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Bruins are rolling, could go bowling

They notch third straight win, 23-13 over Arizona State, taking them to 6-5 and making them bowl-eligible a year after going 4-8 in Coach Rick Neuheisel's first season.

November 22, 2009|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers reaches for the goal line with the ball after recovering a fumble and returning it nine yards for a score at the end of the second quarter Saturday.
UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers reaches for the goal line with the ball after… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

There are college football programs that have fired coaches for six-victory seasons. There are coaches who have to do a lot of explaining if merely achieving bowl eligibility is a season highlight. There are players who view the Fill-In-The-Sponsor Bowl as a minor consolation prize.

Not around Westwood. Not at UCLA. Not this morning.

A raucous postgame scene followed the Bruins' 23-13 victory over Arizona State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Linebacker Reggie Carter gave an Oscar-night acceptance speech to the crowd, thanking the world. Coach Rick Neuheisel kept on coaching, stopping the crowd from singing so he could choreograph how the team should belt out the fight song. Safety Rahim Moore stood on the podium and promised victory next week . . . over USC.

All this followed a defense-heavy victory that guaranteed the Bruins (6-5 overall, 3-5 in Pacific 10 Conference play) at least a .500 record for the regular season. That sixth victory makes UCLA bowl-eligible, an accomplishment that seemed unlikely after a five-game losing streak in October.

"People remember November," Moore said.

The Bruins, who were 4-8 last year in Neuheisel's first season, now seem destined to get to December, though just where they might land is still a guessing game. An appearance in the EagleBank Bowl in Washington could be orchestrated by ESPN. The New Mexico Bowl and the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, have interest.

"A Pac-10 bowl would be big money, as opposed to Idaho," senior defensive end Korey Bosworth said. "I'm not trying to get back to Idaho. I've already been there once."

To have a shot at one of the six conference-affiliated bowls the Bruins only have to beat USC next week.

"I don't want to make any predictions," cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "I think we'll come out and play hard."

And come away with a seventh victory? "That's definitely a possibility," Verner said.

Carter and Moore were less coy.

"I don't hate people," Carter said. "I just want to beat [the Trojans] up. I just want to beat them real bad. We're going to keep throwing punches. Even if they're knocked out, we'll keep punching. We're going to punch until we can't punch anymore."

Moore told the crowd UCLA would win it, then told reporters, "We have a big game next week and it's winnable. We've got to get better this week, improve on something, then come in with the big show."

Saturday's victory, the Bruins' third in a row, didn't quite have the big-show look, nor did it have a big-show crowd -- only an announced 46,151 bothered to come out. But it was a victory, with plenty of senior moments for the seniors who were playing their last home game.

Verner set the tone, returning an intercepted pass 68 yards for a touchdown a little more than three minutes into the game for an early 7-0 lead.

"I knew what he was thinking and he threw it right to me," Verner said of Sun Devils quarterback Samson Szakacsy. "It was a gift. But it is close to Christmas."

It was the first big defensive moment in a game the Bruins' defense dominated. UCLA forced six turnovers, including a fumble that linebacker Akeem Ayers returned nine yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead just before halftime.

The half ended when Kai Forbath kicked one of his three field goals, which followed a fumble recovery on the kickoff return. UCLA had 10 tackles for losses, including four sacks.

A year ago, the Bruins held Arizona State to 122 yards, but the Sun Devils returned four UCLA turnovers for touchdowns in a 34-9 victory.

"They were coming in talking about being the No. 1 defense [in the Pac 10], which they were, but we outplayed them," Bosworth said.

The offensive side of the stat sheet was a push, but the Bruins held on to the ball.

That, in part, was because of senior Chane Moline, who moved to tailback as the answer to the Bruins' fumble woes. Moline, who has spent the season at fullback, gave a meat-and-potatoes performance. He had eight carries coming into the game, then had 25 carries for 84 yards Saturday.

"He's Mr. Dependable," said quarterback Kevin Prince, who completed 15 of 31 passes for 161 yards. "You trust him to hold on to the ball and he's going to pick up some yards."

The reward for Moline, Verner and other seniors is likely a postseason game.

"There is definitely a gap between what we wanted when the season began and where we are," Verner said. "But with the adversity we fought through, to be in a position where we can get a bowl game is good. It's enough for a senior season. It could have been worse."

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