UCLA, Arizona look for redemption

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
6:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Remember that great line in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"? A character is asked how he went broke and he responds: "Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly."

UCLA's 59-0 loss at BYU was nothing like that.

The Bruins skipped the "gradual" part and went directly to "suddenly." If a team is going to lose by 59, it needs to hurry and play badly. The Bruins did just that.

Already down 14-0, UCLA fumbled on three straight possessions in the second quarter that result in three straight BYU scores.

"The scoreboard looks like a slot machine when that happens," coach Rick Neuheisel said.

Talk about emotional extremes. A couple of weeks ago, Neuheisel and the Bruins were the toasts of college football after they notched a surprising upset over then-No. 18 Tennessee.

So how do they respond to losing after providing such a rotten followup to winning?

Writing off a 59-zip loss, the program's worst defeat since 1929, seems a little naive. By the same token, a prolonged period of mourning could ruin the season.

"I think I see the right measure of disappointment in what's past and also the right amount of resolve in terms of making sure we atone this weekend," Neuheisel said.

Of course, this weekend the Bruins face a team as desperate as they are. While Arizona didn't get blown out at New Mexico, its second consecutive loss to the Lobos reignited the flame under Wildcats coach Mike Stoops seat.

It's fair to say that both teams are trying to crawl out of the bottom half of the Pac-10 at the other team's expense. When each perused their respective schedules during the preseason, they both probably penciled in a victory.

It's also fair to say that the loser Saturday will feel like the college football gods just put a dent into their bowl hopes.

A couple of angry, desperate teams clawing for survival?

"I always hesitate to say desperate because we're still in week three and the first game in the conference," Neuheisel said. "But it's a game that both teams want desperately."

The truth is, Arizona might be slightly more desperate, at least in the sense that Neuheisel is a first-year coach still in the midst of his honeymoon period who is leading a team with talent issues that aren't his fault.

Stoops is still looking for his first winning record in his fifth season in Tucson.

In the first two games, the Wildcats, against the weakest nonconference schedule in the conference, were dominant on both sides of the ball. But that went away against New Mexico.

Quarterback Willie Tuitama not only threw his first two interceptions of the season in the 36-28 defeat, he also fumbled twice.

Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes questioned his own play-calling, telling the Tucson Citizen: "We sort of played right into their hands and threw more than we should have. I didn't do a good job."

Said Stoops, "You can't turn the ball over five times and win a football game. We know we're a good football team."

The Wildcats figure to be a much better team with tight end Rob Gronkowski returning to the lineup after missing the first three games due to illness. Gronkowski, an All-American candidate, was touted as the focal point of the offense during the preseason, and Dykes suggested he had a chance to haul in 100 receptions.

So the generally healthy Wildcats are getting healthier, while the Bruins are one of the nation's most injury-riddled teams. The latest casualties are linebacker Kyle Bosworth (sprained knee) and center Micah Reed (MCL tear).

Losing a starting center for two to four weeks -- the Bruins most experienced lineman, in fact -- doesn't help when your offensive line is struggling and lacks depth.

UCLA presently ranks last in the nation with 19 yards rushing per game -- 0.8 yards per carry -- with a long run of seven yards.

"We're trying to solidify who's going to play," Neuheisel said. "One of the major issues we've had since I've been here is the revolving door situation as to who's in the game and who's not."

With Bosworth out, the Bruins also will shuffle their linebackers. Redshirt freshman Steve Sloan will see his first career action on defense, starting at middle linebacker, while Reggie Carter will move from the middle to weakside LB, Bosworth's spot.

Neuheisel told reporters this week that he's looked for wisdom from a note UCLA legend John Wooden sent him before the season began about the peaks and valleys of competition, and also similar words that his former coach at UCLA, Terry Donahue, told him about never getting too high or too low.

The Bruins have seen both extremes. Now they need to figure out who they really are.

"We took one on the chin," Neuheisel said. "We need to take from it what we can take from it and be disciplined enough to not repeat the mistakes. But maybe be more disciplined to forget about it and let it go."

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12