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Embarrassing loss to Arizona magnified UCLA's problems

The Bruins couldn't run the ball, couldn't stop the run, couldn't pass and couldn't contain the pass against the Wildcats. UCLA's troubles make it difficult to attract recruits.

October 21, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Although the future for UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel might be hard to predict, the Bruins did get to 3-3 this season with a 28-25 victory over Washington State at the Rose Bowl two weeks ago.
Although the future for UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel might be hard to predict,… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

UCLA linebacker Sean Westgate was asked what needed to change after the Bruins were routed, 48-12, Thursday by a one-win Arizona team led by an interim coach.

"I need a couple days to figure that out," he said, downcast.

But he gave it the old college try, adding, "What we have to do is … is … I don't know."

What is clear is that there is more than one problem.

In a game in which it was embarrassed on national television, UCLA:

•Couldn't run the ball at all, with 37 yards in 25 carries.

•Forced to play from behind, struggled to pass, with quarterback Kevin Prince missing some open receivers and the receivers dropping several balls that did find them.

•Couldn't stop the run — Arizona, which came in averaging less than 72 yards rushing per game, rambled for 254.

•Didn't contain the pass, with Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles finding Juron Criner open for three first-half touchdowns.

Add it up and UCLA was never in the game as Arizona scored on its first six possessions and ran off to a 42-7 lead at halftime.

"We have to say it was a game that obviously got away from us in the first half," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said Friday. "We take from it what we can learn. We put the tough loss behind us and go forward."

Forward isn't the direction others see.

The Bruins, 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Pacific 12 Conference play, could be left out of the bowl season for the third time in four years. Neuheisel's job is on the line and recruits, even those already committed to UCLA, are skittish.

"He can't sell the future anymore," said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "He was able to sell that the first two years, even the third. Now this is what recruits are seeing."

The Bruins secured highly regarded recruiting classes in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Scout.com ranked each in the top 10 nationally. Rivals.com ranked the classes 14th or better.

Yet, UCLA has an 18-26 record since Neuheisel was hired in 2008.

Neuheisel and five of his assistant coaches were recruiting at high school football games Friday and questions awaited.

"If ever there was a week to pull off the road, it's this week," Huffman lamented.

"He's got to explain why his team doesn't play like it has expectations of winning games," said Allen Wallace, a recruiting analyst who is publisher of SuperPrep magazine. "Kids want a leader, someone they have confidence in; someone who they think has the answers."

Observers expect a tough sell.

"Rick will go out and do his spiel and it will fall on deaf ears," predicted Rick Kimbrel, publisher of Bruinblitz.com, a Rivals.com website.

Bellflower St. John Bosco High's wide receiver Bryce Treggs, who has committed to California, was among several recruits who received an email from UCLA urging them to watch Thursday's game.

During the game, Treggs posted on his Twitter site: "UCLA sent me an e-mail telling me to watch the game. Well, I'm watching it. Haha."

Out on the recruiting trail, Neuheisel also expected to be queried about his future. "That is always a question with recruits and won't change until the situation stabilizes," he said.

Neuheisel has been able to put together solid recruiting classes, but that success hasn't shown up on the field.

Those recruits, Wallace said, "should contend on the national level and certainly should be contending in the Pac-12."

Morrell Presley, a USC-bound recruit who Neuheisel flipped in 2009, was the No. 1-ranked tight end in the nation by Scout.com. He contributed little and left UCLA last spring.

Wide receiver Randall Carroll and safety Dietrich Riley, players Neuheisel out-muscled USC to land, have yet to reach their purportedly high-end potential.

Asked why the program has not experienced a dramatic upswing, Neuheisel said, "The problem with answering questions like that is it sounds like you're making excuses. That's the last thing I want to do."

Neuheisel did point to injuries at quarterback, attrition on the offensive line and the play of the Bruins defense this season.

"I believe the talent is there," he added.

Finding others to believe that is becoming more difficult.

"Two years ago, after they brought in that great recruiting class, it looked like they were going to turn things around," Kimbrel said. "Now it doesn't look like he's going to have that opportunity."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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