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Sunday, October 23, 2011
UCLA season may now be beyond saving

By Peter Yoon

Normally after a loss such as UCLA's 48-12 embarrassment at Arizona on Thursday, a football team will try to regroup and put it in the past as quickly as possible.

This loss, however, is one that will haunt UCLA for the rest of the season.

The blowout loss stained the program for many reasons, may very well cost UCLA it's next game because of the brawl-related suspensions and all but assured that coach Rick Neuheisel, if he makes it through the season, will do so as a lame-duck coach.

To lay such a colossal egg when the team entered the game in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title is the type of bubble-bursting defeat from which a team may not recover. To try and recover with a coach who probably won't be around much longer is pretty much asking the impossible.

"We just weren’t expecting to be in this predicament that we’re in right now," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "It’s frustrating. It’s pretty bad. It doesn’t remove our goal of winning the Pac-12 South and playing for the championship, but it’s definitely a step backwards."

Lost in the fiasco at Arizona desert is the fact that, mathematically, UCLA is still in the driver's seat for the Pac-12 South title. Should the Bruins win out, it would mean victories over Arizona State and USC, the two teams ahead of the Bruins in the standings, and give UCLA the head-to-head tiebreakers over those teams.

Anyone who watched UCLA's meltdown, however, realizes that the team on the field Thursday night resembled anything but a conference-title contender. They gave up 573 total yards against a team that hadn't defeated an FBS team since the last time it played UCLA.

They gained only 37 yards rushing against one of the worst run defenses in the Pac-12. And they showed a lack of the leadership intangibles that you usually find on a championship-caliber team. Still, the Bruins insist the loss to Arizona is not the end of the season, no matter the extenuating circumstances that may have come along with it.

"This can’t be a season breaker or season maker," receiver Ricky Marvray said. "We just have to come out with a fighting attitude and just not give up.  I’m not one to give up ever no matter what the circumstances are. I’m going to keep fighting and as long as my teammates take the same stance, I think we’ll be fine. We just have to win out the rest of the season."

Unfortunately, fighting makes the goal of winning out much more difficult. UCLA will be without five key players for the entire game and a sixth will have to sit out the first half. Marvray and fellow receivers Taylor Embree, Randall Carroll, and Shaquelle Evans have been suspended for the Cal game on Saturday, leaving Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith as the only experienced receivers on the roster.

Cassius Marsh, one of the few players on the Bruins' beleaguered defensive line who has played half decently this season, will sit out the next two games. Offensive lineman Albert Cid must sit out the first half, and with Chris Ward leaving the game Thursday because of a knee injury and his status uncertain, that means the Bruins will probably have to give inexperienced Wade Yandall significant minutes.

"It’s not going to be easy at all," tight end Joe Fauria said. "It’s going to challenge us and see who we are."

For many watching, who the Bruins are became all too obvious Thursday night. They failed to show up for their biggest game of the season with first place on the line. They showed a lack of composure by getting involved in the brawl and they showed no signs that a conference title is even a remote possibility.

Still, Neuheisel insisted the team could, indeed, recover from the Thursday night fiasco.

"I believe our football team will not quit," Neuheisel said. "I believe our football team will come back to work and I believe we’ll play a much better game next week against Cal. That’s where I am right now. We’re going to play our best game against Cal and see where that leaves us."

Unfortunately it may be too late. The team has little to rally around after that loss, and the precariousness of Neuheisel's future only adds to the difficulty of the situation. How motivated will players be by a coach they believe won't be around for long?

To think that the team on the field Thursday night can contend for a conference title is a bit far-fetched.

"It puts [that goal] a little more farther out of reach, but it’s still out there," Fauria said. "It’s saddening and it’s upsetting, but it’s all how we’re going to answer back. How are we going to respond, how are we going to change the things we need to change."