I was afraid that this might happen.
Now please understand – contrary to what people may be thinking right about now, I do not think that UCLA let down in their game against Stanford at the Rose Bowl this past Saturday, nor did I think that the Bruins were hung over after their epic win over USC the previous week.
No, though the Bruins did turn the ball over twice and committed oodles of penalties – again – this was clearly a case of Stanford’s Cardinal being simply better.
Particularly when it came to that Ivy League-type school’s offensive line and defensive front seven, which showed that they were among the best in the country if not the best in their 35-17 win before 68,228 disappointed Rose Bowl patrons.
Indeed, as the game went on the 8th-ranked Cardinal showed their muscle in not letting UCLA gain yards after completions and pressuring Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley for much of the game; the inexperience of UCLA’s offensive line, as three freshmen start on that unit, clearly showed against Stanford’s veteran defenders as Hundley was sacked seven times in the contest.
The two teams played evenly in the first quarter as Hundley’s 13-yard scoring throw to Joseph Fauria matched Stanford QB Kevin Hogan’s four-yard touchdown pass to Drew Terrell.
It was during the second quarter, however, that things started to get ugly for Jim Mora’s defense.
Led by Stanford’s o-line, coach David Shaw’s team sustained drives of 75 and 88 yards as first Anthony Wilkerson scored from ten yards out to give the Cardinal the lead, then after a Bruin punt gave Stanford a short field on their 45-yard line Stepfan Taylor, who finished with a game-high 142 yards on 20 carries, showed Bruin Nation why he’s the big name on the Farm by taking a handoff and out running everyone 49 yards for the first of his two touchdowns runs to up the Cardinal advantage to 21-7.
As it turned out, that two-touchdown cushion was ultimately too much for the Bruins, who were wearing their “L.A. Night” navy blue uniforms, to overcome as even though a 47-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn – his longest of the season – ended the first half on a good note, Stanford was the one that really flexed their muscles after halftime as in the third quarter, after Hundley was intercepted and the Cardinal enjoyed another huge run on the ground, Taylor cashed it in with his second rushing touchdown to make it a three-score advantage.
Then the knockout blow occurred when on the ensuing kickoff, Kenneth Walker’s fumble was recovered by Stanford, taken right into the end zone for the score, and before UCLA knew what hit them the scoreboard read 35-10, and not in favor of the good guys.
The way that the Cardinal were playing at that point, although Johnathan Franklin, who was otherwise shut down as he rushed for just 65 yards on 21 carries, answered with an 11-yard touchdown later in the quarter, the game was pretty much over.
The Bruins should be given credit for their effort and heart and for not giving up, as they tried to convert on fourth down twice late in the fourth quarter only to have Jerry Johnson and Darius Bell, respectively, fail to catch Hundley passes.
Their 12 penalties for 135 yards, many of them either aiding Stanford drives or stopping UCLA drives, certainly didn’t help things any as it has gotten to the point where, at least as far as this season, the Bruins are not going to improve in that area.
As I said to a fellow fan in the fourth quarter, “If they haven’t cut down on the penalties by now, they’re not going to,” as UCLA is virtually assured of finishing the season as the nation’s most penalized team.
Credit must be given where credit is due, however, as I’m going to be blunt in this next statement:
This Stanford Cardinal squad is not only the best team in the Pacific 12 Conference, it is arguably playing the best football in the country right now.
This team from Palo Alto is one that is built on a superior offensive line and a group of defensive linemen and linebackers that have no equal, a team that’s built the way a football team should be built.
They, and the game, reminded me of a line that Daniel Radcliffe, as Harry Potter, said in the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to a fellow student regarding a friend who was killed:
“Cedric (Diggory) did know this stuff. He was really good…it was just, Voldemort was better.”
Substitute UCLA for Cedric and Stanford for Voldemort, and you’ve described what went down between the Bruins and the Cardinal at the Rose Bowl perfectly.
And the biggest factor in this Stanford surge, which people seem to have neglected to notice, is this:
In their last two games they have beaten two of the Pac-12’s best teams, 5th-ranked Oregon as well as the 16th-ranked Bruins, ON THE ROAD.
In front of hostile crowds and environments.
And after they had lost their all-universe quarterback, a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up by the name of Andrew Luck.
If that’s not the mark of a truly elite football program, one where they can lose their All-American stars and still win consistently, then there’s no such thing as an elite football program.
As for the Bruins, though this loss was disappointing, I would be lying if I said that I was surprised at what unfolded; I knew that UCLA would be in for a very tough go when I saw the Oregon Ducks, a team whose spread offense was quicker and scored more points than the Bruins’ spread over a longer period of time, go down to Stanford’s smash-mouth style on TV the previous week.
Stanford was a team that I, for one, did not want to play in the upcoming Pac-12 Championship Game, but guess what?
It is this same Cardinal team that UCLA will face for the right to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl on November 30 – this coming Friday – only this time on Stanford’s home field in Palo Alto as at 10-2 (with the Bruins at 9-3), they now have the better overall record.
If this recent regular season finale was any indication, unless things change very quickly here is what I think of UCLA’s chances up at the Farm:
And for these simple reasons…
The Cardinal are bigger, stronger, and quicker than the Bruins overall, and they showed it this past Saturday in giving up only 73 rushing yards while gashing them for 221 yards of their own on the ground; if UCLA couldn’t beat them at home, I honestly can’t give them much of a chance as the visiting team, which they will be this Friday.
That’s not to say that this loss has ruined UCLA’s season, as they should feel good for exceeding all expectations in winning nine games and the Pac-12 South title when everyone projected them to win six or seven games.
It’s just that as far as becoming a truly elite team, although they have made many strides the Bruins are not there.
But they will be – it will just take a little more time.
And who knows? UCLA could go up to Stanford and give some major payback if things go perfectly in their preparation and execution.
A preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game and what the Bruins must do to somehow overcome Stanford’s advantages and pull off the upset will appear on this site on Wednesday.