PASADENA, Calif. -- It's probably pretty safe to say that Karl Dorrell has never been confused for Jimmy Johnson at any point in his time as UCLA's head coach. But after leading the Bruins to the biggest win in his coaching career, a game that his players had openly pegged as the program's turn-the-corner moment, Dorrell couldn't help himself. He marched into his postgame news conference, glanced around the room and shouted into the microphone, "How 'bout them Bruins?!"
You could forgive Dorrell for being a little wound up. After all, Saturday's 41-24 win over perennial powerhouse Oklahoma not only showed that the 3-0 Bruins may indeed be legit, but it was even more sweet for the coach to rub it in the faces of his many critics in the Southern California media market. For Dorrell and his players, this was a special time, considering they have been reminded at every turn that they aren't USC. But these aren't the the Bruins of old, either.
UCLA showed it in so many ways Saturday. The Bruins bottled up the great Adrian Peterson despite the UCLA D-line giving away some 30 pounds per man. The Oklahoma star carried 23 times, yet gained just 58 yards. Maybe most telling was that his longest carry went for 11 yards. They swarmed Peterson, hammered freshman QB Rhett Bomar and forced six Sooner fumbles.
The Bruins also battled back after Oklahoma seized momentum after pulling within 20-17 late in the third quarter. The Bruins were facing third-and-13 from their own 14 when Drew Olson calmly stood in the pocket, waited for wideout Andrew Baumgartner to come free across the middle, and fired a strike, good for a 22-yard gain. The Bruins never seemed to break stride from that moment on.
"We found a way to finish, and that was huge," UCLA running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said.
Granted, this isn't the Oklahoma of recent years, but overcoming even the specter of the mighty Sooners is significant for this Bruins team. Just how big was this win? "It means everything," said Maurice Drew, the Bruins' standout tailback. "We beat a top-caliber team, and it wasn't no squeaker."
No, it certainly wasn't. Earlier this week, Spencer Havner, UCLA's outstanding linebacker, talked about how he stayed awake until 2 a.m. pondering how this afternoon would play out. He talked about how he could feel that this was the Bruins' time. But after the game he admitted that he never imagined he would recover a fumble and return it for a touchdown like he did in the third quarter.
In truth, he says, he was only focused on making the routine plays. Maybe that shows a blue-collar side of a program that has often been perceived as anything but.
"This is something we needed to do to prove that we are a good team," Dorrell said. "We've still got a lot to prove. This was just one step."
But it was a very, very big one. Olson wasn't flawless, but he was pretty close. He hit on 28-of-38 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns, and seven different Bruin receivers had at least two catches.
This performance showed that the Bruins not only have a star tailback and tight end (Marcedes Lewis) but also a quarterback capable of leading them into the top 20, and maybe beyond.
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine.