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Bruins do slow burn

UCLA hangs in against Arizona for three quarters before finally falling, 31-10. Offense still struggles with only 196 yards, 81 in the air.

September 21, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The fire alarm blared before UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel entered, clearing the pressroom prior to his postgame postmortem.

The warning bells sounded out on the field a lot earlier, clearing the Rose Bowl of disappointed Bruins fans as Arizona polished up a 31-10 victory Saturday.

Where there's smoke, there's fire, and the concerns that the Bruins do not have the offensive wherewithal to be, at best, more than a mediocre Pacific 10 Conference team will be ablaze today.

"There is only one way to fix this and that's to pick up that shovel and work to that end," Neuheisel said.

Grave diggers hold the same philosophy. It may be too soon to pile dirt on the Bruins' season, but the offense was in need of an autopsy after mustering only 196 yards Saturday.

The Neuheisel Doctrine this season is to "manage the game and manage the score." The Bruins were far from pleased, trailing, 17-10, heading into the fourth quarter, but they felt things had been managed.

"It wasn't the best position to be in, but it was a position where we could still win the game," tackle Nick Ekbatani said. "We like to take games into the fourth quarter, because that's when we come alive a little bit."

The heart rate was undetectable.

The Bruins gained only 29 yards in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats scored two touchdowns. UCLA is without an offensive touchdown in the last two games.

"It's offense and we haven't scored a touchdown in two weeks," quarterback Kevin Craft said. "I take that really personally. That reflects on everybody on this team. It reflects on me a lot."

There will be many Bruins fans who will gladly hold the mirror for Craft, who completed 15 of 31 passes for only 81 yards.

Said offensive coordinator Norm Chow: "I was disappointed in some of the decisions he made."

The loss left the Bruins 0-1 in conference play and 1-2 overall.

"Getting better is more important than wins and losses," defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "We've got to get better as a football team and the wins and losses take care of themselves."

The defense got better, keeping the Wildcats (3-1,1-0) from putting the Bruins through another humiliating weekend, as was the case in a 59-0 embarrassment against Brigham Young a week ago.

Quarterback Willie Tuitama threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski and also had a 52-yard completion to Mike Thomas, which set up a three-yard touchdown run by Nic Grigsby.

Those second-quarter scores had the Wildcats up, 17-7, and they were on the verge of building on that, with a fourth-and-one at the UCLA 18. Coach Mike Stoops decided against a field-goal try and UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell stopped Grigsby for no gain.

The Bruins' defense was also responsible for the team's only touchdown, when Reggie Carter forced a fumble by Grigsby on the two-yard line and Korey Bosworth batted the ball into the end zone before falling on it.

"We kept the momentum going," defensive tackle Brian Price said. "Somewhere along the line, I don't know what happened."

It was what didn't happen. The things UCLA aspires to achieve, Arizona accomplished.

The Wildcats were pinned on their own 10-yard line. They strung together two first downs, then punted, leaving the Bruins on their own seven. UCLA could not get a first down.

The exchange of punts plus a nice return by Thomas left Arizona with a short field. The 26-yard drive ended with Tuitama hitting Gronkowski on a four-yard touchdown pass.

The Bruins did not move the chains, with only 11 first downs. They got inside the Arizona 45-yard line only once. The Wildcats, meanwhile, put together a 75-yard touchdown drive to put the game further out of reach in the fourth quarter.

The Bruins have scored an offensive touchdown in only one of 12 quarters this season, scoring two in the fourth quarter in the opener against Tennessee.

"We are who we are," Chow said. "We have the players we have and we're just going have to coach better and be more specific."

Craft continued to struggle, as he has done in all three games. He completed only one of five passes on third down in the second half. At the start of the second half, Craft scrambled on a third-and-three play, and appeared to have room to pick up the first down. Instead, he flipped the ball forward to a receiver after he had crossed the line of scrimmage.

Still, it took a village. The offensive line gave up three sacks, two on third down. Terrence Austin fumbled a punt at midfield in the first quarter, leading to an Arizona field goal. The Bruins were four for 17 on third-down conversions.

"We had it at 17-10 and it was our job to tie the score," Chow said. "We didn't. We can't expect the defense to hold them out as long as they did."


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