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A stunning development

September 02, 2008|Chris Dufresne

Is it time to revise those expectations?


On Sept. 2?

Or was Monday night a housewarming-gift sprinkling of the magic coaching dust Rick Neuheisel once had, lost -- threw away actually -- and is trying to recapture.

Maybe this is still a three-year rebuilding plan -- it probably still is -- but what happened Monday was like "Extreme Makeover" coming to town and constructing a house in a week.

Shocking doesn't begin to describe what perspired and transpired at the Rose Bowl.

What UCLA pulled off in its 27-24 overtime win against Tennessee, on Labor Day Night, on national television, in Neuheisel's debut, should go down as one of the great moments in Bruins' lore.

This wasn't Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, but it was a humongous upset.

It should not have happened.

Next year maybe, more likely in 2010.

UCLA beat Tennessee with a third-string quarterback, an offensive line pieced together like a quilt, more true freshmen than you'd ever want to put on a field on opening day and a defense that was outweighed but obviously not outmatched.

But wait, there's more. The Bruins did this with three offensive starters lost to injury: a running back, a tight end and a wide receiver.

"We went to the coin toss for overtime, and we only had two of the four captains we started with," Neuheisel said.

How did it happen?

First off, Tennessee's No. 18 ranking was obviously a misprint. If the Vols are one of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference this year, the SEC is overrated.

Still, the Vols had a chance to stomp the Bruins -- but didn't do it.

They were going in to make it a 21-7 game in the third quarter when tailback Arian Foster fumbled inside the Bruins' 10, with Rahim Moore (true freshman) recovering at the six.

If you had seen UCLA's offense to that point, you knew there was no coming back from 14 down.

But UCLA kept the game close enough in the fourth quarter, and the Bruins stole it in overtime.

How did it happen?

Coaching, coaching, coaching -- Norm Chow on offense and DeWayne Walker on defense.

These guys could coordinate anything.

Walker's defense played like pit bulls in the first half, holding Tennessee down even as the UCLA offense looked like it wouldn't score in 100 years.

"DeWayne, he kept us in the game," Neuheisel said. "He kept us in."

It was like an old Western movie where 11 guys try to hold the fort while three guys sneak out to get help.

The offense totaled 85 total yards in the first half, with quarterback Kevin Craft tossing four interceptions.

Craft couldn't hit the broad side of the Bruins' barn. Neuheisel screamed at Craft on the sideline after each of his four interceptions but Chow, at halftime, smoothed things over.

Chow coached Steve Young and Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart -- you think he could do something with Craft, a JC transfer.

Neuheisel spoke afterward of "Norm's masterful job of calming Kevin down at halftime."

Craft had 66 yards and four interceptions in the first half.

In the second half he threw for 193 yards and no interceptions.

Craft went from having no rhythm in the first half to Mr. Bo Jangles in the second.

Walker's defense allowed Chow time to get things straightened out.

Chow's play-calling kept a tiring Tennessee defense off balance.

When the Vols rushed hard, Chow ordered screen passes. When Tennessee stayed back, he ordered short passes between spaces, and Craft executed.

"I have to give it up to the coaches," UCLA guard Scott Glicksberg said. "That's the sole reason we won. We have the best coaching staff in America."

Euphoric as victory was, there remains a minor detail otherwise known as "the rest of the season."

Maybe what UCLA did was done with as much adrenaline as anything else.

What now?

In the Karl Dorrell era, the Bruins often followed up big wins with big clunkers.

Can they bottle what happened Monday and take it to Brigham Young in two weeks?

UCLA's offense did just enough to win against Tennessee, but it's not going to get easier if injuries to key starters keep mounting.

Kahlil Bell (ankle), receiver Marcus Everett (toe) and tight end Logan Paulsen (foot) are seniors. Paulsen broke his foot, so he's not coming back any time soon.

Neuheisel knows Monday night was only the end of a beginning.

But what a beginning.

"We've got a lot of things to fix," he said. "But for an opening act, it was a lot of fun."


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