As I was watching how the UCLA Bruins performed in their battle with Utah’s Utes, by the time the game ended I was reminded of a saying by the band director of my old high school that he often said during my marching band days:
It’s better! It’s not good yet, but it’s better!”
That described the Bruins perfectly as they used a 64-yard touchdown pass to Shaquelle Evans, two rushing scores by Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, and a defense that allowed only one scoring drive late in the game and 75 rushing yards total in UCLA’s 21-14 win in front of 66,303 at the Rose Bowl.
The game featured perhaps the best rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” ever as the Blue Man Group performed the national anthem before the game, as well as nearly 220 alumni of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band joining their current band counterparts to form a supergroup at halftime.
This win, though the style points were minimal, was a badly needed one that evened the Bruins’ Pac-12 conference record to 2-2 and, as they head into their bye week, leaves them at 5-2 overall and one win short of bowl eligibility.
Not too bad for a team under a first-year head coach, who along with his staff has implemented a new offense, defense, and cultural approach.
As was said, except for Evans’ touchdown catch and run, UCLA didn’t achieve any spectacular style points in beating Utah:
Franklin was held to just 79 yards on 22 carries, the first time in 2012 that he failed to reach 100, but he made several key runs and earned some hard-earned crucial yards in the second half, all while nursing a sore calf and hand.
And his three-yard touchdown run in the third quarter turned out to be the difference in the game.
Hundley’s 183 yards in the air on 15-of-21 passing was his lowest total as the Bruin quarterback, but his 68 rushing yards more than made up for it as they kept open drives, the redshirt freshman scrambling time and time again when no one was open.
“You have a timer in your head,” Hundley said after the game. “You go through your reads. If you don’t see anything there, you got to use your legs.”
Which was exactly what he did against the Utes.
And he cut his interceptions to zero from his four against Cal the previous week.
The defense’s play was likewise clearly better than it was in Berkeley, as among their highlights were Andrew Abbott’s first quarter interception that directly led to Hundley’s 12-yard touchdown run, sacks of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson - a true freshman who was making his first collegiate start – by Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh, and stopping the Utes on fourth down twice.
It was good to see Jim Mora’s team cut their penalties and penalty yardage to seven and 43, respectively, and their turnovers from six against Cal to one on Saturday when Steven Manfro fumbled a punt on the three-yard line and Utah recovered the ball in the end zone, tying the score at seven.
The final score would have been 21-7 if not for Manfro’s boneheaded mistake, one that most eight-year old Pop Warner football players wouldn’t make.
Outside of Manfro’s extreme screw-up, the Bruins’ reduction of their penalties and turnovers was a clear improvement, one which no one in Bruin Nation can deny was better than their effort in their previous game against Cal.
It is also good that UCLA has a bye this week, as among their five remaining opponents are the Arizona schools – Arizona State in Tempe and Arizona at home – Stanford to close the regular season on November 24, and 10th ranked (in the BCS) USC the week before that on November 17.
Suffice it to say that those four teams will pose a brutal challenge, and their fifth remaining opponent, Washington State on November 10, won’t be a cakewalk either as that game will be in the Palouse in Pullman, where it will most likely be very cold.
The Bruins will need this bye week to heal up injuries as receivers Jerry Johnson and Darius Bell and offensive linemen Greg Capella and Simon Goines are all banged up and have missed playing time, and they will need to prepare themselves to play their best football in their remaining games, starting with the Sun Devils in Tempe, who at 5-1 and in first place in the Pac-12 South will be an extremely tough test on the road.
In the meantime, although this win didn’t completely have the makings of a beauty contest, Franklin put it best when he said,
“A win is a win…I don’t care if you’re playing Harvard or Alabama.”