Posted on: December 31, 2011 7:13 pm
Edited on: December 31, 2011 7:13 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
ILLINOIS WON. There was not a lot of offense in this game, nor were there a lot of spectacular plays, but Illinois rode the strength of an outstanding defense to put an end to its six-game losing streak. With running back Jason Ford missing the game for Illinois, the Illini put the ball in Nathan Scheelhaase's hands and relied on him to do all the work on the offensive side of the ball.
Scheelhaase finished the day with 249 yards of total offense and hit A.J. Jenkins for a 60-yard score in the fourth quarter to ice it. Still, the true star of the day was the Illinois defense, particularly defensive end Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus lived up to his name, terrorizing Kevin Prince and the UCLA offense all day as the Bruins only managed 220 yards of offense in the game, with 38 of those yards coming on a touchdown pass in the final minute of the game after this one was essentially over.
WHY ILLINOIS WON. Defense, defense, defense, a little more defense, and then some defense. Illinois' offense only managed one touchdown and two field goals in the game, as cornerback Terry Hawthorne provided the other 7 Illini points with a pick-six in the third quarter that turned the tide of this game.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON. When Scheelhaase hit Jenkins for the 60-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter with 5:36 left on the clock to make it 20-7, there wasn't much reason to believe UCLA could overcome a two-score deficit given how this game was going.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON. For the first time in school history, Illinois won consecutive bowl games in back-to-back seasons. Which is about as much as the Illini could hope for considering how the season started and the firing of head coach Ron Zook.
WHAT UCLA LOST. UCLA lost a game, but it also won the end of a 2011 season that did not feature a lot of highlights and saw Rick Neuheisel get fired. The Bruins can now move forward to what they hope will be a much brighter 2012.
BOWL GRADE: F. I'm sorry, I went into this game with the absolute lowest of expectations. Both teams were under interim coaching staffs that won't be returning next season, and neither team had a winning record coming in. Illinois had lost six straight and UCLA was just as big of a mess. You would think those low expectations would only leave me pleasantly surprised by what took place in this game, but I wasn't. It was exactly what I expected it to be, and it was incredibly boring. It may as well have been called the Fight Narcolepsy Bowl. That said, I have to give the players credit. They may not have played well, but they showed up and played. Nobody was just going through the motions, but that being said, this was still a very boring game.
Posted on: December 28, 2011 10:58 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
A look at the key matchup that could decide the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
UCLA's pistol offense vs. Illinois defensive line
When it comes to stopping UCLA's Pistol, an attacking front four can cause havoc against the run-based offense. The Bruins have been pretty good on the ground this year - one of the few things they've seemed to execute ok - finishing 29th in the country with 190 yards per game rushing. Kevin Prince wasn't the greatest signal-caller (1,627 yards passing, 10-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio) but was a solid trigger man who could pull the ball and run for a first down when needed. Johnathan Franklin had a big game against Colorado but other than that was nothing to write home about after being held under 100 yards rushing in all but three games this season. Fellow back Derrick Coleman was on and off throughout the year but turned in a productive season.
Though the Bruins have faced some good defensive lines, they haven't faced anybody like defensive end Whitney Mercilus. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound All-American led the country in sacks with 14.5 and led the conference in tackles for loss with a total of 19.5 for the year. Though Illinois struggled down the stretch by losing six straight, it wasn't because of the defense, which finished seventh overall in total defense. Michael Buchanan finished 8th in the Big Ten in tackles for a loss playing on the line and was also a disruptive force at times this season. If the line can get penetration and make some plays, that allows the back seven to matchup well against UCLA's skill position talent that hasn't done much all at all outside of Nelson Rosario. Freeing up linebacker Jonathan Brown to make some plays will be something to watch if the Illini want to win the game.
Points might be hard to come by given the way Illinois' offense has looked down the stretch so that puts the pressure on the defense once again. If the team has any hope of ending the slide, they're going to have to limit big plays from an offense that can create some with misdirection. A good push from the defensive line against a bad UCLA offensive line is where things start.
On the other side, if the Bruins want to avoid going 6-8 on the year, the offense has to execute less like they did against USC and show some of the signs of life like they did against Oregon. Prince can pick up first downs and there should be a solid rushing game but if the o-line can't block Mercilus and the defensive line, interim head coach Mike Johnson could be in for a long night.
Posted on: December 21, 2011 6:57 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 7:00 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
College football has many ... unusual traditions that have endured for decades despite being, you know ... unusual, and since that's part of what makes the sport such a vital part of so many communities and the American sporting landscape as a whole, we want to be sensitive to those traditions. That even goes for one as ... unusual as UCLA's annual "over the wall" tradition, in which the senior Bruins skip practice en masse by leaping over the facility's south wall after pre-practice stretching.
