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T.J. SIMERS

Rick Neuheisel is running out of time and excuses

UCLA football coach's defining moment in snowy Utah ends with a 31-6 loss.

November 12, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel on the chilly sideline during the first half of the Bruins' game at Utah.
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel on the chilly sideline during the first half of… (Jim Urquhart / Associated…)

From Salt Lake City -- The facts are as cold as the night here.

Rick Neuheisel has been unable to make the case he has what it takes to rally support for the UCLA football program and buy himself more time as coach.

This game was huge, and that might very well be an understatement given the focus on his remarkable comeback.

It was a defining moment for Neuheisel, a third straight conference win Saturday night in this Utah refrigerator and both UCLA and Neuheisel could make the argument they're back.

They would've remained on track to win the South Division, a date with a lousy Colorado team next, setting up a meaningful collision with USC.

At the very worst maybe seven wins, a bowl game to build on moving into next season and hats off to Neuheisel for rising from the beyond.

But what a belly flop, a 31-6 spanking coming from a second-rate opponent, and a reminder that nothing really has changed with UCLA football since Neuheisel's arrival.

Like so many other disappointing conference Saturdays the last four years, this one fell flat of soaring expectations. And not many more UCLA Saturdays are going to be available to Neuheisel.

"This is not a crusade for my job," says Neuheisel, and why not, he's asked, as his only chance to prove himself worthy is more time on the job.

"I'm a good football coach and if my services are no longer wanted here, I'll find work," he says. "I'm building what I think is something special here."

How can he say such a thing? The last time UCLA came here it got punished, but the Bruins arrived here for that game ranked No. 11 under Karl Dorrell.

What a telling reminder of how far UCLA has slipped under Neuheisel. UCLA is yet to be ranked in any week under his leadership the last four years.

And now this clumsy pratfall in such a meaningful game — the penalties, the woeful play on defense again and the anemic offensive display.

As embarrassing as it might be to not score a touchdown, it gets only worse with former UCLA offensive whiz Norm Chow calling the shots for Utah.

Why should anyone think things will change at UCLA?

"I've done it," Neuheisel says.

But not here, he is reminded.

"I haven't done it here," he admits. "But I know I can; there's not a doubt in my mind."

While he continues to talk the good game, the results on the field speak louder to the job that isn't being done.

UCLA had a 3-0 lead on Utah with a light dusting of snow covering the field. But when the snow stopped, so did the Bruins.

It was as if the Bruins curled into a ball, Utah outscoring them, 31-3, in the final three quarters.

Hard to know, I guess, if this was the first meeting between scabs — Neuheisel was a replacement player for the Chargers during an NFL strike and Utah's Kyle Whittingham was a replacement player for the Rams.

As poorly as this game was played, both teams could use some replacements.

Twelve penalties for UCLA and two passes intercepted. Rather than go for it on fourth and 10 while trailing by 18 points in the fourth quarter, the Bruins went for a field goal.

A morale builder?

"This was a setback, but I wouldn't characterize it as a death knell," Neuheisel says, taking issue with a question suggesting as much. "Ultimately we're going to be judged on the whole deal, but that's for someone else to determine.

"My troops will come back and fight next week, and we'll get back to playing the kind of football we need to play to win."

Maybe they do, but how many fans will be there to take notice next week at the Rose Bowl when UCLA plays Colorado?

How does UCLA go into next season expecting anything more than a half-empty stadium again with a head coach who has failed to deliver on every promise to date?

As lost weekends go, can it get much worse for UCLA?

UCLA basketball, while always boring, is off to a disappointing start as well. Ranked No. 17 to start the season, the Bruins were favored to win by 13 points but lost by 11 to a minor league squad.

Plenty of time to go, though, before Ben Howland's job is in jeopardy.

If only Neuheisel could say the same. A win over USC after this crushing loss might not be enough now to ensure his return.

"These are great opportunities and you feel like you squander them when you don't go in and play well," he says. "I'll have to look at the film, but it looked like Utah won the line of scrimmage."

It appeared as if Utah won every facet of the contest, the afterglow of last week gone so quickly.

The Bruins under Neuheisel are 3-18 in conference games played on the road, giving UCLA almost a monopoly on disappointment.

"We eventually have to win these games," Neuheisel says. But who will be coaching UCLA when it happens?

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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