So much for the momentum.
And so much for avoiding a letdown after two big wins.
I recall, after the Arizona State win, writing that UCLA needed to clean up it’s mistakes – fumbles, penalties, and the like – if they were to have any chance of beating the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City.
The Bruins ended up committing more penalties, 12 for 91 yards, than they did against ASU, and they turned the ball over twice, including a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown by Utah defensive back Conroy Black.
Which combined with Ute running back John White IV going for 167 yards and two scores among his 33 carries on the ground, plus catching a 13 yard pass from quarterback Jon Hays and the Utah defense allowing a mere two field goals, led to UCLA getting smacked around by the Utes in the snow and the cold of Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, 31-6.
This was clearly a step backward for Rick Neuheisel’s team after taking two steps forward against California and Arizona State as, among other things, the Bruins’ run defense gave up a total of 224 yards, the sixth time in 2011 that they’ve given up at least 200 yards rushing.
Can somebody say team weakness?
This loss marks their 17th defeat against five wins away from the Rose Bowl during Neuheisel’s tenure as the Bruin coach; he’s 1-4 on the road this year.
That 5-17 mark really jumps out at you when you look at the many problems that UCLA’s football team has had over the past several seasons; the only silver lining here is that with ASU losing to Washington State on Saturday night, the Bruins are still tied for first place in the Pac-12 South, retain the tiebreaker with the now-reeling Sun Devils, and remain in control of their own destiny.
Although Kevin Prince threw for 146 yards, he also made quite a few bad throws, including two interceptions, one of them the pick-six to Black in the fourth quarter that extended Utah’s lead to 28-6 and essentially broke the Bruins’ back as there was very bad communication on that play.
To be blunt, it looked like Prince threw the ball right at Black.
The disappointing thing about this game was that UCLA was in it for much of it.
The Bruins took the rabid Utah crowd out of the game early as they took a 3-0 lead – thanks to a 30-yard field goal by Tyler Gonzalez – into the second quarter and were only down 7-3 at half time, despite having 11 penalties in the first half.
Then it all started to cave in on them.
Utah’s defense is ranked among the best in the country, particularly against the run as they held UCLA’s running game to 149 yards. Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman were each held to below 100 on the ground, with Franklin getting 89 and Coleman running for half of that total with 43.
Plus to pour salt on that wound, Coleman suffered a hip injury during the game. “I think he’ll be fine. We’ll wait and see and have our fingers crossed.” Neuheisel said.
If Coleman misses any time, UCLA will be in trouble as he’s the heart, soul, and MVP of that team.
The three sacks that the Utes had didn’t help any as the Bruin offensive line was swarmed, shoved around, and flagged for six false starts, four of them by tackle Mike Harris alone.
Not to mention White and company running ram shod over the Bruin defense in the second half.
With their record now at 5-5 (4-3 in the Pac-12), UCLA is now at crunch time with two regular season games left.
It is absolutely essential for the Bruins to beat Colorado at home next Saturday, not only to gain bowl eligibility and go into their rivalry game with USC the following week with that in hand, but to also gain back their momentum and keep Neuheisel’s job relatively safe, as a loss to the Buffaloes will surely put the UCLA coach on Death Row.
It will be very interesting to see how this team bounces back at the Rose Bowl.