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Tailgate Wrapup: Volunteers Lose to One Strange Bruin

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Around 6:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time, it looked like it was going to be a very rough first season for Rick Neuheisel. It was halftime of his opening game of the season, at home against 18th-ranked Tennessee.

He was already starting his third option at quarterback, a wet-behind-the-ears freshman named Kevin Craft. Then, by the time intermission rolled around, Neuheisel saw his team take a solid string of bullets dead smack in the chest:

  • Craft went 7-for-18 passing for 66 yards, including four interceptions, the last of which was taken back for a touchdown
  • Starting senior RB Khalil Bell left the game with an injury
  • Starting senior TE Lucas Paulson left the game with an injury
  • Starting senior WR Marcus Bennet left the game with an injury

It was looking like 2007 all over again, and the Bruins' only saving grace was a defense that was making new Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton look equally foolish and a punt coverage team that had scored the only points of the game.

I don't know what Neuheisel said in the locker room, but it very obviously worked. Craft came out to play the seconf half and was a completely different quarterback – threading the needle when he needed, scanning the coverage and hitting the checkdown option at other times. Craft wound up 18-for-25 in the second half, throwing for 193 yards and a score, and more importantly, zero interceptions.

The UCLA defense did its job most of the night, but they bent just a little too far and allowed Tennessee a field goal to send the game to overtime. Neither team did much, but UCLA managed to nail a field goal, while the Vol's kicker missed his third (and shortest) kick of the night to give the Bruins the 24-21 victory in extra time.

The Bruin defense is very clearly a force to be reckoned with. The run game, which put up a measly 29 yards on 31 carries, will need to make adjustments quick, especially if Bell is out for any significant period. However, if Kevin Craft can use this game as a building block and find his rhythm earlier in games, UCLA could turn the corner much fater than even Neuheisel expects.

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  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “I don’t know what Neuheisel said in the locker room, but it very obviously worked.”

    After the game Neuheisel said that he himself threw four interceptions in his first game and he turned out a pretty good career. So I’m guessing something along those lines.