As the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl unfolded in San Diego, it became painfully evident that the defensive unit on Baylor University’s football team was reading what people, including me, were writing about them.
In previewing this game between UCLA’s Bruins and the Big 12 Conference’s Baylor Bears, I had stated that while Baylor could score like crazy, being that those green and gold-clad Bears from Waco, TX ranked next to last in the NCAA in total defense, they couldn’t stop anybody and probably wouldn’t be able to stop the Bruin offense.
Apparently, that Baylor defense read that and got very angry, because from the opening snap they blitzed and beat up UCLA’s offense – and particularly their offensive line – all night and completely frustrated Jim Mora’s team on that side of the ball, while jumping on the Bruin defense like they have done to everyone else they have played this year in winning the Holiday Bowl, 49-26, before a Qualcomm Stadium crowd of 55,507 that, considering the large contingent of UCLA fans that made the two-hour drive south, was largely gone by the middle of the fourth quarter.
Mora said during the post-game interviews that the loss showed that “…we have a long ways to go to be what we want to be, which is national champions.”
Although the top-ranked Baylor offense was well known as the high-flying kind that loves to pass and pass and pass, the Bears did their damage on the ground as they rushed for 306 yards. Lache Seastrunk had 138 of those yards on 16 carries while Glasco Martin caused his havoc in the end zone, reaching it three times.
“Their running backs found holes and…that spiraled down,” UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks said after the contest.
For the game, Baylor torched the Bruins for 494 yards.
It’s a pity for Baylor that their quarterback, Nick Florence, played his last game on Thursday night as the senior threw only 13 passes, but completed 11 of them for 188 yards and two touchdown passes, one of them for 55 yards to Tevin Reese that opened up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, which pretty much decided the game and very much helped to win Most Valuable Player honors for Florence in the process.
Oh yeah, he also rushed for a score in the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on his standout night and his Baylor career, showing everybody that he was more than an adequate replacement for the Bears’ Heisman Trophy winner from the previous season, Robert Griffin III.
It is not an excuse – at all – but UCLA’s offensive line was a patchwork as not only did center Jake Brendel and Torian White have to leave the game with high ankle sprains in the second quarter, Simon Goines, who will soon have surgery on his right knee, was pressed into service and Brett Downey, who had not played practically all season, was likewise used.
As there was little depth on that Bruin o-line to begin with, Baylor’s front seven took complete advantage of UCLA’s misfortune up front and brought the pressure, blitzing all game long. The Bruin running attack was completely shut down as Johnathan Franklin, in rushing for just 34 yards on 13 carries, ended his time as a Bruin on a rather bad note.
He does leave with school rushing records for the season (1,734 yards) and for his career (4,403 yards).
It also seemed as if UCLA’s heart and intensity wasn’t where it should have been, while Baylor played with the proverbial chip on their shoulder and like they had much to prove, especially their defense; that, more than anything else, was the key to the Bears having such a good night.
And speaking of Baylor’s defense, another case of them bringing it was the fact that after getting only 13 sacks all year, they sacked Brett Hundley six times in the game, five of those sacks coming in the first half as those Bear defenders did exactly what I had said that the Bruins needed to do, causing much havoc and not giving Hundley any time to throw.
They also played a significant part in UCLA going a mere one-for 17 on 3rd down conversions and failing on fourth down plays five times.
It was to Hundley’s credit, and bodes very well for 2013 and beyond, that he ended up throwing for 329 yards on 26-of-50 passing with three touchdowns, including a 34-yard TD on the last play of the game to make the final score look a little better; it also showed his and the rest of the Bruins’ character in that they kept fighting to the very end when they could have easily taken a knee and headed back to Westwood with tails between their legs.
You know you’ve had a really good year when your very first play in your first game of the season (Hundley ran for a 76-yard score against Rice) and your very last play in your last game of the season results in touchdowns.
You also know that your career as a college quarterback had a successful beginning when you break your school’s season passing yardage and completion records in your first year as a starter, as Hundley did in finishing with 3,740 yards in the air and 318 completions.
As far as penalties, even though the Bruins only committed six for a total of 59 yards, which was an improvement as far as the number of yellow flags thrown at them, it was still the same old crap as their infractions contributed to several Baylor scores, including a pass interference call against Aaron Hester in the fourth quarter that directly led to Florence’s touchdown run.
I must be honest – like the previous two games against Stanford, this game, and the end of this season, was much like so many other recent ends of UCLA football seasons: a disappointment.
Finishing with three straight losses to end with a 9-5 overall record is a convincing enough argument, I think.
Many pundits and members of Bruin Nation are frustrated over this recent downturn, saying that the Bruins reached their peak in their win over USC and, with the bar raised due to that epic triumph, failed to follow up and continue that success and progress, suffering a letdown and going downhill after beating the Trojans; “Jumping The Shark”, so to speak.
Others say that with UCLA reaching nine wins – three more than in 2011 – and winning the Pac-12 South in a legitimate fashion rather than sneaking in the back door because of NCAA sanctions against ‘SC, not to mention the change in the team culture and generally becoming a tougher bunch of players, that the 2012 season was a success despite the poor ending.
Many in Bruin Nation will say that progress was definitely made, and that things are looking up for this Bruin football program.
I will state my position on this issue on January 2nd, when I write and post my official review of the 2012 UCLA football season on this site, so be sure to check out what I have to say then.