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UCLA fails to cross the great divide

Bruins end with eight losses and a culture that's not big time. Now it's up to Mora to change things.

January 01, 2012|Chris Foster

SAN FRANCISCO — UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin paused to sign a few autographs before slipping through a door leading to the locker room.

Quarterback Kevin Prince was next, stopping to pose for a photograph with kids before he too disappeared into the recesses of AT&T Park.

The last two Bruins were off the field, and neither looked back.

What UCLA was this season -- disappointing, inconsistent -- the Bruins were again Saturday in a 20-14 loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Prince left a pass up for grabs. Illini defensive back Terry Hawthorne returned the interception for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter.

The defense seemed to find an equal in an Illinois offense that averaged 11 points in losing its last six games. Yet, there were holes, with Illini receiver A.J. Jenkins finding one on a short slant pass that became a 60-yard touchdown with five minutes left.

So wrapped up a season that is one for the college football record books -- UCLA (6-8) is the first bowl team to finish with eight losses. All that is left is to sift through the rubble before a new coach takes over.

"We've got to get more serious about football," said Prince, who threw touchdown passes to Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario. "You look at teams like USC and, from afar, they seem more serious about football. If we want to be those big-time programs, then we have to act like one."

What Coach Jim Mora will find when he takes full control this week is a house divided.

"I'm not saying it's everybody -- there are some great guys on this team that love football and want to win," Prince said. "But as a whole unit, 100-whatever guys we have on this team, we have to ask ourselves whether we want to be winners."

One answer to that question came when the UCLA players went "over the wall," ditching a bowl practice last week. It widened the chasm between factions.

"I'm not going to name specific examples, but sometimes people aren't doing the right things, and it hurts the team," Prince said. "There are things that go down that you don't see in top programs. We're not unified as one."

Mora watched the final act from Athletic Director Dan Guerrero's suite.

"I'm watching as a fan, first," Mora said before the game, adding, "It's hard to separate the fan from the coach."

Separating the fans from this game couldn't have been hard.

While the Alamo Bowl exceeded expectations this week -- Baylor and Washington combining for 123 points and 1,397 yards -- the Fight Hunger Bowl fulfilled predictions.

The game, a sellout the last three years, attracted only an announced 29,878 Saturday. Channel surfing probably began at halftime, with UCLA leading, 7-3, while gaining only 65 yards.

Both teams came with interim coaches. UCLA fired Rick Neuheisel and Illinois fired Ron Zook. The Illini had further turmoil when four assistant coaches threatened to boycott the game over a contract dispute with the university. All four showed up for work Saturday.

Even with the added chaos, the Illini (7-6) looked marginally better prepared than the Bruins.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase accounted for 249 yards, 110 rushing. UCLA had 18 net yards rushing and fumbled four times, losing one.

"No matter what coaching staff you bring here, if the culture doesn't change, the record isn't going to change," Franklin said.

The Bruins have talked about "changing the culture" for the past four seasons under Neuheisel. All it produced was one winning season. UCLA was 7-6 in 2009, winning the EagleBank Bowl.

"The way we play, the way we think, our work ethic, it has to change," Franklin said. "We have to have guys speaking up."

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