Bruins starved for offense in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl loss

SAN FRANCISCO –

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.”

But Kevin Prince struggled, when he wasn’t bombarded by a river of orange.

Prince finished 14-of-29 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns but was harassed in the running game to the tune of negative-31 rushing yards on 10 carries, with the five sacks.

One bad throw turned the tides for Prince, as a late-third quarter pass attempt was intercepted by Illinois’ Terry Hawthorne and returned 39 yards for a touchdown.

“We have to be a team,” Baca said. “We have to all respond to adversity. Not just one guy, two guys – you all have to respond to adversity. I don’t know if that’s something we’ve lacked, but I will say it’s a quality of a winning team. If you want to be a winning team, you all have to respond together.”

The offensive ineptitude spoiled what had the makings of a banner day for Joe Tresey’s much-maligned defense.

Illinois managed just 118 yards on 41 yards in the first half – though, for measure, UCLA had just 65 yards on 28 carries – while the Bruins limited quarterback Nate Scheelhaase to just 33 passing yards.

“Our defense came out on fire,” junior defensive end Datone Jones said. “There was nothing like it all year. I wish we could’ve played like that all year. We might’ve been in a different bowl game.”

Scheelhaase would eventually find some rhythm, though, and after Hawthorne’s quick-pick-six, it was almost all downhill for the Bruins.

Scheelhaase connected with wide receiver A.J. Jenkins for a 60-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to put the Illini up two scores, and after a Prince-to-Nelson Rosario 38-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds left, Illinois recovered UCLA’s onside kick attempt.

“We knew we were going to have to get some shots downfield, but we didn’t want to throw as much as we did today,” interim head coach Mike Johnson said. “We had trouble getting the running game started, and they were giving us throws down the middle so we had to take some shots. We didn’t make enough of those plays.”

After the game, the Bruins seemed to struggle to determine whether they considered the bowl game to be No. 14 of the 2011 season or 1A of the 2012 season, as Jim Mora assumes control of the program. Many looked at it as a showcase for the seniors, one last game to represent UCLA. Some considered it an audition for Mora, who has had scant involvement with the Bruins during their bowl preparation.

Ultimately, it was a little bit of both.

“This game is definitely going to linger a little bit, at least for a couple days,” Franklin said. “But it has been a rocky season, a rough one, and I’m ready for a fresh start. I want to win. I didn’t come here to be an average team. We’re average, and our talent is way better than that.”

Jon.gold@dailynews.com

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email
  • Reformed Droog

    Happy New Year, Jon. Enjoy this rare clear night. It’s been really foggy lately and I can’t remember the last new years when I knew we’d actually be able to see the fireworks.

    As for UCLA athletics – hopefully, for all of our sakes, the new year brings a new, positive direction for the football and basketball teams…

  • Not a Bruins Nation “Professional”

    Unlike the ‘professional’ ravings by pseudo-Greek football scholars who never played the game offering how UCLA should play to win a national champeenship, I only suggest to coaches Mora and Mazzone a possible road to develop a set of talented offensive players not completely tainted by the unfortunate régime of Neuheisel/Chow/Johnson.

    The BN braintrust’s constant “professional” sqwakings on how CRN should have game played in certain situations, allowed them to publicly play out their fantasy football world for an imagined glory if “woulda, coulda and shoulda” ruled reality. Their stuff is analogous to an ardent, yet short-work john who thinks his sexual prowess is actually satisfying the bored prostitute, who’s actually only waiting for the ‘job’ to end in order to take a lunch break.

    Forget about another season dealing with the ongoing dog and pony show to determine the QB starter from between the tandem of two college journeymen, namely Prince and Brehault, and start developing Hundley as the future of the UCLA offense.

    To that end, have Coach Marques Tuiasosopo sit with this kid and watch game film from college and pros on how the position should be played from a pro-set. This should be a daily “class” starting upon Hundley’s return to campus to when coaches are legally able to work with players on the field in the Spring.

    Why CMT? Because he was the real the deal in college. After showing great promise as a Freshman almost beating a top ten team and becoming the Huskies’ first true freshman to start a game at quarterback, throwing for 261 yards and rushing for 95. He played considerably the following year for the oft-injured starter. AS a junior he became the only player in NCAA history to pass for over 300 yards and run for over 200 yards in a game, during a 35-30 victory over Stanford, who eventually won the Pac-10 title. As a senior, he led the Huskies to the title and A Rose Bowl victory an 11-1 record, ranked third in the national polls, finishing 8th in Heisman voting.
    He played in the pros for 8 years (more seasons, albeit as a back-up, than any UCLA QB since Troy Aikman) and has seen it all, knowing the technique of being a throwing QB that could run (a la Steve Young), to steer Hundley away from the current trend of such talent being molded into being a running QB who could throw (a la Vince Young).

