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Originally published November 18, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified November 18, 2010 at 10:08 PM

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Former coach Rick Neuheisel's visit a rough reunion

Coach Rick Neuheisel took a lot of criticism after UCLA's loss to Washington.

Seattle Times college football reporter

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All things considered, Rick Neuheisel has had better days. Even the worst ones he spent in a Kent courtroom five years ago, in his lawsuit against Washington and the NCAA, might have been better than what happened Thursday night at Husky Stadium.

Neuheisel brought his UCLA football team north, hopeful of bolstering the Bruins' chance for a bowl game. Instead he, and they, spent an icy three hours getting just about nothing done offensively and losing 24-7 to the Huskies.

The Bruins had 163 yards of total offense and completed six passes, which works out to about one every half-hour.

UCLA's offensive coordinator is Norm Chow, who has directed Brigham Young's irrepressible passing attacks and tutored Philip Rivers at North Carolina State. Now he's overseeing a passing game that yielded 55 yards against the Huskies.

Chow in this spot is like Liza Minnelli playing the Drift On Inn.

When it was done, UCLA slunk to its dressing quarters, a 4-6 football team now unlikely to get to the postseason, and Neuheisel was faced with a postgame barbecuing mostly engineered by T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, who has been critical of the progress of the Bruins.

Suddenly, Simers was Lou Peterson, attorney for Washington back in that wrongful-termination suit, and Neuheisel was on the witness stand.

Asked about progress in the program, Neuheisel said, "We've got to keep battling, try to get guys healthy and see if we can keep them healthy."

On holding himself accountable for what is now a 15-20 record in his third year with the Bruins: "You're (Simers) going to hold me accountable. I hold myself accountable."

Neuheisel was asked if not getting to a bowl game would represent a step backward.

"It's a disappointment," Neuheisel said. "You can use any words you want. I'm going to say it (would be a) disappointment."

And on whether Neuheisel oversold his team, he answered, "I always believe optimism is the best way. I'm not going to change myself just to protect myself."

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It was a night when the Bruins seemed to get progressively worse. They drove, famously, 92 yards for a first-quarter touchdown on Johnathan Franklin's 31-yard run. And then the rest of the game, the remaining 50 minutes, they gained exactly 71 yards.

On the Washington series after the touchdown, Jake Locker made a bad throw over the middle and UCLA safety Tony Dye drew a bead at about the 25. And flat dropped it.

"It would have been a big play," said Neuheisel. "Got to make that play. Tony knows it."

He does. "I was looking at the end zone," said Dye, who might have made it there. "I was ready to score. I didn't focus on the ball enough. I cost my team seven points."

On it went, Washington cinching down against the run and UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut seemingly throwing a fastball on every pass. When he was reasonably accurate, tight end Cory Harkey dropped it.

Early in the third quarter, Brehaut was leveled on a hit that drew a flag on Washington safety Nate Williams, and KO'ed from the game.

"I couldn't remember the drive we'd just had," confessed Brehaut later. "Right now, I feel fine.

"I was looking for my helmet and they said, 'You're not going back in.' "

The Bruins thus turned to Darius Bell and Clayton Tunney, who combined to go 1 of 11 passing, atop Brehaut's 5 for 14. No matter who was fielding snaps in the Bruins' Pistol offense, the passing game was stunningly inept.

And with a few minutes left, there was a mass of UW players on the sideline, doing the mass team "jump," something Pete Carroll used to do at USC and Steve Sarkisian occasionally dusts off here.

"They were excited," Neuheisel said dryly, "and that's their way of showing it."

Soon, he and the Bruins were gone. He won that confrontation in the courtroom back in 2005, and clearly, he's got another fight on his hands.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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