PASADENA -- Kevin Prince's shoulders have been bruised and beaten, sprained and separated several times during his UCLA career, so it seems odd to place the weight of winning a game there.
Yet that's exactly what the UCLA coaching staff did Saturday and Prince responded by leading the Bruins to a 31-14 victory over California.
The quarterback with the extensive injury history took off running, bobbing and blasting his way through the Golden Bears defense and didn't stop until he had amassed a career-high 163 yards rushing. It was the first time since Jeff Dankworth in 1976 that a UCLA quarterback had eclipsed 100 yards rushing and the most rushing yards by a Bruins quarterback since John Sciarra had 178 in 1974.
"We kind of had an idea that we might be able to get some chances with the quarterback," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "And I told Kevin before the game that you can not run not to get hurt tonight. That won’t work. You have to go and I told him I wanted 100 yards. I told him I was going to be in his tail if he didn’t get his shoulder pads down and go."
The idea stemmed from run game coordinator Jim Mastro, who was at Nevada last year when the Wolfpack ran for 316 yards in a 52-31 victory over California. Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for 148 yards and three touchdowns in that game. So Prince, who was booed the last time he took the field at the Rose Bowl, gave the crowd plenty to cheer Saturday.
"We saw some things that we liked and some things that we wanted to take advantage of," Prince said. "Coach Mastro and Coach Neuheisel told me that I’d have to rush for 100 today. They told me to be aggressive and that’s what I was going to do. For the most part I lowered my shoulder and tried to get extra yards and that paid off for us tonight."
It wasn't exactly the most prudent strategy to use with a quarterback who has missed 11 games during his career because of injuries. This year alone he suffered a concussion and sprained shoulder in the opening game and then injured his other shoulder two weeks later.
But the Bruins had no other choice. They were down four receivers because of suspensions handed down in the wake of UCLA's brawl with Arizona and California had been effective at stopping the run game against just about every opponent they had faced. The Golden Bears entered the game ranked No. 27 in the nation in run defense, giving up only 115.57 yards rushing per game, but UCLA plowed for 294.
"We didn’t have a lot of options," Neuhiesel said. "We were down to very few wide receivers. It was how to play the game and fortunately it worked."
Early on, it wasn't working so well. Prince had two rushes on the opening drive, one for no gain and a sack for a six-yard loss. On UCLA's next drive, he broke loose for a 21-yard run, but fumbled at the end of it. He did not have a rushing attempt on the next series but started to roll as the first quarter turned into the second.
Prince began keeping the ball, getting into open space and tiptoeing along the sidelines for big gains. Eight of his 19 rushing attempts went for 10 yards or more, including runs of 21, 32, 32 and 25. It was a textbook display of what the Pistol's zone-read attack should look like and Prince's execution of it showed why Neuheisel always picks Prince to run it when there is a quarterback competition.
"It’s definitely a confidence booster," Prince said. "It’s nice to be able to play a game like that, get through it and come out with a win."
Prince has started the last two weeks only because Richard Breahut broke his foot Oct. 8 against Washington State. He rushed for only 25 yards against Washington State and 13 against Arizona, acknowledging that he was more concerned with avoiding injury that gaining yards while running in those games.
"Coach Neuheisel told me not to worry about that to run as hard as I can, to run over people, so that was kind of the game plan going in," Prince said. "I was really excited. I like running the ball. I was playing a little more cautious last week in terms of running the football, but when they gave me the green light, it kind of fired me up."
It also fired up the team, which played its best game of the season by far. And, perhaps more important, Prince got through it unscathed.
"Just some bumps and bruises, but that’s to be expected when you run the ball as much as I did," Prince said. "But nothing major. No shoulder injuries and everything feels good."
No shoulder injuries is a good thing because you never know when the coaches will put the weight of winning the game back there.