UCLA's rally cry for Saturday's victory over California was "Burn the Boats," a reference to a war story in which generals, invading by boat, told their troops that they had to succeed or die because the boats would be burned and there would be no way to retreat.
The win-or-die mentality worked. UCLA, with injured players all wearing shirts adorned with "BTB" in large block letters, dominated both sides of the ball in a 31-14 victory.
"You had to get the job done or that was it," coach Rick Neuheisel said Sunday during his weekly conference call with reporters. "That was the idea. And that’s where our football team was."
Neuheisel said he came up with the idea to have the injured players wear the shirts. The "BTB" writing was so large that it was conspicuous to anyone watching on television or even in the stands. Lots of guesses circulated about the meaning, such as "Back to Basics" or "Beat the Bears," but it turns out it was far more inspirational than that. Neuheisel hopes it will continue to be.
"I reminded them today that the boats are still burned," he said.
Other highlights from the call:
Even though Saturday's game against Arizona State will be for first place in the Pac-12 South, UCLA will not be talking about that this week. They were in a similar situation going into their Oct. 20 game at Arizona and talked openly about trying to get into first place, but were embarrassed, 48-12. "Our mindset needs to be on what we do rather than what might or might not be and certainly we learned that lesson the hard way," Neuheisel said. "If you are thinking ahead and hoping for things that are the prizes, then you’re thinking about the wrong thing. You’ve got to focus on the task and if you take care of the task then the rest will take care of itself. Nobody to blame but me for talking about it. But I’m not going to make that mistake again."
Receivers Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Ricky Marvray and Randall Carroll will return form their one-game suspensions this week, making the scout team less talented and putting Jerry Rice Jr. in limbo. Rice made his collegiate debut and had two catches for 17 yards, but with the influx of regulars coming back, Rice could be headed back to the scout team. "We’re closer to full strength and we’ll go back to how we do things," Neuheisel said. "But certainly with Jerry Rice there is that much more confidence in what he can do and there will be no hesitation to put him in if we need him."
Playing against Arizona State means playing against linebacker Vontaze Burfict, one of the most punishing hitters in the nation, but that does not necessarily mean that UCLA will go back to trying to keep quarterback Kevin Prince out of harm's way. Prince rushed 19 times for 163 yards against California, a risky strategy for an injury-prone quarterback, but one Neuheisel says UCLA will needs to employ in order to be successful. "We know for our offense to be effective, we’ve got to have a quarterback threat," Neuheisel said. "[Burfict] is obviously a hugely talented player and very fast from sideline to sideline and that has to be taken into account as you are designing your plays. But if you can get somebody on him, then you have a chance."
Wade Yandall made his debut on the offensive line against California, starting at guard because Albert Cid was suspended for the first half. But Yandall played so well that he remained in the game even when Cid was eligible to come back. Now, the position will be up for grabs in practice, as will the other guard spot because Chris Ward is due back from an ankle injury that kept him out against Cal and will challenge Greg Capella. "It’ll be nice to have that kind of competition inside to make us better," Neuheisel said.
Leading receiver Nelson Rosario left the California game after he twisted his ankle on a reception midway through the third quarter and he did not return. Neuheisel said Rosario was OK. "Nelson will be fine," Neuheisel said. "He was tender with the ankle, but more of the issue last night was cramping."
Jeff Locke was crucial to UCLA's victory against Cal, punting four times inside the 20-yard line and twice pinning Cal inside the five to give UCLA a field position edge. Even more impressive was that he played most of the game with an injured shoulder after a collision early in the second quarter. "I don’t think it was a significant thing that will keep him out of action, but he responded in big fashion," Neuheisel said. It did, however, prevent him from attempting a long field goal after a UCLA drive stalled at the California 35 with UCLA clinging to a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter. Locke, who also serves as the long field-goal kicker, said he didn't feel up to kicking, but came on and buried a punt at the California five-yard line. "Jeff didn’t feel like he could kick," Neuheisel said. "Punting he felt much better, but he didn’t feel like he could make a long field goal, it made that decision much easier."