UCLA seniors never took flight

Expectations raised by the 2006 upset of USC were never realized; the Bruins have gone 10-16 since that day.

December 07, 2008|Chris Foster | Foster is a Times staff writer.

Aaron Perez, UCLA's punter, walked off the Rose Bowl field hardly feeling the ground in 2006, giddy with the possibilities that lay ahead for the Bruins following a 13-9 upset of second-ranked USC.

The college football monopoly in Los Angeles appeared to be over.

After two years, during which the Bruins have not managed to pass "Go," Perez is left with a different feeling. As the clock ran out on a 28-7 USC victory Saturday, Perez looked at friends in the stands and shrugged . . . three times.

"We thought the program had arrived," Perez said about the 2006 upset.

Instead, he and 17 other seniors who were in the program that day will depart with only a handful of good memories since that victory.

UCLA has won only 10 of 26 games since, with the latest defeat seemingly leaving the college football world in Los Angeles the same as it has been throughout the millennium -- tilted toward USC.

The Bruins were expected to be national players last season but unraveled quickly, finishing with a 6-7 record that cost coach Karl Dorrell his job. A 4-8 finish in Rick Neuheisel's first season underlined how expectations have been downsized considerably in two years.

Said defensive tackle Brigham Harwell: "We thought we were going to win the national title [after 2006], that we were on the rise."

Now, Harwell said, "We kept fighting today. Things are going to be different with this program."

Defensive tackle Chase Moline said he was sure "we were going to contend for the Rose Bowl after 2006."

Moline remains a believer, though he came out of Saturday's game merely feeling that "we established a foundation."

It has been a steep decline, as injuries and inconsistency followed the 2006 victory.

"There was a euphoric feeling when we came out of that game," senior defensive back Michael Norris said. "We wanted that this year. It didn't happen."

Reasons were easy to spot.

Patrick Cowan, the sophomore quarterback who took the Bruins to victory against USC in 2006, scoring their only touchdown, was on the sideline Saturday. He suffered a season-ending knee injury during spring practice, depriving the Bruins of their No. 1 quarterback.

Kevin Craft, his replacement, was 11 for 28 for 89 yards and had a pass intercepted for the 20th time this season, a UCLA record. Craft has gone without a touchdown pass since Oct. 18.

The Bruins' offense provided just enough to pull off the upset in 2006, grinding out a 91-yard touchdown drive. The offense managed only 157 yards Saturday, a season low, and its only score came on a gadget play -- wide receiver Dominique Johnson's 21-yard pass to Kahlil Bell -- following a fumble by USC's C.J. Gable.

Even Perez had a radically different day. His 63-yard punt was a key play two years ago. On Saturday, he performed well, with a 50.9-yard average in nine kicks, but he also had a punt blocked, which led to the Trojans' third touchdown.

"We all thought that 2007 was going to be big," senior wide receiver Marcus Everett said. "We beat USC. We had 25 seniors coming back. It was going to be the jump start to a winning season in 2007. It didn't work out that way."

And what does he take from Saturday's loss?

"We showed heart," Everett said. "I think next year is going to be a big year for this program."


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