Youthful Bruins grow up
UCLA found a wealth of maturity in its young players after beating Oregon State
PASADENA, Calif. -- Slow and steady growth has been the goal for the UCLA football team this season, but every once in a while it's nice to have a spurt.
That's what the Bruins got Saturday.
Kai Forbath kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired for a 17-14 victory over Oregon State at the Rose Bowl, but the Bruins won this game long before Forbath trotted out for the game winner.
They won it because some of the mistakes they have been making over and over this season appeared less frequently. They won it because when they got into position to make a play, they did.
They won it because when they needed to convert on crucial third downs, they did that, too. And they won it because they overcame adversity. Simply put, the Bruins won because they grew up.
"This could be the game," safety Tony Dye said. "Last week was kind of a foreshadowing of what could happen and this was it. I think this is where we're taking off. This was a great game for us maturity wise."
For most of this season, youth and inexperience had plagued the Bruins into making game-costing mistakes both mental and physical. But against Oregon State, the young and inexperienced led the charge.
Sophomore quarterback Richard Brehaut, in his fourth career start, made a number of veteran-like decisions that led to big plays with his legs. Freshman middle linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, making his first career start, led the team with nine tackles and had a 13-yard sack that took Oregon State out of field goal range at the end of the first half.
Freshman running back Malcolm Jones got the call on fourth down and picked up a yard on a drive that eventually led to a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter. Freshman safety Dietrich Riley made a highlight-reel hit on Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, knocking his helmet off.
And when the game was on the line, with time running down, sophomore receiver Randall Carroll became the go-to guy. He caught passes on consecutive plays to get the Bruins into field goal range.
"We're growing up," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We're finishing plays."
And that's been an ongoing problem for the Bruins during a season in which the Bruins have continually taken a step forward and two steps back. Penalties, sacks and turnovers at inopportune times have plagued UCLA all season. While there were still some of those backward steps Saturday, the Bruins overcame them and won a close game.
Converting on third down has been an Achilles heel for UCLA all season, but the Bruins converted 8 of 17 Saturday and added the fourth-down conversion to boot. They averaged 7 yards per third-down play and sustained second-half drives of 20 and 14 plays, using 9:28 and 7:52 of clock, respectively.
"We grew by leaps and bounds in this game," Dye said. "Young and inexperienced isn't an excuse anymore and I'm happy to say we stepped up and showed the maturity to play like we're supposed to play."
The key has been a comfort level among some players who haven't gotten much playing time. Carroll had a breakthrough last week when he caught a 68-yard touchdown and he said that earned him some more looks this week.
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"It showed the coaches they can trust me and they did," he said. "They came to me with four seconds left. That shows a lot of trust."
And Brehaut is starting to show signs that he is settling and finally getting a firm grasp on the intricacies of the Pistol offense. He rushed 18 times for 61 yards Saturday. Coming in to the game he had 22 carries for minus-12 yards.
"I think that was the difference in the game, what he did as a quarterback after the play call was obsolete," Neuheisel said. "I think he made an unbelievable amount of plays with his legs whether it was to find somebody open to throw to or to run for a first down."
And Brehaut said it's all a matter of feeling more and more comfortable as the starting quarterback.
"It's unbelievable how different it is even from the Washington State game to now," Brehaut said.
But, Neuheisel warned, just because the Bruins have one good game under their belts and have shown some signs of growth, it's no reason to think they are over the hump.
"We're going to look at the tape and find a bunch of things that we need to fix and it's imperative that we all have the urgency to do it just as we did coming into this game and not relax," he said. "We're in no position to relax because we have a long way to go before we're a good football team."
Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.