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CALIFORNIA 41 UCLA 20

The Bruins are in the wilderness

Cal breaks it open with 24 fourth-quarter points. Craft throws four interceptions, two returned for TDs.

October 26, 2008|Chris Foster | Foster is a Times staff writer.

BERKELEY — UCLA receiver Dominique Johnson went high in the air to snag a nine-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 36 seconds left in Saturday's game.

Everyone on the Bruins' bench merely stood and stared. Mustering emotion was beyond their grasp. No high-fives. No primal screams. No California Bear hugs. No reason to, really.

Another loss was eminent, a rock-bottom moment -- or at least the Bruins can hope it was the low point. They had managed the game and managed the score -- and still managed to be routed, 41-20, by California.

It left even the relentlessly optimistic sounding a little pessimistic.

"We're not right now currently involved in the Pacific 10 title race, so this is an opportunity to get some valuable experience for our young players," Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

After watching the Bears reel off 24 fourth-quarter points to break open what had been a 17-13 game, Neuheisel was asked whether the Bruins had the ability to win such games. Unlike his team Saturday, he rallied.

"Unfortunately, we haven't displayed it," he said. "I'm not saying we don't, we just haven't displayed it."

UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft had four passes intercepted, reducing the offense to a return coverage unit. The Bruins were inefficient at that as well. The Bears returned two of the picks for touchdowns.

Marcus Ezeff went 69 yards with one to give the Bears a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. Mike Mohamed provided the coup de grace with a 19-yard touchdown return for a 34-13 lead in the fourth quarter.

UCLA gained only 16 yards rushing, and the offensive line allowed the Bears plenty of face-time with Craft.

Conventional wisdom deserted the Bruins. Aaron Perez tried a fake punt on a fourth-and-23 play with the Bruins trailing, 20-13, in the fourth quarter. His pass to Courtney Viney gained 22 yards.

On the next play, the Bears ran a flea-flicker, with Kevin Riley throwing a 53-yard touchdown pass to Nyan Boateng.

The Bruins (3-5 overall, 2-3 in Pac-10 play) have two weeks to figure out how to squeeze out three victories in four games to become bowl-eligible. This much they know:

"We're obviously not doing something right," linebacker Reggie Carter said.

Craft's play is the front-and-center issue. His occasional outbursts of effectiveness have been overshadowed by performances such as Saturday's. He put the Bruins in a bad situation from the start with a wobbly pass that was intercepted by Ezeff on the first play of the game.

The turnover resulted in a field goal. Craft's day didn't get much better.

"It was kind of easy to read off him," California safety Syd'Quan Thompson said.

Neuheisel elaborated: "To me, it looked like he made up his mind and was throwing the ball where he thought it had to go. I don't know if he was using his eyes much."

Craft was the picture of poise . . . talking to reporters after the game. During it, he didn't complete a pass until 10:10 left in the second quarter.

"I don't think four picks, two of them for touchdowns, is good play by any quarterback," Craft said.

He had help. The Bruins were unable to run the ball, doing worse than their 2.8 yards per carry as a team going into the game. UCLA didn't get into positive yardage until 13 minutes left in the second quarter.

"We just aren't able to move people at the point of attack and create air," Neuheisel said. "I don't know if we ever have been able to move people. . . . We have not achieved the ability to take pressure off our quarterback by just being able to hand off and make four-, five-, six-yard gains."

The Bears (5-2, 3-1) gained 232 yards rushing, 34 coming on a reverse to Jahvid Best, who leaped over Bruins defenders on his way to the end zone for a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.

It was the third consecutive game that the Bruins had given up more than 200 yards rushing. Still, it was the UCLA defense that kept the Bruins in the game for a while.

The Bears were unable to pull away even with UCLA's help until Perez made an ill-advised gamble.

"That never should have happened," Perez said. "I didn't realize that it was fourth-and-23. It was one of those things, and we missed by inches. If we get it, we look like heroes."

Instead, the Bears' Riley did on the next play, as freshman safety Rahim Moore bit on the flea-flicker.

And the emotion slowly began to drain from the Bruins.

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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