New Bruins head coach Jim Mora, however, doesn't have to be sensitive at all. And following the latest edition of "over the wall" at Tuesday's UCLA practice, he most certainly wasn't:
“It’s completely unacceptable ... I can just tell you in no uncertain terms that that tradition will not be a part of tradition going forward. [Athletic director] Dan Guerrero and I have spoken about it and we both agreed that the culture of UCLA football needs to change. That was part of the interview process and so we’re going to do all we can to make sure we change it.”To their credit, not every Bruin glad to see another revival of "over the wall." "A lot of the guys unfortunately are OK with it," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "It's in the past and we're just going to forget about it for now and in the future make sure it doesn't happen anymore."
Mora naturally appreciated that reponse, saying that "the kind of players that are going to fill this roster from now on are guys that would be pissed off about it." But of course, those are apparently not the kinds of players that are on the UCLA roster right now; the seniors leading the charge "over the wall," at least, are the kind of players that would walk out on a critical day of preparation for their final college game and deprive the rest of the roster of a chance to work towards better things in 2012.
Sorry if that's insensitive; we're not condemning the "over the wall" tradition itself, or at least we're trying not to. But we also don't blame Mora one bit for every ounce of condemnation he's steered the tradition's way or -- it has to be said -- in the direction of the "leadership" of his 6-7 football team.
Posted on: December 2, 2011 11:41 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 11:43 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon ran over UCLA so bad Friday night, they might have beaten the Bruins back to Los Angeles.
They'll make the trip down, to Pasadena to be precise, in a month but took care of business against an overwhelmed South representative to win the conference in the first ever Pac-12 championship game 49-31.
The Ducks will head to the Rose Bowl looking for their first win since 1917, Rick Neuheisel will head home with out a job. The recently fired head coach said the team was ready to shock the world.
They scored, shockingly, for the first time since November 19th.
UCLA lost the coin toss and, despite a few plays that gave them life, were never in the game from that point. The Pac-12 championship game was never about them however.
"We end the season with three teams in the top 10 and what looks like two BCS bowl teams for the second year in a row," commissioner Larry Scott said during his state of the conference address. "And seven bowl-eligible teams and what would have been eight."
That eighth team, USC, was the reason why UCLA "represented" the South division despite going .500 on the year . The athletic department brass didn't think too highly of their chances and applied for - and were granted - a waiver to go to a bowl game despite a 6-7 record. While the Bruins will likely end up in San Francisco for the game, the Trojans sat at home serving out the final year of their bowl ban and watched two teams they beat.
"All-in-all, I still think it's been a strong season," Scott continued. "The Pac-12 and the SEC are the only conferences to have three teams in the top 10. The conference is clearly establishing itself as a perennial, elite football conference."
The night showed off the good and bad of West Coast football. In front of a national audience, Oregon showed how good it could be. UCLA showed how far they had to go. Despite some sloppy play on both sides of the ball, the Ducks ran into the record books as easy as their running backs ran into the end zone.
LaMichael James became the first player in conference history to post three 1,500+ yard rushing seasons. He passed some guy named Marcus Allen on the career rushing list and moved into second place on the Pac-12 rushing touchdowns list. Darron Thomas became the school's career leader in touchdown passes (63) and had a career-long run. The Ducks set school records for rushing yards and touchdown passes.
Duck. Duck. Duck. Rose.
UCLA's Pistol offense was shooting blanks most of the night when it wasn't the players in the foot with turnovers. Still, they put up more points than many expected after coming in as the biggest underdog in postseason play according to Vegas insiders. There were positive plays, such as Kevin Prince flea-flicker to Nelson Rosario for a 37 yard touchdown. There were negative ones too, such as Derrick Coleman attempting to pitch the ball on a reverse despite the recipient being well past him. Oregon recovered and scored on 4th down on a Thomas touchdown pass to make it 35-14. The team fought hard but were simply outclassed by a Ducks team that seemed to be looking for style points ahead of their matchup against either Wisconsin or Michigan State the day after New Year's.
Head coach Chip Kelly made it a point to put up impressive numbers, using timeouts before halftime and going for it numerous times on 4th down. It may not have been the best show of sportsmanship but it did result in his third straight outright Pac-12 title as head coach. Winning the conference is one thing but if he wants to take the program to the next level, he'll have to get over the hump of winning a BCS game. Kelly has a .500 record against teams with two or more weeks to prepare so something will have to change.
Friday night however, nothing changed for Oregon. They ran their way to another win and in this case, plenty of roses.
Posted on: November 27, 2011 1:05 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 3:53 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
LOS ANGELES -- Lane Kiffin did what he could to get Matt Barkley to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
USC receivers just kept running routes and, thanks to Barkley, UCLA fell on the wrong end of a rout once again.
It had been 534 days but USC could finally say they were bowl eligible too.
