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Bruins can say they were almost there

UCLA falls to Fresno State, 36-31, when a late fumble allows Bulldogs to run out the clock. Coaching decisions don't go Bruins' way.

September 28, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

This was a tribute to truth in advertising.

Fresno State fans were promised "history" by the UCLA marketing department's Central Valley campaign and the more than 15,000 red-clad customers at the Rose Bowl on Saturday can now say, "I was there."

The Bulldogs raced to the red mass at the north end of the stadium to celebrate after a 36-31 victory over UCLA. It was a part of a long-and-loud finish that left the Bruins trudging off the field toting their third consecutive loss.

"UCLA wanted our people here to make some money," Fresno State wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu said. "We wanted them here to watch us win this game. I guess we both got what we wanted."

Meanwhile, the Bruins had to settle for their best offensive performance of the season and the memory of the red throng getting louder as the Bulldogs milked the last 8 minutes 55 seconds off the clock with a drive that ended at the UCLA five-yard line.

"I hate red," UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price said. "I felt like a bull."

The loss left UCLA with a 1-3 record, its worst four-game start since going 0-3-1 in 1983. Rick Neuheisel, who was quarterback of that team and runs this one, said, "Hopefully we can get through this barrier that gets us to victory and not stumble when we get close."

UCLA is getting closer, at least in margin, after losses to Brigham Young (59-0) and Arizona (31-10) the previous two weeks. But the Bruins will have to go 5-2 the remainder of the season to be bowl eligible.

"Everyone can talk all they want about the kind of year they think we're going to have. I don't care what anyone else has to say," said UCLA tailback Kahlil Bell, who had 73 yards rushing in his first game since suffering a sprained ankle in the opener.

"When the Pac-10 gets rolling, that's when we will be concerned what our record is. Right now, we've lost to only one Pac-10 opponent."

Of course, the Bruins have played only one Pacific 10 opponent, but Bell said, "I'm still optimistic what we can get done this season."

The 25th-ranked Bulldogs (3-1) had their Bowl Championship Series dreams dashed by a 13-10 loss to Wisconsin, but that hasn't diminished their fans, who were encouraged to attend Saturday's game by the UCLA marketing department.

Then the Bruins' football team provided in-game incentives.

Late in the second quarter, Neuheisel decided against a field goal on a fourth-and-one at the Fresno State 18. Bell was stopped for no gain and the Bulldogs drove 82 yards for a touchdown and a 20-19 lead at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Bulldogs were stopped at the UCLA 15, but Neuheisel decided to accept a holding penalty, giving the Bulldogs another third-down chance. So instead of being left with a field-goal attempt, quarterback Tom Brandstater flipped a screen pass to Ryan Mathews, who scurried to the end zone for a 30-22 lead.

"It was a chip-shot field goal," Neuheisel said. "Ten yards makes it a 40-something yard field goal, which has a lower trajectory."

Said Brandstater: "I think they got greedy." Then he pointed to the Fresno fans and said, "This is going to be a nice ride home for all our people."

One made more pleasant by the bumper-to-bumper drive by the Bulldogs at the end. The Bruins, who had trailed, 36-22, were on the verge of taking the lead in the fourth quarter when tailback Derrick Coleman fumbled at the Fresno State 10.

UCLA never saw the ball again.

The last drive was methodical by the Bulldogs, using the running of Mathews, whose 166 yards rushing included a 49-yard touchdown. And it was frustrating for the Bruins, as the Bulldogs converted on third down twice and fourth down once during the drive.

"I would like to sit down and watch that drive on tape right now to see what happened," UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter said. "We played a good game, but that last drive made it a bad game."

With Bell back in the lineup, the running game improved. The Bruins rushed for 234 yards with Coleman, a freshman, gaining 86, including 44 on a drive that ended with Kevin Craft throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Chane Moline that cut the Bulldogs' lead to 36-31.

But Coleman fumbled on the next possession and the Bulldogs started their drive for home.

"They brought their whole city with them," UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. "I got a little mad because this was our home turf."

chris.foster@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Topsy-turvy

Four of the top 10 lost this week. A look :

NO. 1 USC (2-1)

lost to OREGON STATE (2-2)

So the Trojans lost to OSU, so what? Oh, that OSU. Again? Dam those Beavers!

NO. 3 GEORGIA (4-1)

lost to NO. 8 ALABAMA (5-0)

Georgia looked like world beaters against Arizona State, and Bulldogs fans reveled in an "SEC! SEC!" cheer toward the end of that game. They asked for it; they got it. The Tide rolled 'em.

NO. 4 FLORIDA (3-1)

lost to MISSISSIPPI (3-2)

Tim Tebow didn't look like a Heisman Trophy winner, passing poorly, losing a key fumble and getting stuffed on an important run. But at least he apologized afterward.

NO. 9 WISCONSIN (3-1)

lost to MICHIGAN (2-2)

Michigan's 500th win at the Big House came after spotting the Badgers a 19-0 lead, making it the second-biggest comeback in Wolverines history.

Los Angeles Times

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