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Smoke in Pasadena is UCLA getting burned

October 18, 2009|KURT STREETER

The wheels haven't just fallen off. On Saturday, for UCLA, the wheels fell, then tumbled down the side of a hot road, then settled into a dry Pasadena canyon. There they were doused by a gallon of gas and lit afire with a blue and gold matchstick.

That's UCLA right now: a messy mass of overheated and very pliable goo.

Setting aside the final score -- California 45, UCLA 26 -- just look at a few relevant statistics.

At halftime of this latest debacle -- the third straight this year, one of at least half a dozen since the new crop of coaching geniuses took over last season -- the Golden Bears had a trio of passing touchdowns and a pair of running backs who'd gained just shy of 190 yards. Ninety-three of them came on a single play: Jhavid Best twisting, bending and speeding past what seemed like every last defender wearing a golden helmet and powder blue. For Cal, this was a highlight for the ages.

Sadly enough, this was just another very typical Bruins lowlight. We could snug it up against a few of the plays Best made against the Bruins last season. Shoot, we could lay it right beside the 42-yard touchdown scored Saturday by Best's backup, Shane Vereen, a run that mirrored several runs last week by Oregon's LaMichael James.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, October 19, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA football: In Kurt Streeter's column on the UCLA-California football game in Sunday's Sports section, the first name of Cal running back Jahvid Best was incorrectly spelled as Jhavid.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 25, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA football: In Kurt Streeter's column on the UCLA-California football game in the Oct. 18 Sports section, the first name of Cal running back Jahvid Best was misspelled Jhavid.

I'll stop rehashing the misery to save you an hour's worth of reading. Here's the heart of what we're left with: After that surprising 3-0 start, you can go ahead and kiss this UCLA season goodbye. Now that the Bruins are 3-3 and on a fast fade, they'd have to win half of their last six games to even sniff a bowl game. Good luck.

There's nothing from the last month that can make us think this will happen. UCLA went to Stanford after a two-week break. It got blitzed. Oregon came to Pasadena and ran the Bruins senseless. Then came Saturday. Cal bussed to town, literally rode buses instead of flying. Worse, they arrived having been outscored, 72-6, over their previous two games.

So Cal proceeds to run up 45 points; usually baffled Cal quarterback Kevin Riley, looking like Joe Roth (check the record books if you're wondering), Best gaining 102 yards and Vereen going for 154. Just what in the heck are they serving these days on Greyhound?

As it should, with these recent blows, in the backdrop of last season, there will be new heat, new questions about UCLA and its direction. Coach Rick Neuheisel has brought Westwood a lot of fanfare, a great deal of positive energy, a load of calming vibes for the wealthy young alumni whose greatest desire in life is to say that their school is better than USC. But so far, Neuheisel, with a 7-11 record, has brought nothing much in the way of victories.

When will the constant excuses -- the players are really, really, really young, or they're a bunch of leftovers from that last regime -- start sounding false and tired and thin?

I'm on record saying Neuheisel -- any major college football coach, really -- should start off with an eight-year contract and be allowed to stick it through; baring an unparalleled meltdown or serious trouble with the NCAA police. I stand by that. Fact is, I believe in Neuheisel, his ability, and that he has learned lessons from his troubled coaching past.

But maybe I'm nuts.

Maybe it's time to start holding the UCLA coach more accountable. We've seen the product he has put together, and it's not quite matching his golden-hued rhetoric. The Bruins, despite some gains, are a team too often plagued by mistakes, mishaps, disjointed play and discombobulation.

Look, even in the darkest days of Karl Dorrell, they never had a season-and-a-half stretch this bad. Just two years ago, his job in grave danger, his team injured and undermanned, Dorrell's Bruins played a Cal team as dispirited as the one that just tumbled into the Rose Bowl.

Back then, Cal was coming off a heartbreaking loss that had cost it the national No. 1 ranking. Under Dorrell, the Bruins won, just as they did that year against Oregon. Under Dorrell, true enough, there were some disturbingly ugly games, he was hardly Bill Walsh after all. But there were also a fair share of months ranked in the nation's top 15. And nothing as bad as last season in Provo, 59-0. Genius, let's just say, has its limits.

I add this bit of coaching perspective to give a reality check. The road to respectability is long and full of bruises. If you've been thinking a sudden turnaround was in the offing just because a multimillion-dollar band of world-beater coaches suddenly journeyed to UCLA, think again.

Especially now, the wheels having fallen down a Pasadena ditch, only to be torched by the Golden Bears of Berkeley, turned into a puddle of goo.

--

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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