WESTWOOD—It seemed like it would never happen, but the UCLA Bruins finally have their first win of the college football season. After struggling on both sides of the ball in their first two games against Kansas St. and Stanford, the Bruins put everything together to give the fans in the Rose Bowl the performance they have all been waiting for.
The Houston Cougars came in as the number 23 ranked team in the nation and boasting one of the country’s most prolific passing attacks. Cougar signal caller Case Kennum threw for over 5,000 yards last season and entered this year as a legitimate Heisman candidate. In their first two games, the Cougars had scored over 60 points and were looking to keep that going against a Bruins defense that had given up 35 points to Stanford the week before. Fortunately, Patrick Larimore and the rest of the defense had other plans. UCLA set the tone during the first series of the game by forcing Houston to go three and out. For the rest of the game, the defense played with passion and intensity to keep the Cougar offense at bay and deplete any hope they had of winning the game. One of the most telling moments of the game was during the first half. Kennum had led his team inside the five-yard line of Bruin territory and were getting ready to score their first touchdown. Instead of trying to punch the ball in on the ground, Houston elected to pass the ball, but star linebacker Akeem Ayers intercepted the ball and got all the way to Houston territory before he was brought down. On that same play, the Cougars lost Case Kennum for the season to a torn ACL that occurred when he tried to bring down Ayers after he threw the interception.
The second half was much of the same. Houston brought in a new quarterback, and it was just like sending a fresh fish into a pool of hungry sharks. Cotton Turner got nowhere against the tenacious Bruin defense and was also knocked out of the game and lost for the season due to a broken collarbone. With the game in hand and some of the starters out, the defense relented a little bit and allowed one touchdown in the fourth quarter, but overall the defense dominated the Houston offense and gave the Bruins many chances to put points on the board.
Offensively, the Bruins still had a lot of mistakes, but the difference in this game was they were able to refocus and put the ball in the end zone. The offensive line had another remarkable game opening holes for the UCLA running backs. With Derrick Coleman injured, Jonathan Franklin took full advantage of the increase in reps and ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bruins to a 31-13 victory over the Houston Cougars. Quarterback Kevin Prince also rushed for a touchdown and passed for 99 yards to complement Franklin’s performance. The offense still had a few bad penalties and turned the ball over to many times (two fumbles and one interception), but the offense made sure they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot too many times and didn’t settle for field goals.
This week the Bruins have a heavy task when the march into Austin, Texas, to take on the seventh ranked Longhorns. Offensively and defensively the Bruins will need to play as close to perfect as they can to come out with a victory, but if they come out with the same focus and heart they had against Houston, there will be a lot of celebrating going on in Westwood come Saturday night. Ironically, in 1998 the Bruins started off the season 0-2 but bounced back with victories over Houston and Texas to get the season headed in the right direction, so history is on the Bruins’ side.