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UCLA Again Fails to Clean Up Its Act

Bruin offense sputters in 17-9 loss to Fresno State on a muddy field in the Silicon Valley Classic.

December 31, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — What was a rumpled cap is now a regal crown.

What has been a middling Fresno State team is for the moment basking in the glow of a landmark victory.

And what has been a UCLA team struggling to find itself is no closer to an answer.

The sweat-stained hat Fresno State Coach Pat Hill has worn since the first day of camp can take an honored place on his office shelf. It is marked with his team's regular-season scores under the bill and the score of the Silicon Valley Classic on the top.

Fresno State 17, UCLA 9.

The Bruins just want to cover their heads. Soiled caps, paper bags, it wouldn't matter. Anything to disguise themselves after their mostly inept performance Tuesday night in front of 20,126 at sodden Spartan Stadium.

Coach Karl Dorrell's first season ended with a 6-7 record and five consecutive losses.

UCLA, despite three weeks of practice, could not move the ball consistently, gaining 164 total yards. Drew Olson completed 11 of 31 passes for 96 yards and had a pass intercepted by Manuel Sanchez with 2:42 to play to extinguish the last UCLA comeback hope.

"We put so much pressure on ourselves to take this big step," Olson said. "It's heartbreaking for me and everybody who lives and dies with this program."

The Bruin defense was vulnerable early, surrendering two first-quarter touchdowns before shutting down Fresno State (9-5) the rest of the way.

So, where does the UCLA program go from here?

Does Dorrell go the way of former USC Coach Larry Smith, whose last game before being fired was a loss to Fresno State in the 1992 Freedom Bowl? Or will he rebound like Pete Carroll, whose first season at USC ended in an embarrassing 10-6 loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl?

He is not likely to lose his job, although there are indications that one or more of his assistants will.

Dorrell talked for three weeks about how well the team was practicing, how rapidly Olson was improving, how the Bruins were making progress.

Are they deluding themselves?

"We were in full anticipation of playing well enough to win," Dorrell said. "We have a ton of work to do. I expected us to play a whole lot better."

Fresno State did its best to help UCLA get back in the game by committing several silly penalties. But except for a brief period late in the first half and early in the second, the Bruin offense simply could not capitalize.

Although UCLA's first drive of the second half ended with a missed 47-yard field-goal attempt by Justin Medlock, the momentum seemed to shift in the Bruins' direction. The UCLA defense stiffened, and a sack by Ryan Boschetti and a holding call led to a blocked punt by Asi Faoa that was knocked through the end zone by Bulldog Duncan Reid for a safety to cut the lead to 17-9 midway through the third quarter.

UCLA had Fresno State backed inside its one-yard line late in the third quarter, but Maurice Drew roughed punter Mike Lingua and the Bulldogs moved out of trouble before having to punt again.

Neither team moved the ball consistently in the second half. The Bulldogs appeared tight, and were content to milk the clock and hope UCLA would struggle offensively.

And struggle the Bruins did. They were unable to take advantage of superior field position, disappointing the Bruin fans who braved the cold.

Fresno State fans outnumbered UCLA rooters about two to one. The Bruins distributed 4,100 of their 8,000 tickets. About 2,800 were sold and the others were given to players and charity. The 3,900 unsold tickets were absorbed by the Pacific 10 Conference.

The bundled Bruin fans had little to cheer about until Drew gained 27 yards from the UCLA three with 1:35 left in the half. The drive stalled, but a penalty for running into the punter enabled the Bruins to maintain possession, and they finally got on the scoreboard when San Jose native Craig Bragg made a diving catch in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown with 20 seconds remaining to cut Fresno State's lead to 17-7.

UCLA couldn't stand the prosperity, though. A fight broke out after the ensuing kick return and safety Jarrad Page was ejected.

Besides the last drive, the Bruin offense was nonexistent in the first half. Olson completed five of 20 passes for 51 yards.

Meanwhile, Fresno State rushed for 137 yards, passed for 123 and had 15 first downs to UCLA's seven in the first half.

"They didn't look like they had any tradition," said Fresno State's Dwayne Wright, who gained 58 yards in 13 carries. "We dominated, especially early on."

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