Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
The UCLA Bruins are looking like a real football team again after beating the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Can Jim L. Mora, Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley keep the positive momentum going into conference play?
The last time the UCLA Bruins were fun to watch was around 2005, when Maurice Jones-Drew was busy beasting up one of those underrated great seasons in Pac-12 history (over 1,800 all-purpose yards!). That team was 8-0 at one point. Think about that for a minute: Despite all your disjointed memories about this squad over the recent years, a UCLA football team was EIGHT AND OH in the past decade!
And then they lost to Mike Stoops by 38 points.
Since then, it's been not so exciting to be a Bruins fan. Turgid offense, bizarre schemes, unmotivated play, awful road losses, quarterback curses, offensive line malaise, the problems go on and on. UCLA has always been a few good coaches and one good quarterback away from a turnaround, but for whatever reason the talent foundered. Any change had to be good change, because what was happening on the field was barring on disastrous.
UCLA's offense topped 600 yards for the second straight game. Before this season, they hadn't done that since the season-opener against Stanford in 2007, and they'd only topped 500 yards several times, usually against the worst teams in the Pac-12. There was Brett Hundley managing the game, and Johnathan Franklin starring as the main attraction. It was a complete performance all-around.
UCLA's defense didn't exactly have a banner performance much of the game, but they came up huge in the second half with the go-ahead safety and the clinching interception. The Bruins also conceded only 116 yards in the second half after letting up almost 300 of their own in the first, and had a remarkable fourth quarter where the Bruins defense forced Nebraska to lose seven yards on aggregate (-7 yards for the 4th).
Not everything is fixed. The special teams unit (after being one of the best in the nation in the present regime) suddenly can't make a field goal. The defense can underachieve at times by giving up unwarranted big plays. And Hundley occasionally sputters. But they seem to be miles ahead of the old problems.
UCLA still can have one of the more underrated home-field advantages in football when they're good, so the circumstances set up nicely for a run of substance this season. They have probably the easiest conference schedule ahead after they deal with Houston next week, with their hardest road game in Tempe. And best of all, they get their biggest foe coming to their house the week before Thanksgiving with potential national championship aspirations on the line.
I want to see what you can do Bruins. Entertain us all again.
SB Nation snippets
Nestor at Bruins Nation shares some of his thoughts, including what he saw from the UCLA defense.
The Bruins did have their moments with some huge plays from Anthony Barr - who is perhaps the frontrunner of the defensive MVP for the first quarter of 2012 season. Lou Spanos was bringing the heat early blitzing the Huskers repeatedly in the first half. He was also rotating bodies in the front-7 keeping them fresh. We paid the price with some big plays and the question was once again whether Spanos would be able to make adjustments in the second half.
Well, for the second straight game he answered the question in the positive column for our Bruins. Our defense looked like a different unit in the second half and we were getting pressure by rushing 4. The interception by Andrew Abbot was result of an awesome call by Spanos in which he got Abbot to draw back on coverage, completely confusing Martinez. Bruin defense was looking fast, physical and (imagine Gus Johnson's voice here) "MEAN and NASTY".
At the same time, I don't want to get too high after yesterday's win. Which really was a great win, by the way. While the Bruins didn't play a perfect game, they played hard all game long. They played mean and strong on defense. They played fast and potent on offense. They got behind and didn't blink. They faked a kick and threw to the end zone. They got better at halftime. They were aggressive and never passive. They looked confident without being cocky. They made clutch plays, including a safety and a turnover and a touchdown, in the 4th quarter. They amassed 653 yards against a good defensive B1G Ten team. The Bruins played against Nebraska like they wanted to make a statement for the program like the '88 Bruins did with their win over Nebraska.
Not since Kevin Cosgrove wandered the sidelines in Lincoln have I been so disappointed in Nebraska's front seven. Some will draw comparisons to 2007, and while the results were the same, the problems were different. In 2007, the line was just dominated. (Remember the holes USC opened up?) Last night, they just were average against a young Bruin offensive line. When they were able to get into the backfield, they couldn't take down Brett Hundley. Jason Ankrah whiffed on a tackle, turning a six yard loss into a 10 yard gain. This week, the line will need to work on the fundamentals, but I also wonder if it's time to rethink who's playing. If the upper classmen aren't able to be playmakers, get the freshmen in - especially the ones who's redshirts have already been burned.