse-field running play lost five yards, and pretty much shut down what was potentially the game-winning drive.
But give the Bruin staff some credit for playcalling in this one, too. In fact, with a quarterback who couldn't find open receivers, on an icy field, it was positively gutsy to have him throw down field in the second quarter, only to throw a pick (Yes, we're actually giving the UCLA coaches credit for attempting to do something that still resulted in a turnover). Then, on UCLA's next two drives before the half, to continue to have a struggling Prince go to the air was also pretty aggressive. It might have merely been that it was so clear that Temple's passing defense was so poor and leaving huge holes in their coverage that, sooner or later, Prince had to take advantage of it.
Chane Moline was a difference-maker. He had 69 yards on 15 carries, and his rumbling 250 pounds is something Temple's defense obviously hadn't dealt with much. Moline bulldozed a number of tacklers, and typically added 3-5 yards after the initial hit on most of his carries.
On one hand, the game was a bit disappointing. First, that UCLA didn't blow out the inferior Owls and needed to actually mount a significant come-from-behind effort to win.
It was, too, disappointing, that it was essentially the same method and the same UCLA team we've seen all year. What you were probably hoping for in this bowl game was for UCLA to make marked progress, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but it was really the same old thing. The hope is that next year UCLA is no longer the team that can't own the line of scrimmage with its offensive line. Admittedly, UCLA was without two starters and one second-stringer, but if there is a primary "element" of the team that needs to change and improve dramatically it's the effectiveness of the offensive line. The OL made progress from 2008, but the offense was still having to try to manufacture yards and points without the benefit of an offensive line that could create running room.
Prince's performance, too, was disappointing. Again, there were the weather elements in this game, and we've conceded plenty that he's had to recover from a few injuries this season that have set him back. And while we recognize that his progress isn't going to be a straight line up on the progress graph next season, it will be time for him by next fall to show that he can execute the position to the point where he's at least taking advantage of what a poor defense is giving him.
The win, though, gives UCLA a winning record at 7-6, and creates the impression that the UCLA football program is on the right track under Head Coach Rick Neuheisel. Neuheisel can now go into the recruiting trenches able to sell UCLA as an improving, up-and-coming program.
While many were fantasizing about bigger things this year, this is just about what you could have reasonably expected, and this was just about what you could have reasonably expected out of this game.
And it's fitting that UCLA won it in the style that this team has employed throughout the season. It's also fitting that seniors like Reggie Carter, Chane Moline, Alterraun Verner, Logan Paulsen, Ryan Moya, Jake Dean, Terrence Austin, Jerzy Siewierski, etal – guys who carried the Bruin flag through some of the toughest times in UCLA's football history – were sent off win a bowl win, knowing that they helped put the program on the right track.