The UCLA Bruins have proven they can compete with the best in the Pac-12. Now they have to show that this spirit travels with them.
Because other than a narrow victory over an Oregon State team that was missing a great number of its starters, UCLA has been an awful, awful, AWFUL road team in the Rick Neuheisel era.
Although they've had some good showings out of conference (Texas and Tennessee come to mind), against in-conference foes the Bruins are an appalling 3-13 on the road in the Rick Neuheisel era. And it's only gotten worse--the last two seasons UCLA has lost Pac-12 road games to Cal by 28 points, to Oregon by 47 points, to Washington by 17 points, to ASU by 21 points, to Stanford by 26 points, to Arizona by 36 points. It boggles the mind how uncompetitive the Bruins have been on the road.
By the way, the three teams they have beaten? Oregon State 2011 (a team distinguished for losing to a 3-6 Sacramento State squad; a team that could could be 2-10 by the end of the season), Washington State 2009 (a team that lost by an average of four touchdowns a game), and Washington 2008 (a team that didn't win a single game). An awe-inspiring list.
It's not a huge surprise that the Bruins are touchdown underdogs to a suddenly whelming Utah Utes squad. Utah thrives on their defense and run attack, forcing the other team into making mistakes at the worst possible time to demoralize their efforts. It's how Utah beat Oregon State and Arizona--seven forced turnovers combined turned what could've been close games into routs.
Considering how error-prone the Bruins have been on the road, this could get ugly if UCLA tries to force things like they have in the past in road contests. They might be best served trying to grind it out with the offense they have and take advantage of whatever opportunities they can get rather than making plays that aren't there and hoping something good happens. That's where Utah gets you.
In comes a team that just seems to stumble all over themselves on the road. If Neuheisel is truly expecting to be the head coach of the Bruins beyond 2011, he's going to have to be ready to put up respectable showings (and probably victories) against the Utes and the Trojans away from Pasadena. Nothing less will satisfy.
It's the eleventh hour eternally for Rick in Westwood, until the Bruins prove they're ready to make a leap beyond a middling bowl and compete for conference title.