Somehow, someway, the UCLA Bruins can find their way to the Rose Bowl.
I don't understand this anymore than do you, but there they are.
Through the first half of the UCLA football season, the Bruins looked like their same old bumbling selves, squeaking out victories against Oregon State and Washington State while getting pummeled by Stanford and Arizona. A surprising win against Cal seemed to be a positive step in the right direction, but the Bruins still seemed a loss away from Rick Neuheisel's end in Westwood.
It seemed like the same thing would happen on Saturday with the Arizona St. Sun Devils. UCLA lost two fumbles, gave up four sacks, and were penalized eight times for 75 yards. Hardly the mark of a Bruins team making inroads.
Here's the mark of a UCLA team making inroads: For once, they were trading punches rather than getting peppered with them.
Kevin Prince is never going to be a great passer in the Pistol offense, but there he is faking out a strong ASU defense and connecting with Nelson Rosario on a deep strike and picking up big yards on the team's opening scoring drive. Derrick Coleman has become a symbol of the revitalization of this Bruins offense, someone who can break through and earn his team the tough yards. The offensive line (once the most weakest part of this UCLA squad) is now starting to give Coleman and Kevin Prince the lanes they need to run down the field.
The defense let Arizona State get its yards, but stopped them at crucial stretches and forced their erratic kicker Alex Garoutte into long and crucial misses (including a last-second kick that never had a prayer of connecting). Jeff Locke pinned ASU deep on three drives, former soccer manager Tyler Gonzalez nailed a big field goal, and Josh Smith had a big kickoff return to set up that field goal. Even though the execution isn't always in place for the Bruins, the effort is there, and they're showing they can compete with real opponents rather than getting tossed around.
And so UCLA is starting to punch their way up the standings, and might indeed give Neuheisel a stay of execution as executor of this Bruins team. UCLA can very well win the putrid Pac-12 South and end up in a conference title game where they figure to be underdogs galore (hooray Herbstreit!). To get back to Pasadena in January, they would have to win out, and they'd have to score perhaps one of the biggest conference upsets ever, but anything can happen in this strange new conference of ours.
Regardless, it's another step in gradual rebuilding of the UCLA program, and it could give their head coach a chance to stick around a little bit longer in Westwood. Whether UCLA fans like it or not, it'll be very difficult for the Athletic Department to justify firing a coach who shows gradual improvement and is starting to get his team moving in the right direction.
Of course, the next loss could change anything, but for now Neuheisel seems to have rediscovered the magic that made the Bruins want him in the first place. Maybe there could be a happy ending for Westwood's son after all.