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Sunday, December 5, 2010
More of the same for UCLA

By Peter Yoon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- The recurring nightmare of a season mercifully came to an end for the UCLA football team, a deluge of déjà vu moments haunting the Bruins right to the bitter end.

UCLA lost to USC 28-14 on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, putting to rest a frustrating season that may have been lost as early as Week 1.

In that first game against Kansas State, the Bruins (4-8) showed glimpses of what was to come: a season littered with missed tackles, dropped passes, turnovers and blown opportunities deep in opponents' territory.

Every Bruins loss this season turned into a highlight reel of those same persistent patterns, so why not cap the season off in style?

The shoddy tackling showed up on two plays -- first on a 47-yard swing pass to Allen Bradford that went for a touchdown and a 21-7 USC lead with 11:17 to play and again on a 73-yard touchdown run by Bradford that put the game out of reach at 28-7 with 3:31 to play.

In between, UCLA drove to the USC 19 only to have a fade pass to Taylor Embree bounce to the turf after he couldn't hold on in the corner. That's the same Embree who dropped a pass inside the 10-yard line in the 33-21 Week 1 loss at Kansas State.

"At the end of the day and at the end of the season, that's what it comes down to," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We got close and didn't make the play. We have to look in the mirror and realize that. We have to be better. We have to perform better than we did tonight."

A second-quarter drive pretty much summed up the close-but-no-cigar type of season the Bruins have had.

With the score tied at 7, UCLA drove to the USC 24-yard line and had a first-and-10. A holding penalty on Mike Harris and a false start on Cory Harkey sent the Bruins backward. Sound familiar?

Two plays later, Johnathan Franklin took a handoff, and USC's Chris Galippo stripped it out of Franklin's hands, and Trojans safety Malcolm Smith scooped it up and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown. UCLA's 15 fumbles lost this season were among the most in the nation, and this one was costly.

Instead of a 14-7 or 10-7 UCLA lead, it became a 14-7 USC lead.

"Something seems to happen," UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow said. "It's hard to explain."

Somebody is soon going to have to explain.

Neuheisel said he would begin an evaluation period of the program now that the season is over, and that means Chow and defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough may soon have to pack up their offices.

With the inability to prevent the same problems from happening over and over, it would seem to make sense that those in charge would have to pay the price.

"We as a coaching staff and as a group of people have to perform at a higher level to compete with the teams that are obviously ahead of us," Neuheisel said.

Some of the players say that the team is not that far away. Young players make mistakes, senior defensive lineman David Carter said, and it's difficult to learn everything until you've seen everything.

That's a major reason UCLA was caught out of position so many times on defense this season and gave up huge gains. USC had 474 yards of offense against UCLA, meaning UCLA gave up an average of 470 yards per game in its last six.

That average over the full season would rank No. 119 of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

"It's simple things," Carter said. "If we could just fix a little thing here and a little thing there, we'll be OK."

On offense, the problem became inconsistency. When UCLA could run the ball, it couldn't pass. When the Bruins could pass, they couldn't run. It added up to a frustrating inability to move the ball with any regularity.

"We really struggled to find a balance of powers, which is something that we need to establish if we're going to move forward," quarterback Richard Brehaut said.

A new offense put in this year didn't help matters. It resulted in an offensive unit that seemingly played catch-up all season while trying to learn the nuances of the pistol.

"There were a lot of growing pains," Brehaut said.

Safety Tony Dye insists the Bruins are not far from turning things around. He said you could go back through the season and pick out a play or two in each loss that turned the season from a success to disappointment.

"We're so close, it's ridiculous," Dye said. "If you go back and look at our season, you can see that. The season, our fortune changed probably in a total of nine plays. If we get those nine plays back, we could be going to a bowl game. And a good bowl game, too. So then it's a completely different season."

Unfortunately for the Bruins, however, it wasn't different.

It was pretty much the same from beginning to end.

Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com.