    CMT has the unique opportunity to teach young Hundley not only the role of a college QB in the way to see the field and feel pressure, but also from the perspective as a strength and conditioning expert who can shape a program to build Hundley’s throwing arm as he tosses balls into barrels at various field lengths dozens of times a day during the off-season.

    Likewise, make Joe Fauria a Captain and have him call practices during January and February for himself, Hundley, Shaq Evans, Devin Lucin, Malcolm Jones and Jordon James to run routes from the Mazzone playbook to the point where their muscle memory for running sideline and cut in patterns for the WRs and in-space screens for the RBs.

    The Illinois game proved two things…the Fresh Prince of Bel Air has been exposed as an unimaginative game-time QB more willing to play tough than learning to play smart, and Brehault has proven he doesn’t care enough about football to be built around.

    I offer these suggested because “IMHO” (offered as an homage to the obsequious BN pseudo-Greek supporters) Mora and Mazzone has to turn over the etch-a-sketch that is UCLA football and shake things up.

  • The Wall is the Soul

    Since it was announced a while back that the Ilini’s leading rusher was going to be suspended, I’ve been thinking that their QB was going to run–a review of their offense combined with simple logic dictated this assumption of mine; I know I wasn’t the only ignoramus fan thinking the same thing.

    But, lo and behold, glorious defensive coordinator/wizard Joe Tresey apparently did not share that simple logic, going by what Jordan Zumwalt said in another article on this blog. According to Zumwalt, “I don’t think we expected him to run as much as he did.” Tresey is, without question, the worst DC in the annals of UCLA football, surpassing Nick Aliotti’s one year as DC in 1998.

  • ucla-of-the-rockies

    NotBruinNationPro: Nice post.
    Also … the worst way to break in a new TV for Christmas was to flip back and forth between UCLA football and hoops.
    I’ll go back to black & white with antenna feed if it means getting back to a national prominence in our major programs.

  • BE REAL

    Call me a ‘glass is half full’ bloke in a ‘glass is half empty’ ucla sports blog, but there were some positives generated yesterday:

    1. The ucla defense held the Illini to 13 points, and thus the game should have gone into overtime, Prince’s interception for a t.d. notwithstanding;

    2. There were no reported bruin injuries;

    3. Mora will have at least a 2-year “honeymoon” period to right this ship;

    4. The season is over! The season is over!

  • cv

    Coach CMT is the tight ends coach not QB coach!

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. another coulda, woulda, shoulda. why don’t the players go “over the wall” again next year. It’s obvious you guys don’t need that extra practice. U guys were awesome Saturday. Good job Princess. You got the starting qb job next year. Mark my words, someway, somehow, Princess will be the starting qb next year. We all know he sucks. But he will fool the next coaching staff. Please Mora don’t play favoritism or job is next after Chianti Dan is replaced in the near future. Please let it be true.

  • http://uclafball.com Bruinfan

    Difficult game to watch as a UCLA fan…but I’m still looking forward to 2012!

    uclafball.com -check it out

  • Bruin Gold

    I was there.

    UCLA’s defense held up for most of the game. But giving away a touchdown in the 3rd quarter via a Prince interception started the snowball rolling where UCLA couldn’t stop Illinois.

    Unfortunately, the offense just stunk. I cannot believe we only gained 18 total yards on the ground. Wow. For an offense that was built to run, this just stinks.

    UCLA’s offense did not drink their Starbucks coffee for this game. The defense showed up. The offense came in sleepy and unable to get the job done.

    I look forward to next year wit Coach Mora. I believe we will see much better results.

  • Anonymous

    Anon 5:28, take that “Chianti Dan” garbage back to Bruinsnation where it belongs with the rest of the teenage idiot speak.

    People always criticized the “conservative” playcalling (ie, running plays) wanting to see more passes. How did that work out? Next year it’s time to start Hundley. I love Prince for his toughness and leadership, but we’ve seen the ceiling with him and Bre.

  • Lifelong Bruin Fan

    Not Bruin Nation Professional: Great post. I remember CMT as a player and no doubt he could become a great mentor to Hundley. I have a lot of respect for Prince but my hope for the growth of the football team is that Hundley be ready to take over this fall.

    I didn’t see the game (I was at the Cal game) but it is encouraging that the defense played well for most of the game.