The Trojans have to win at least six games next season to qualify for a bowl of course - a near certainty given the amount of talent returning in 2012 - but on the Coliseum turf Saturday night, they could finally say they had the right to play in one after shutting out their crosstown rival UCLA 50-0.
The only question left in 2011: One more year or thanks for the memories Matt?
"This night is too special to take away from what we've done," Barkley said. "I don't want to worry about my future, I want to spend my time enjoying the night. We've worked hard for this and we deserve to celebrate a little bit."
Barkley's team jumped the gun a little, singing the fight song while he was in the middle of his press conference.
"That gave me chills."
In what could have been the quarterback's final performance under center, he went out close to perfect: 35-for-42, 423 yards and a school record-tying (his own, by the way) six touchdown passes.
The fans want an encore next year and you can understand why.
"When he gets back from New York we will sit down," Kiffin said. "Unless he just wants to do it to be a special Trojan, he is not coming back.
"I probably shouldn't say this but I look up to Matt Barkley. He has been through a lot of adversity. Basically all of his dreams about football were taken away with the sanctions. I don't know any 39-year olds that can handle things the way he did, much less any 19-year olds."
The pitch to stay is easy enough he doesn't have to say much at all.
USC started just only four seniors, two of whom were on offense. Just nine players who saw any significant playing time won't be back next year prior to any NFL defections. Biletnikoff finalist Robert Woods (13 catches for 113 yards, two touchdowns) will return and Marqise Lee (13 catches for 224 yards, two touchdowns) will be just a sophomore. Every starter on the offensive line could return, including potential first round left tackle Matt Kalil, who he said is a "package deal" with Barkley earlier in the week.
Even the defense is loaded, with two freshman tying for the lead in tackles for the first time in school history.
So the question will be, for the next several weeks, will he stay or will he go?
"I've been in his ear trying to get him back," Woods said. "Of course the decision is his but I feel like we could go a long way with him."
"I haven't started yet," Lee said with a grin. "But I'm going to."
Kiffin has been on record saying that sure-fire first round picks should leave but his tune has changed over the past few months. Not much of a joker, he's cracks plenty about his quarterback coming back.
With Barkley the Trojans can emerge from their bowl ban (and start scholarship reductions) as a top five team, primed to compete not only for a Rose Bowl but a national title like the good old days under Pete Carroll. The blond-haired Southern California kid could lead his dream school out of the program's toughest days and back to the promise land.
"We are coming out of the dark," said Kiffin about 2012.
USC has a great film department so they may have already sold the script to Disney.
"It means a lot knowing the Trojan family has my back. It's going to be tough," the signal-caller added. "I'm still enjoying that game and enjoying this night."
The Coliseum crowd started the "One more year" chant early. After watching the Trojans' scoreboard get a workout though, it wasn't clear who they wanted to come back more, Barkley or UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel.
The loss dropped him to 26-32 overall, 17-15 in the conference at his alma mater. Though Neuheisel has yet to beat USC, he talked about the gap between the school 14 miles away being closed earlier in the week - after UCLA backed into the first ever Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon.
"That was a pretty strong statement to make," Kiffin said. "Our players took that very personal. It was talked about a lot and not by me at all. I think they really felt disrespected."
After Saturday, the gap may never have been wider.
"I'm going to evaluate this program at the end of the year like I always have," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "We've got another game to focus on and it's a big game.
"It's a devastating loss for any Bruin fan or anybody in that locker room or any of the coaches."
UCLA gave up a 98-yard scoring drive and defensive backs had trouble all night preventing receivers from getting behind them for long scores. They allowed the Trojans' smallest offensive player, running back Curtis McNeal, to take a simple off tackle play 73-yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Quarterback Kevin Prince was the lone bright spot but ended up as the team's leading rusher, not exactly the plan.
In many ways it was over before it began.
"The first drive," Neuheisel said of when he knew he had a problem. "We couldn't stop them and we were too inconsistent on offense to be in a scoring fest and it just got out of hand."
The Pac-12 office said USC could only say they finished in first with their 10-2 record and could not call themselves South champions. They gave their blessing for UCLA to do, despite finishing second, however.
Tomato, tohmato. First place vs. South champion, the scoreboard did the talking.
"It shows who really is the Pac-12 champion," Kalil said.
In the locker room after the game, the team found shirts adorned with "Pac-12 South Champions" awaiting them from athletic director Pat Haden.
Across the country there are plenty of fierce rivalries but nothing quite like the crosstown showdown that takes place at the end of the season every year in Los Angeles. Office bragging rights are at stake. Friends won't speak to each other afterward. In plenty of cases it pits brother versus brother - including on the field.
