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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 13

Toledo Gives Bruin 'D' an 'F' in Angry Critique

November 19, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Black smoke wasn't coming from Coach Bob Toledo's mouth, but the anger was visible in his eyes and his voice.

Losing to city rival USC for a second consecutive season hurts, but it was nothing compared to the helpless feeling of watching UCLA's defense collapse time and again on third down during Saturday's 38-35 defeat at the Rose Bowl.

"I'm very, very frustrated with our defensive football team," he said.

Penalties. Blown coverages. Missed tackles. It's not something new. Ever since UCLA's 49-45 loss to Miami two years ago, the Bruins' defense has struggled.

Toledo severely criticized former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti and soon he was gone. Bob Field took over and there have been moments of success, but he can't be feeling too comfortable the way Toledo was showing his unhappiness.

"That was a terrible defensive display," he said.

UCLA ranks last in the Pacific 10 Conference in stopping opponents on third down. USC was nine of 14 on third-down conversions and finished with 557 yards of total offense. There were some ugly, inexcusable defensive breakdowns.

Start with linebacker Ryan Nece, who for the third consecutive game was called for a 15-yard personal-foul penalty. It came at the end of the first half when USC was facing a second-and-23 situation from its own 13. He was penalized for grabbing running back Sultan McCullough around the throat.

It not only gave the Trojans a first down with 1:05 left before halftime, but soon Carson Palmer torched the Bruin secondary on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Kareem Kelly, tying the score, 21-21.

"This one I was a little disappointed in," Nece said. "I didn't feel it was the right call, but I guess after two weeks in a row, the refs had my number and anything that was on the fence either way they would probably go with."

The most embarrassing series of breakdowns came in the third quarter with UCLA ahead, 28-21. On third and 11 from the UCLA 47, tight end Antoine Harris caught a short pass over the middle and ran 35 yards to the nine-yard line. Harris was so wide open he seemed invisible to UCLA defenders.

"I turned around and there was nobody there," he said. "That was a shock to me."

Three plays later, on third down, an uncovered Keary Colbert caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Palmer.

"We couldn't do our job," defensive tackle Rodney Leisle said. "It's a team thing. We all screwed up in different places. We're all good enough to beat them. It gets so frustrating when people blow their assignments or don't get into gaps."

Added cornerback Ricky Manning: "We have to get off the field on third down. It's killing us."

Manning was burned on a 57-yard touchdown catch by Steve Stevenson with 3:58 left that put USC on top, 35-28. Yes, it was another third-down play. Except this time, Manning was prepared.

"I knew they were coming with a stop-and-go [pattern] and I actually played it," he said. "I collided with [Stevenson] and slipped."

Field, who's in his 22nd year as an assistant coach at UCLA, felt the frustration of his defensive players.

"That's my job to get them to execute and make plays and we didn't do it," he said.

Nece, the son of former USC All-American Ronnie Lott, was slowly coming to terms with Saturday's defeat.

"It's very hard to stomach," he said. "It's a bitter taste that's going to last in my mouth. I know we have a bowl game coming up, but this is something we're going to have to reflect on for 365 days. It's something we have to deal with, whether it's media, friends, family, relatives. It's something hovering over us."

Toledo was asked if he had a reason for UCLA's continuing defensive lapses.

"I don't have an explanation right now, but I will work to find out," he said.

Senior free safety Jason Zdenek won't get another chance to face USC.

"It's crushing," he said. "It's the one game you want to go out winning and we weren't able to pull it out."

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