WESTWOOD —The term “first game jitters” is not a phrase coaches want to hear about their team, but unfortunately for the Bruins it was really the only way to describe their performance against Kansas State on September 4, when they lost 31-22 to the Wildcats.
There was no doubt the team was ready for the opening game, but sometimes when the lights come on and game time comes upon you, all those balls you caught so easily in practice and those throwing lanes that looked so open start to get a little difficult. Right from the get go it was apparent that the anticipation of the first game was getting to the Bruins. Quarterback Kevin Prince targeted tight end Morrell Presley on the first two plays of the game and both resulted in dropped passes. On the very next play, Prince had a chance to still pick up the first down when he spotted a wide open Taylor Embree breaking towards the sideline, but instead of putting it anywhere close to his receiver, the ball was thrown out of bounds.
Defensively things went pretty much the same. Highlighted by a heavy dose of running back Daniel Thomas, the Wildcats promptly marched down the field and punched in the first touchdown of the game. At first the defense seemingly escaped without giving up any points after they stopped the Wildcats on a fourth and one run play, but a penalty gave the ball back to Kansas State and Thomas walked it in for the score to put the Wildcats ahead. The Bruins were not able to get much of anything going on offense in their second possession, but a recovered fumble by star linebacker Akeem Ayers gave the offense the ball inside the 20-yard line and on the very next play Prince faked a handoff to running back Johnathan Franklin and ran untouched in the end zone to even up the score.
Going into halftime it seemed like the Bruins were finally on the right track. The defense only gave up nine total yards in the second quarter and the offense was able to put three more points on the board behind the leg of All-American kicker Kai Forbath. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and for the Bruins their good fortune ended in the third quarter. Daniel Thomas ran through the UCLA defense for a gain of 44 yards and backup running back William Powell did his best Thomas impression and finished off the drive with a 29-yard run for the touchdown and a lead they would not give up for the remainder of the game.
With less than two minutes left in the game, following a touchdown pass by Kansas State quaterback Carson Coffman to Brodrick Smith and the Bruins now down 24-16, the offense showed there was still some fight left in the boys from Westwood. It took only three plays for Prince to find receiver Ricky Marvray in the back of the end zone and put UCLA in a position to tie the game at 24, but a pass intended for Embree was tipped away, leaving the Bruins’ hopes in the hands of an onside kick.
The Wildcats refused to let the game slip away and recovered the kick and then poured a little salt in the Bruins wounds when Thomas got by the defense for a 35-yard run that ended any chance at a comeback. Last year Daniel Thomas was the leading rusher in the Big 12 Conference and against the Bruins he decided to get an early start. On the day Thomas had 235 yards on 28 carries and two receptions. The Bruins will have to be very stout against the run in their next contest. Even though Toby Gerhart graduated from Stanford last season, the power running game is still a big part of what they do. The season may have started last week, but for the Bruins a new season started on September 11 because it is not only the first home game of the season, it is also the first conference game. Many fans may have been disappointed by the loss, but this Saturday Stanford will be playing a better UCLA team.
Throughout the practice on September 9, the defense worked on keeping up the intensity and the offense locked in on their assignments so that on game day everything will come together for the team. The team knows what they are trying to do and the effort they brought against Kansas State was not good enough. All week the Bruins have been focused in practice and have played with a better attitude. Now all their hard work needs to carry over to field on game day.
Losing the first game is never easy, but there is still a lot of games left to be played by the Bruins this season and the feeling of disappointment some might be experiencing right now is a feeling they won’t remember too often as the Bruins press towards their goal of a Pac-10 championship.