Tim McDonald was a two-time All-American safety for USC. Son T.J. followed in his footsteps and started for the Trojans when he was a freshman at the position. Younger brother Tevin took a different path and signed with the Bruins, ending up as the starter opposite his brother Saturday night.
T.J. will take home bragging rights once again and likely spend Christmas detailing his interception in the red zone that ended one of the few Bruins scoring threats.
"It's a big thing," McDonald said of the pick. "But for us to get that shutout, for this crosstown rivalry, to play this way in the last game of the season, this was our bowl game. We had nothing to leave out on the field and we did that."
Kiffin's squad took the title of city champions for the 12th time in 13 years. Though they had the (NCAA) book thrown at them and doubters aplenty, they lived up to the school's 'Fight On' motto throughout the turmoil that had engulfed the program the past few years and, it seems, is starting to disperse.
"We had a lot to play for this year," Barkley said. "We were playing for this university, the history of this program. You're playing for personal pride, you don't want to just flush the season down the toilet. There were a ton of things that we were playing for and that motivated us."
Woods became the school and conference leader in receptions early in the second half. Barkley broke Matt Leinart's school and conference record with his 39th touchdown pass of the season.
"It's unreal, I never thought this would happen," he said. "I remember watching that year that he had."
The Trojans were not eligible for the Pac-12 championship or a BCS bowl but they stated their case one final time that they could beat anybody in the country in 2011.
"The way we're playing, I think we could," Barkley said.
So what about next year?
Tags: BCS, Biletnikoff Award, Bryan Fischer, Curtis McNeal, Dan Guerrero, Heisman, Heisman Trophy, Kevin Prince, Lane Kiffin, Marqise Lee, Matt Barkley, Matt Kalil, Matt Leinart, NCAA, Oregon, Pac-12, Pac-12 Championship Game, Pat Haden, Pete Carroll, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Woods, Rose Bowl, T.J. McDonald, Tevin McDonald, Tim McDonald, UCLA, USC
Posted on: November 5, 2011 11:45 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
UCLA WON. Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins had their backs against the wall, with plenty of fans and media members already talking about potential replacements for the head coach. No worries, they took a lead into halftime and came back to score a go ahead touchdown in the final minute of a thrilling victory at the Rose Bowl.
Posted on: October 21, 2011 11:16 am
Edited on: October 21, 2011 11:42 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel has dealt with questions about the "hot seat" all season. They started at Pac-12 media days when the long-time coach brought the topic up himself, and it definitely came up after the Bruins' 48-12 beatdown at the hands of Arizona on Thursday night. But despite the rough start in Westwood, athletic director Dan Guerrero made it clear he's not ready to follow Arizona's lead and make a coaching change in the immediate future.
"No. No, not at all," Guerrero told the LA Daily News in response to questions about firing Neuheisel. "I don't know why anyone would think that we would pull the trigger like that. My philosophy on early terminations may be different than some. That's not to say I disrespect anyone else that makes a decision they have to make. Every situation is a little bit different."
The loss drops the Bruins to 3-4 overall, with five conference games left on the schedule before Guerrero will have to make a definite vote of confidence or decision on Neuheisel's future at UCLA. The athletic director told the media he wants consistency out of the team, and there is plenty of football left for the Bruins to show that consistency. But there is also plenty of football left to help the argument from UCLA fans for a coaching change. The three wins have come against San Jose State, Oregon State, and Washington State; with none of them being more than a 10-point victory. Quarterback Kevin Prince needs to get comfortable back in the starting lineup, and the defense can't let games get out of hand the way they did on Thursday.
While Guerrero says Neuheisel's job is safe for now, the Bruins have some ground to make up if he's going to be around for 2012.
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Posted on: October 10, 2011 11:38 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 11:39 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The most cursed position in all of college football is, as it turns out, still cursed.
That position is UCLA quarterback, of course, and its most recent victim is starter Richard Brehaut, who suffered a broken leg in the Bruins' come-from-behind victory over Washington State Saturday. Rick Neuheisel confirmed Sunday that Brehaut will miss at least three weeks and up to six with the injury.
There's a couple of good pieces of news here for Brehaut and Bruins fans, however. One of them is that thanks to the endless series of injuries to Bruin quarterbacks over the past few seasons, nominal backup Kevin Prince certainly isn't lacking in experience, and in fact had an outstanding game in leading the Bruins back against the Cougars.
The other is that Brehaut may still be able to return this season. Neuheisel said the junior has recovered from injuries quickly before, and could still make an impact later in the year.
"It's tough, establishing myself as the quarterback and then for something like this to happen," Brehaut said. "But everything happens or a reason, and hopefully I can be back in time for the season."
No doubt Neuheisel hopes that the case, since there's no telling when the curse is going to strike again. With Bruin starting quarterbacks having missed nearly six full seasons through injury since 2000 even before Brehaut's break, the clock is no doubt already ticking.