Bruin Keys To The Bowl Game: Illinois


With the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against the Illinois Fighting Illini in San Francisco just a few days away, here’s what UCLA’s Bruins need to do in order to have the best chance of winning and sending interim coach / outgoing offensive coordinator Mike Johnson out on a good note.

Not to mention going into the Jim L. Mora era the same way…


Which won’t be easy as the five starters on the Bruins’ offensive line will include a guy who’s making his first start since his senior year in high school, tackle Brett Downey, who’s in there because Albert Cid is academically ineligible and Chris Ward has a knee injury.

Not too much to ask, trying to keep a consensus All-American who leads the FBS in sacks (14.5) and forced fumbles from pounding quarterback Kevin Prince.

“I have been watching tape on him,” Downey said. “I…worked my butt off to get to this spot. Now I’m here and I have to make the most of it.”

Center Kai Maiava and his line mates Jeff Baca and Mike Harris will do well to make the most of it, too, because if they play as inconsistently as they have at times this year, it will likely be a long day for Prince and the rest of UCLA’s offense.


And that will be a pretty big challenge as the Bruins’ leading tackler, linebacker Patrick Larimore, is out with torn ligaments in his thumb, which he had surgery on two weeks ago; his 80 tackles will be sorely missed on a unit that’s given up 99 points in its last two games.

Jordan Zumwalt will move to Larimore’s middle linebacker spot.

Datone Jones and the rest of the UCLA defensive line need to do something that they haven’t been able to do lately: get into the backfield and cause havoc, while the secondary, well…

While Illinois’ offense is not Oregon’s or USC’s, if they continue to keep getting beat like they have of late, that’s a depressing thought.

And the Illini have a receiver who can put up big numbers and do much damage, A.J.Jenkins, who has over 1,100 receiving yards on the season, so Sheldon Price, Andrew Abbott, and the rest of their defensive back mates have their work cut out for them.


I don’t know about anyone else, but I am so sick and tired of the Bruins making sloppy mistakes that cost them opportunities like dropped passes, holding penalties, pass interference penalties, and fumbles, particularly by running back Johnathan Franklin, that if that continues against Illinois, I will scream in utter frustration.

If UCLA is to win this game, they cannot make those kinds of mistakes.

At all.


That’s the most important key of all, as this is not only the Bruins’ final game of 2011, it’s also the last game of an era as they will be starting fresh with a new coach afterwards.

For the seniors, it will likely be the last time they put on a football uniform in a meaningful game as running back Derrick Coleman is the only one who’s a legitimate NFL prospect, so it behooves them to focus on playing their best game and leaving everything they have on the field.

And for the rest of the Bruins, it’s an opportunity to impress the man who will be taking over, Jim L. Mora, as while he won’t be involved in the game or have any contact with the players, he will be there and will undoubtedly be checking them out and seeing who will fit in and be good in his system.

In other words, for the players that Mora inherits, this Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl may well be a factor in who will be in the new coach’s favor and play in 2012, because a whole new atmosphere will begin to be cultivated at roughly 4:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, as soon as their battle with Illinois is over.

No doubt about it, this is a game that UCLA can win.

The question is, which Bruin team will show up, the one who played with fire against Colorado and Cal, or the one that was treated like a first grader getting his lunch money taken away from bullies in the playground like against Arizona and USC?