Commentary

UCLA's offense already tough to watch

Updated: September 12, 2010, 4:07 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- It was, at best, a coincidence.

It was, at worst, entirely too appropriate.

At the start of the fourth quarter Saturday night, with UCLA trailing Stanford by four touchdowns and swallowing hard on an ugly shutout, the Bruins' band began playing what many in the half-full Rose Bowl had started thinking.

[+] EnlargeUCLA
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireRick Neuheisel watches his Bruins get trounced by Stanford.

"We're not gonna take it. No, we ain't gonna take it. Oh, we're not gonna take it ... anymore."

Two games into the 2010 season, Rick Neuheisel's UCLA Bruins already seem twisted into a frustrating knot.

Their bright spots are medium gains off busted running plays. Their moral victories are yielding field goals instead of touchdowns.

"We've got to find something we're capable of doing, that's for sure," UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow said after the Bruins' 35-0 loss.

"It was embarrassing."

Chow is a proud man and one of the brightest offensive minds of his generation. Neuheisel has called plays and developed quarterbacks in the NFL.

But after this game, both men seemed as down as I've seen them in the past two seasons.

"It's more frustrating than you know," Neuheisel said. "Tonight was an offensive disaster. There is no other way to say it. We've got to look ourselves in the mirror and accept that."

By the end of his news conference, Neuheisel was able to strike a few positive notes. He talked of rolling up his sleeves and finding solutions, of the young players who "are shell-shocked right now, but have to snap out of it and get back to work."

But his disappointment with the way his team has started this season was too much to conceal.

Across town, Lane Kiffin's USC Trojans were eking out a win over a Virginia team they would've destroyed a few years ago. The Coliseum was three-quarters full for a home opener. And the stain of a scandal that has tarnished Pete Carroll's best years is still spreading.

The stage in this town was UCLA's for the taking. But so far, the Bruins have seized nothing.

Worse, they have been boring.

"We have been a more efficient running team," Neuheisel said. "But somewhere in that, we have lost the ability to throw the football efficiently. It isn't getting done."

The statistics are frightening. UCLA gained just 81 yards passing Saturday night. Quarterback Kevin Prince's longest completion of the night was an interception caught by Stanford's Richard Sherman at the Cardinal 2-yard line.

Aside from a missed 49-yard field goal by All-American kicker Kai Forbath, that was as close as UCLA came to scoring all night.

On several occasions, the 56,931 bothered to boo UCLA's ineptitude. For most of the night, it hardly seemed worth it.

The Bruins' issues are too vast. Their passing game is off-kilter, their defense is suspect. They've made too many avoidable mistakes. Their best players are probably freshmen and sophomores.

Still, Neuheisel and Chow have recruited well in their time in Westwood. UCLA has talent. But that talent is still young and undeveloped.

In time, running backs Malcolm Jones and Anthony Barr will be stars. Right now, they are simply freshmen who are slowly earning their coaches' trust.

"We're a really young team. A lot of true freshmen are playing this year," Jones said. "But I wanted to come here and play as early as I can to start helping the team."

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Carroll's best teams at USC popularized the practice of playing true freshmen who were ready to play.

The difference here is that UCLA has been forced to rely on its young players, not all of whom are actually ready to play.

There are a lot of reasons it's come to this: the lack of talent left behind by former head coach Karl Dorrell's staff, the rash of injuries UCLA suffered in fall practice.

Neuheisel and Chow have to take some of the blame for playing conservatively the past two seasons, valuing wins over player development.

Last season they chose to start redshirt senior Chane Moline over Johnathan Franklin in the EagleBank Bowl win over Temple, as seven wins and a trophy seemingly were the most important things at the time.

Franklin had a problem with fumbling the ball. Fine.

But in the first two games this season, the redshirt sophomore has been one of the only Bruins to provide some sort of spark or hope. And you can't help but wonder whether he'd be further along if he'd had more chances last year.

On Saturday, Franklin led UCLA with 73 yards rushing on 11 carries. And yet, he's not the starting tailback. Junior Derrick Coleman is.

Whatever the causes -- and there are many -- UCLA finds itself in an uncomfortable position. Staring into a mirror instead of the future, it's forced to confront an ugly reality instead of what could be.

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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