Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009 | 12:33 a.m.
Quarterback Kevin Prince got off to a successful start at UCLA despite some second-half difficulties in his debut. Those difficulties seemed to leave him excited rather than discouraged about his future.
"It's great to start with a win," the redshirt freshman said after passing for 176 yards and a touchdown in the Bruins' 33-14 victory over San Diego State on Saturday. "There's a lot to correct, and that's exciting."
There was very little to correct in the first half, when Prince completed 12 of 16 passes for 140 yards and a TD without being intercepted. He was just 6 of 13 for 36 yards with two interceptions after that.
"He showed that he could play at this level and then he showed he's a freshman," second-year Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I thought he played really well in the first half, I was elated with the way he played. He said at halftime how much fun he was having. All of a sudden, there was a notch of a letdown in his concentration. Both of his interceptions were easily avoidable. We are lucky to get that lesson without costing us a game."
Prince, who became just the second freshman to start a season opener for UCLA, also lost a fumble. He beat out Kevin Craft, last year's starter, in spring practice.
The Aztecs got off to a fast start, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions and getting seven first downs and 161 yards of total offense in the first quarter. They managed only four first downs and 116 yards after that.
"They hit us hard early," Bruins linebacker Reggie Carter said. "I told the defense we were not being ourselves. I told them to calm down and focus. Then we did. We stopped the run and got a lot of three-and-outs."
And that meant a continuation of UCLA's domination of its in-state rival. The Bruins have a 21-0-1 record against the Aztecs and are 15-0 since the schools renewed their rivalry in 1984 after a 50-year hiatus.
"We are excited to be 1-0," said Neuheisel, whose team also won its season-opener last year but finished 4-8. "(But) we've got a lot of work to do. We should improve a great deal between week one and week two."
The game was played despite a wildfire that has burned in the nearby Angeles National Forest for nearly two weeks. Officials decided Thursday to play the game based on information from local air-quality officials and Pasadena city fire and health authorities.
San Diego State's Ryan Lindley passed for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, but wound up 18 of 45 for 238 yards and three interceptions — all by sophomore safety Rahim Moore.
"UCLA made adjustments, we did not execute," Lindley said. "We were not surprised by them. We were well-prepared, but we got sidetracked and did not execute. We had them, but we did not bounce back from adversity. We got thrown for a loop."
Both teams scored on their first two possessions to leave San Diego State with a 14-10 lead — a rather surprising development considering UCLA ranked 116th out of the 119 major college teams in total offense last year while San Diego State was 117th.
Lindley threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Matthew Kawulok to cap a 69-yard drive following the opening kickoff, and a 78-yard bomb to Vincent Brown on a third-and-10 play. The Bruins got a 49-yard field goal from Kai Forbath and a 12-yard scoring run by freshman Johnathan Franklin on the first play following Terrence Austin's 65-yard kickoff return.
UCLA went ahead for good on a 29-yard touchdown run by Derrick Coleman with 5:33 left in the second quarter. Prince threw a 6-yard scoring pass to Austin with 1:42 left before halftime for a 23-14 halftime lead. Forbath's conversion after Coleman's TD was blocked by Leon McFadden.
Forbath kicked a 50-yard field goal late in the third quarter to extend UCLA's lead to 26-14.
UCLA put the game away when Jerzy Siewierski blocked Lane Yoshida's 35-yard field goal attempt in the final minute of the third quarter and Alterraun Verner scooped the ball up and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring. The Aztecs' threat was set up by Luke Laolagi's 27-yard interception return to the UCLA 23-yard line.
"We're very disappointed with the outcome," first-year San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. "We had opportunities, but we did not capitalize. We need to be more aggressive and execute better, and that's my fault."