Over the past few weeks, it appears as if the green grass of the Rose Bowl has served as a fertilizer for incessant stupidity.
The culprits: UCLA tailback DeShaun Foster and Bruin head coach Bob Toledo.
I’ll first deal with Foster, who was suspended for accepting the use of a Ford Expedition for one month when his car broke down. Foster, a senior who leads the Pac-10 in rushing and touchdowns is a legitimate middle-to-late first round NFL draft prospect. The Bruins’ marquee tailback had to sit out last week’s 21-20 loss to No. 7 Oregon (more on that later), and will most likely miss this Saturday’s game against archrival USC. For someone in his situation to be foolish enough to accept the use of the vehicle — a direct violation of the NCAA’s “extra-benefit” rule — is alarming. Now, I am well aware of and can understand the pressure college athletes are under. But this case is just plain idiotic, for several reasons.
First, Foster and everyone on the No. 21 UCLA team should be well aware of the consequences of NCAA rules violations, as in 1999 11 Bruins, including current senior linebacker Robert Thomas, were suspended for a handicapped parking scandal in which the players were once again in violation of the “extra-benefit” rule. In an effort to stress the importance of observing the rules to his players, Toledo brought in several speakers, including former NFL player and head coach Art Shell. And, hey, who knows how to deal with hooligans more than a former head coach of the Raiders? Shell, if nothing else, could have at least taught them steps to take to avoid being caught. But apparently Foster missed that part.
A prominent athlete such as Foster will automatically draw the watchful eye of UCLA’s opponents, namely, their chief rival USC, whom the Bruins just happen to be playing this weekend and who are believed to have blown the whistle on this particular infraction.
But Foster’s mistake didn’t even approach the level of boneheadedness Toledo exhibited this past Saturday.
Despite being without Foster against Oregon, UCLA almost pulled out the victory, as the players rallied together, primed to win despite their adversity. Unfortunately for the Bruins and the 78,330 fans who were on hand at the Rose Bowl, Toledo decided to leave his brain in the locker room.
Toledo’s play calling and decision making deprived his players of the chance to make the plays needed to win the game and snap a two-game skid — conduct that is inexcusable for a head coach.
Worse still, his actions indicate that he has lost confidence in junior quarterback Cory Paus, who played his best game of the season Saturday despite still being hampered by a nagging thumb injury.
At the start of the fourth quarter, UCLA scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to take a 19-14 lead. Everyone in the stadium expected the Bruins to go for two.
But they didn’t, because Toledo had no confidence in his offense.
After the game, Toledo said that he judged it “too early” to go for two points because if they missed, it would risk putting UCLA in a situation where they could get beaten by two field goals.
Your offense has just marched down the field for the score, and you have a chance to force the opposition to score a touchdown, and you don’t take it? That’s just lame.
But that display of idiocy is nothing compared with what came next.
Once Oregon went ahead 21-20, UCLA began to move the ball into Oregon territory, following consecutive Paus pass completions that gained 27 yards and brought the Bruins to the Oregon 48-yard line. And then, incomprehensibly, Toledo ran the ball on five of the next six plays — the final six plays of the game. The one pass fell incomplete, and the five rushes gained only 15 yards. The final play-call was the most hideous, as on third-and-five with 48 seconds remaining, rather than let Paus — who was 14 of 22 on the afternoon — pass for the first down, he ran the ball with Akil Harris, who couldn’t manage to move the sticks.
His explanation is flat out bogus.
“If you throw the ball, No. 1, you’ve got to complete it,” Toledo said. “You could get sacked, you could throw an interception — If we run and make a first down, we’re in great shape.”
Ugh, Earth to Coach Toledo, of course things can go wrong on the pass. But equally bad things can happen with the run, like a fumble or being stopped short of the first down. Which is exactly what happened, setting up a 50-yard field goal attempt from Chris Griffith.
Only one small problem there, coach.
Griffith had never kicked a 50-yarder in a game situation.
“Seconds left, a 50-yard field goal to win the game, that’s just a dream,” Griffith said. “Too bad it didn’t come true.”
So, the question for the Bruins is whether they can regroup in time for this weekend’s game against their big rival USC, put the brakes on a three game losing skid, and salvage a season that started so promising at 6-0.
If Toledo remains in a mode so conservative that even Pat Buchanan becomes jealous, then the answer for Bruin fans and players alike is clear: