Instant Analysis - EagleBank Bowl
UCLA 31 ... Temple 20
Like I’m going to question a legend like UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, but I’m going to question a legend like UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
Temple really does have a good defense, and not just a good defense for the MAC. Head coach Al Golden has done a fantastic job of loading up with quick athletes and a good line, and it showed as the Bruins were frustrated for most of the game outside of two big plays. UCLA came up with 314 yards of total offense, but 78 came on two first half touchdown passes. The rest of the time, the short-to-midrange passing game fizzled, QB Kevin Prince, even though he played hurt, struggled to find any consistency, and the round game sputtered and coughed throughout. But UCLA, even as shaky as it has been offensively all season long, had more athletes, more talent, and more skill than the Owls and should’ve done a better job of showing it off. Instead, Chow and the Bruin offense got too cute.
This was the “don’t think, just throw” game for UCLA. Instead of trying to come up with one thing and one game plan and sticking with it, the offense tried a lot of quirky plays, lots of misdirection, and lots of things that a BCS conference team shouldn’t have to do against someone from the MAC.
Of course Chow and head coach Rick Neuheisel know their personnel and were obviously trying to get their players in the best possible situations to succeed, but going forward, this offensive needs to come up with an identity going into next year. It didn’t have one against the Owls.
Welcome to the East Coast, UCLA. If the Bruins have their way, they won’t step foot in Washington D.C. again unless it’s to meet the President following a national championship.
The Blizzards of Westwood were noticeably uncomfortable at frigid RFK Stadium, where the conditions were not fit for a team from Southern California. It was blustery, bone-chilling, and like a skating rink on parts of the surface. Yet, to their credit, the Bruins found a way to get out of town with a W, their first in the postseason since the 2005 Sun Bowl. I know, I know, it came against a Temple team that spent more than half of the game without star RB Bernard Pierce.
Sure, UCLA is bigger, stronger, and faster than Temple, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it had every reason to fold once it fell behind 21-7. The Bruins were playing clear across the country, in front of about 18 of their fans, and with very little to gain against an inferior opponent. That they rallied for the final 23 points and made some huge defensive stops in the second half was more about the team’s resolve and character than the opponent it defeated.
Winning championships is about having the right talent and the right attitude. UCLA doesn’t have nearly enough talent quite yet, especially on offense, but it showed something to Rick Neuheisel about its ability to battle through foreign and less-than-ideal conditions. And that’s worth a lot more than the EagleBank hardware the Bruins are hauling back to the West Coast.
1) After seeing Temple get jobbed on what was clearly a first-down-producing run to the UCLA 8 in the third quarter, I’m just waiting for a bigger game to be influenced by incompetence from the press box. If the BCS National Championship Game is strongly influenced by a faulty replay booth review of a patently obvious call, this season of shocking replay booth mistakes would end in a fitting – albeit frustrating – fashion. The mistakes made in replay booths this season have now been replicated in the bowl games, and there’s just no excuse. (At least USC and UCLA didn’t receive imbalanced levels of help. The Trojans and Bruins equally benefited from these mistakes.) If you’re unemployed and looking for work, submit an application to the BCS conference in your corner of the country. And no, that’s not a sarcastic or empty exhortation. Seriously: Why not pursue that gig? If you have eyes, you couldn’t possibly fail the way the reviewer did on a cold Tuesday night at RFK Stadium.
2) The UCLA Bruins were more like the UCLA Icicles in the first half of this game. Yes, Temple coach Al Golden foolishly threw the ball at the end of the first half, and yes, the Owls imploded on many levels down the stretch, but the Bruins dominated the second half and generally acted the part of a superior team. Considering how cold, stiff and lifeless they were in the first 28 minutes, the Bruins did well to pick themselves off the deck in Washington, D.C. This team responded marvelously when many had reason to doubt it; by finding form and function after halftime, UCLA was able to send the Mid-American Conference to its twelfth consecutive bowl loss.
Fans of the Pac-10 should be careful not to spend too much energy complimenting each other over UCLA’s win over Temple Tuesday in Washington, because coming back from the dead against a MAC team playing without its best player and the only reason its offense was successful all year is no great cause for celebration. Yes, the Bruins were able to brave the icy D.C. weather, and truth be told, many felt that with the first cold blast of wind UCLA would look for a warm place to lie down. And, yes, they played a fine second half, shutting Temple down almost completely and taking advantage of everything the Owls offered up. Still, this is not a great win for a conference that had dropped a pair of games to Mountain West opponents. UCLA should use it as a steppingstone into a better 2010, but the Bruins have a lot of work to do before they can be considered contenders in the Pac-10. As for Temple, it should be proud of its first bowl appearance in 30 years, and the Owls certainly have a bright future. But they need a real passing game to complement running back Bernard Pierce, in order to get to the top of the MAC and hang with teams like the Bruins in the future.
It’s a good thing the guy Rick Neuheisel replaced left behind some studs on defense, otherwise the Bruins would have suffered the indignity of losing to Temple.
Aside from a Kevin Prince throw and a Terrence Austin catch-and-run for touchdowns, UCLA’s offense was invisible. The line struggled all day with center Kai Maiava out (academics) and the continued reliance on Chane Moline signals that a couple of incoming recruits will be asked to salvage the still-stagnating running game. And that was before Prince took another shot on his injured shoulder.
If he somehow can’t go in spring ball, it would be a devastating blow to any Bruin hopes of taking a step forward next season. Prince needs all the practice time he can get since it looks as if the offense is going to have to carry the defense, especially if standout tackle Brian Price declares for the NFL Draft as expected.
There are building blocks in linebacker Akeem Ayers (game-winning interception returned for a touchdown) and safety Rahim Moore, who notched his nation-high 10th interception, but Price and a bevy of seniors – most notably, LB Reggie Carter and DB Alterraun Verner - will be hard to replace.
With trips to Texas, Oregon, Washington and Cal ahead, it’s a good thing UCLA salvaged something positive in the nation’s capital. For all Neuheisel’s grand talk and optimism, challenging for the Rose Bowl is a ways off.