Bruins starved for offense in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl loss


Of all the fitting endings for a UCLA football season that bordered on absolute chaos, perhaps the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was the most appropriate.

After all, the Bruins were starving for some offense on Saturday afternoon at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

UCLA managed just 219 yards – gaining just 18 on the ground – as a bloodthirsty Illinois defense made the bowl live up to its name with a 20-14 win over the Bruins.

And if anything sums up the UCLA season, it’s this: After leading for nearly the whole game, the Bruins become the first team in college football history to finish 6-8.

“This one stings,” UCLA junior offensive lineman Jeff Baca said. “We led most of the game, had a great defensive battle. Our defense played lights out. You saw today how good our defense could be, and if we don’t put them in such bad positions, it’s a different ball game. I’m not really thinking about next year yet.
“This one stings.”

The Illinois defense did not so much sting UCLA as punch the Bruins in the gut, though.
With 2011 Hendricks Award-winning defensive end Whitney Mercilus leading the charge, the Illini pushed the Bruins offensive linemen back, back, way back, almost into McCovey Cove, finishing with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

UCLA was on its heels for much of the game, resorting to desperate heaves to spark an offense that simply could not get its footing. The Bruins tried to run early but found little success, ultimately finishing with 170 rushing yards under their season average.

“They won the line of scrimmage today, and when the opposing team wins the line of scrimmage, there really aren’t very many holes,” said junior running back Johnathan Franklin, who finished with just 29 yards on eight carries. “I can’t just point fingers at the offensive line; we have to hit the line faster. But we can’t just be one-dimensional. When we throw the ball, we have to be able to complete it.”
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Dubious Company

Illinois became just the fifth team in NCAA history to start the regular season at 6-0 and end it at 6-6.

UCLA managed a different, more exclusive distinction on Saturday night.

The Bruins became the first college football team to finish 6-8 after their loss to the Illini.
But despite the dubious distinction, UCLA players were proud to represent their school and were defiant to the criticism about their season.

“No one criticizes Cal; no one criticizes Arizona State,” Jones said. “We beat both those teams. We were supposed to be here. We played in the Pac-12 championship, and we deserve it. Who else would you put in this bowl game?”

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Decisions, decisions

Two key pieces to UCLA’s 2012 plans – junior running back Johnathan Franklin and junior defensive end Datone Jones – said they would evaluate their futures next week, as both are considering the NFL Draft.

Franklin narrowly missed a second-straight 1,000-yard season, finishing with 976 yards on 166 carries with five touchdowns, while Jones was plagued by inconsistency and finished with just three sacks and 6.5 tackles-for-loss.

“I’m not really sure what I’m going to do, to tell you the truth,” Jones said. “There’s a big chance I may come back. I don’t really know yet. I’m just being honest. It would be in my favor to come back, but I think I can make it, and we’ve got guys on the next level.”

Jones said that he expects to receive his draft evaluation next week, but Franklin said he did not file for his evaluation.

“I got God,” the devout Franklin said. “Only God knows. If I do leave and have a good combine or pro day and everything will fall into place.”

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Scheelhaase slips away from Bruins


With Illinois starting running back Jason Ford academically ineligible for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the UCLA defense knew the primary rushing threat for the Illini would be quarterback Nate Scheelhaase.

They did not expect him to be covered in soap.

But Scheelhaase found the creases and eked out the extra yard, finishing with 110 rushing yards on 22 carries in Illinois’ 20-14 win over the Bruins on Saturday afternoon at AT&T Park.

“He was slippery,” said UCLA sophomore linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who led either team with nine tackles. “He was giving us some trouble, that’s for sure. I don’t think we expected him to run as much as he did. It was kind of hard to drop back into coverage and then have him get through.”

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