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.