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UCLA 23, KANSAS STATE 9

Bruins improve to 3-0

Kevin Craft fills in effectively at quarterback, and defense shuts down the Wildcats.

September 20, 2009|Chris Foster

There is a 3-0 college football team in Los Angeles. It's just a little farther west of the 110 Freeway for a change.

UCLA kept its record clean with a performance that was far from pristine in a 23-9 victory over Kansas State at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

There is a quarterback who can wake up in a good mood this morning. But he's nowhere near the Aaron Corp residence.

Kevin Craft got his shot at redemption, subbing for starter Kevin Prince. He may not have wowed fans, and his play did produce some boos in the third quarter, but he also tossed a 51-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Austin to ice the game.

This is a new role for the Bruins (3-0), who avoid the type of pratfall that tripped up USC at Washington earlier in the day by handling a lesser team.

"This team is getting better," safety Rahim Moore said. "It's a good win."

Well, beating Kansas State (1-2) is hardly anything to write home about, or even worth sending an e-mail to a local BCS computer operator. But the number in the loss column was all that mattered to the Bruins.

"This means a lot," defensive tackle Brian Price said. "It means we're getting this program where we need to get it to, back to the black-tie events. Being 3-0 makes a statement to everybody that we're not playing games anymore."

The Bruins won't be playing games for two weeks, when they have a date at Stanford. It gives them week off to bask in their first 3-0 start since 2005 and fix some of the problems that nearly cost them.

This is the second consecutive week that the Bruins relied mostly on their defense and kicker Kai Forbath, who had field goals of 35, 39 and 40 yards.

There were some added perks. Johnathan Franklin gained 119 yards rushing, becoming the first UCLA back to top the 100-yard mark in 12 games. Craft didn't win the game, but he clinched it with the pass to Austin that gave UCLA a 23-9 lead with 6:18 left. Craft's longest completion in 2008 was for 43 yards.

"This just motivates us to try to get to 4-0," linebacker Reggie Carter said. "It's like an addiction, it's like a good food. Once you win, it feels great. You don't want to let that feeling go. You want to continue to come in on Sundays feeling good. We're much happier and coaches are much happier."

The part about coaches being happy might be a stretch this week.

UCLA had 80 yards in penalties, including an ineligible receiver downfield that erased a touchdown reception by Ryan Moya. The Bruins' offense gave fans a 2008 flashback in the third quarter, with one first down and 29 total yards.

Those are things that will be addressed in the film room. That the Bruins could turn in such head-slapping moments and still win was what mattered.

Coach Rick Neuheisel had already framed its meaning this week, saying, "Last year there were 23 teams in Division I that started 3-0, out of 119 teams, and 20 of those 23 went to a bowl game."

Before the Bruins get too giddy, this is the ninth time they have entered Pacific 10 Conference play with a 3-0 record since 1971. Only twice have they gone on to win the conference title and go to the Rose Bowl.

Still, this was progress.

"I already think the perception about this program is changing," defensive end Korey Bosworth said. "Last year we were 4-8 and everybody hated us. Nobody liked us, even our fans, even the guys who have been with us for years. But they're starting to come back and get some faith in us."

There is faith in the Bruins' defense, which held Kansas State to 268 yards. Wildcats running back Daniel Thomas had rushed for more than 100 yards in the first two games, but he was held to 54 Saturday.

The Bruins had six sacks, and Alterraun Verner intercepted two passes.

That allowed Craft to run a safe-and-sane offense. The idea of Craft playing had caused chills among UCLA fans, who could remember the 2008 season, when Craft struggled behind an ineffective offensive line and had 20 passes intercepted, a school record.

But while Craft was unspectacular Saturday, he was efficient. He completed 13 of 24 for 186 yards. The Bruins' running game did the rest with 186 yards, which included a three-yard touchdown run by Franklin for the first touchdown of the game.

In the end, there was only one number that matters: 3-0.

"Nobody wants to lose anymore," Price said. "Hopefully this leads to 4-0, then 5-0, then 6-0, the domino effect."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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