UCLA was flailing in the desert in Tucson, and Rick Neuheisel stood on the sideline with a vacant expression, as if he couldn't escape fate. The son of Westwood looked like he was carved out of wood Thursday night, and there was nothing that could save him from being chopped up.
Nothing made much sense about yesterday's no-show by the UCLA Bruins against the Arizona Wildcats, the latest in a series of no-shows by the football program under Rick Neuheisel. The Bruins were getting tossed aside like they were Northern Arizona, and could easily have been mistaken for them based on the stat-lines. It's the nadir of a series of nadirs for Neuheisel, whose program has gone one step forward, two steps backward every step of the way.
Consider that ...
- UCLA, a team that hit 140+ rushing yards in all their games this season, put up a grand 37 yards on 25 carries against Arizona. Arizona had been giving up over 200 rushing yards a game on their 2011 losing streak (given that it was against superior competition, but still) and over 5 yards per carry, good for 111th in the country.
- Likewise, a mediocre UCLA run defense was brutalized by the pedestrian Arizona offensive line and semi-pedestrian running backs. Totally focused on Nick Foles and the arsenal of receivers on the field, UCLA's second-level defenders were caught out of position on numerous plays.
- Arizona had rushed for over 100 yards once before Thursday night. They were at 115 rushing yards by the end of the first quarter and 254 by the end of the massacre.
- Neuheisel has had three Thursday night primetime games the past two years to show that the Bruins program is progressing in the right direction. They have been outscored by a combined hundred points, 132-32.
- After this game, UCLA is 108th in scoring defense, 105th in rushing defense, 95th in pass rating defense, 119th in 3rd down defense, 107th in sacks, and third-to-last in giving up long scrimmage plays. And this is supposed to be the GOOD side of the football team! Is Joe Tressey calling plays or calling for pizza in-game?
- The pistol is working better, even if they keep on shooting themselves every other quarter.
Still, better is a relative term here, because it's hard to be worse than the worst. The Bruins are 85th in scoring offense, 78th in 3rd down conversions, 101st in fumbles lost. Basically they can move the football around a lot with both the passing and running game, then hand it over to the defense who immediately gives it all right back very quickly.
- UCLA has lost nine of thirteen games in-conference, and the four wins have come against rebuilding Washington State squad and declining Oregon State. That's not exactly going on Neuheisel's tombstone.
This charade will go on the rest of 2011 barring the miracle of miracles (a UCLA sweep perhaps, a Pac-12 South title, an upset of Oregon/Stanford to get to the Rose Bowl). After that though, the UCLA Bruins football program is likely to start anew after 2011, and it'll be interesting to see which path the team takes. Athletic director Dan Guerrero has been anything but popular in Westwood lately, and while he probably won't let Neuheisel go until after the season, he's probably got that list of candidates all ready to go.
Pac-12 coaches seem to be hitting crucial marks this October. Chip Kelly needed to prove his success wasn't entirely due to LaMichael James. Mike Stoops had to be jettisoned at Arizona to just give Wildcats fans reason to watch their team again. Jeff Tedford is at a crossroads at Cal because no one knows where his team can go except down the conference totem pole.
And now it looks as if Rick Neuheisel has reached a dead end at UCLA. It's up to him to find the way back, or find the way out.