- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

No football coach hopes a game comes down to a last-second field goal. UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, though, probably would rest a little easier if the outcome of Tuesday’s EagleBank Bowl against Temple rests with his kicker.

That’s largely because Bruins junior Kai Forbath is as close to perfect as possible, accounting for 100 of 256 points for UCLA (6-6) en route to winning the Lou Groza Award.

“I don’t know where we’d be without him,” Neuheisel said.

Forbath’s run began two seasons ago, but he emerged as one of the country’s most reliable options late last season. He has made 35 straight field goals inside of 50 yards and is 26-for-29 this season, a remarkable figure for a college kicker.

But those misses still gnaw at him.

“I don’t remember the makes; I just remember the misses,” Forbath said. “I’ll work hard after that to make sure I don’t do the same mistake.”

Rarely does that happen. Forbath made four field goals in an early-season defeat of Tennessee, and his kick early in the fourth quarter pushed UCLA past Washington last month.

“He reminds me a lot of some of the guys I’ve had in the past — [Matt] Stover, in particular,” said special teams coordinator Frank Gansz Jr., who spent time in the NFL with Oakland, Kansas City and Baltimore. “He was automatic. You didn’t even think about it. He’s been really a solid kicker. You don’t even think about it when he goes out there. You say, ‘Go make the kick.’ ”

He usually does — often enough this season to secure the Groza, the nation’s top honor for college kickers.

“That’s the goal every year,” Forbath said. “I’m just happy it happened this year. Next season, I’ll go back and try to win it again.”

Owls’ line shines

There was no shortage of problems for Temple coach Al Golden to fix when he took over at the Philadelphia school before the 2006 season. None was more challenging than the offensive line.

With the Owls (9-3) averaging 192.3 rushing yards behind a massive line, what once was a huge question is now a strength.

“It was tough because that’s the one thing we couldn’t get fixed right away,” Golden said. “The guys we were playing with were so young, and they really needed a redshirt year and a couple years to build. They weren’t afforded that opportunity. They had to do that on the run.”

The emergence of freshman tailback Bernard Pierce is a reflection of not just his talent but the improvement of the blockers in front of him. All five of Temple’s starters weigh at least 300 pounds, an ideal size for a power rushing attack.

Better yet, four of Tuesday’s projected starters have at least one more year of eligibility. That includes juniors Colin Madison and Darius Morris, a pair of first-team All-MAC selections who make up the right side of the line.

“This was the first year they started to look like what we wanted them to look,” Golden said. “It’s a very bright group, a very close-knit group, and it’s starting to become a more physical group, which is what you need on the [offensive line].”

Welcome schedule shift

The rebuilding process at Temple meant Golden, a regular postseason visitor while playing at Penn State and serving as an assistant at Boston College, Penn State and Virginia, was part of a bowl team for the first time since 2005.

It has meant a much different December schedule, including spending Christmas in a hotel rather than at home. But that’s a small price to pay to lead the Owls to their first postseason trip in 30 years.

“It felt like being a coach of a winning program again,” Golden said. “That’s what it felt like for a long time. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, man, this feels weird.’ I said, ‘No, this feels great. This is the way it should be.’ The coaches make some sacrifices, but it’s nice.

“It’s special when you’re winning, and you want to take away great memories from this experience. I think that’s what our kids are doing.”

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