Whatever it was that Rick Neuheisel‘s UCLA team showed in a 48-12 thumping by Arizona, it wasn’t a competitive football team.
The Wildcats, who had just one win this season (against 1-AA opponent Northern Arizona) and fired their coach Mike Stoops not two weeks ago, absolutely torched UCLA in every imaginable way tonight. Perhaps it was a much needed change of pace with Stoops gone, but Arizona came out and played a complete football game. Granted, UCLA is not very good and Arizona is not really that bad, but the Wildcats played with an inspired edge.
UCLA was flat from the get-go. They have been for the whole first half of the season. Amazingly, though, the Bruins were 2-1 in Pac-12 play heading into tonight and still controlled their South division destiny. Really, despite the hot seat rumors for Neuheisel, UCLA had a lot to play for.
They could play for a winning record; a bowl game; a Pac-12 South title; a Pac-12 championship even.
Or, hey, how about playing for their coach’s job?
But, they didn’t. About the only inspired football UCLA showed all night was in the last seven minutes of the game. And you know what? You can’t blame ’em. UCLA’s own athletic director, Dan Guerrero, didn’t even express confidence in Neuheisel in his most recent blog. How could he expect confidence from Neuheisel’s players?
“Returning to a bowl is just one of several steps we need to take to get this program to the level we all desire,” Guerrero wrote. “In order to compete on the national stage, we first must achieve success in the Pac-12 Conference.”
It’s not that Guerrero isn’t spittin’ truth — he is, and there’s no reason why UCLA can’t be better than they are — but there are short-term collateral damages that resulted from it. Among the numerous penalties, dropped passes, turnovers, terrible assignment defense and first-half brawl, one thing was clear: UCLA gave up tonight. Arizona got out ahead early and kept their foot down on UCLA’s throat, and the Bruins didn’t do a thing about it.
When Neuheisel opted to kick the field goal instead of going for the touchdown on fourth and goal with under five minutes left to play, he showed his players he had given up too.
Perhaps Neuheisel will be fired sooner rather than later. It might happen this week. Barring a miraculous turnaround, it’s hard to think of many ways the former quarterback can keep his job. A sub-.500 record, no Pac-12 titles and one bowl appearance won’t cut it in Westwood — not with the available local talent and the NCAA-wrapped gift handed to the Bruins in the form of sanctions to cross-town rival USC.
Neuheisel knows that, and as he stood at the center of Arizona Stadium waiting to shake the hand of Wildcats interim coach Tim Kish, the the body language said it all. He looked hurt, defeated. How his team responds next week against Cal will give us a more definitive indication if this team has really lost all hope.
If Neuheisel makes it that long. Judging by the look on his face tonight, a swift end might actually be a welcome relief.