For nearly three quarters in a place that everyone says is the toughest for opponents to play west of the Rocky Mountains due to the loud, hostile crowd that frequents there – Autzen Stadium – UCLA’s football team hung toe-to-toe with the second best team in the nation (according to the BCS), performing just as well as the multi-uniformed Oregon Ducks.
Unfortunately, there are four quarters in a football game.
And it was in those last 15 minutes-plus where the team that’s sponsored and financially supported oh-so-well by Nike founder and CEO (and Oregon alum) Phil Knight overwhelmed Jim Mora’s Bruins with their 28 unanswered points on offense.
While making like Mike Tyson in his prime fighting ultimate uber-nerd Steve Urkel of Family Matters TV fame on defense.
Which ultimately resulted in a 42-14 loss for the guys from Westwood in front of the usual sellout crowd – 59,206 to be precise – in Eugene that was actually pretty quiet for much of the first half thanks to UCLA’s play before the Ducks (8-0, 5-0 in the Pac-12 Conference) woke up, realized who they were, and asserted themselves.
Mora was visibly frustrated during the post-game press conference, dismissing the thought that the Bruins should be patted on the back for staying with Oregon for so long and playing them so close, saying:
“We didn’t come (to Eugene) to play them close. We didn’t come up here to give it the old college try. We came up here to win the game and didn’t get it done.”
“We are not after being close,” Mora stated. “Losers can be close…It’s time for UCLA to turn the page and do something different and win these games.”
“We’ve got to get to the point as a football team where we play efficiently, where we don’t make critical mistakes at critical times,” the Bruin head coach continued.
When I heard that, one thought went through my head, a thought that should be going through every head in Bruin Nation:
UCLA picked the right man to be its football coach.
With an attitude like that, good times – VERY good times – are ahead for this Bruin program.
But before those visions of top-five rankings, Rose Bowls, and national championships dance too prominently in the heads of UCLA students, fans and alumni everywhere, let’s talk about this game…
Which at least for the first two and three-fourths quarters, was anybody’s as the now-20th ranked Bruins (5-2, 2-2 in the Pac-12) became the first team this season to go into halftime against the Ducks not behind on the scoreboard, as it was tied at 14 entering the break.
It was definitely a great start for UCLA as they used a fumble on Oregon’s first possession to take a 7-0 lead on a four-yard run by Brett Hundley, his 4th of the year and 12th rushing touchdown of his Bruin career.
Then the Ducks used a 66-yard fake punt to eventually tie the score.
The two teams traded touchdowns again in the second quarter, Byron Marshall having a 40-yard scoring run – he had 133 on the day in 19 carries, his fifth straight time over the century mark, giving him player-of-the-game honors along with quarterback Marcus Mariota (more on him in a bit) – while Thomas Duarte caught an 11-yard pass from Hundley in the end zone with less than two minutes left.
The wheels started to come off for the Bruins late in the third quarter on Marshall’s 11-yard touchdown, his second of three trips to the end zone.
Those wheels came off entirely in the fourth as Oregon clearly made adjustments on both sides of the ball, scoring three times while forcing UCLA into mostly three-and-outs.
Mariota, a signal caller who as sure as the sky is blue will be invited to New York for the awarding of the Heisman Trophy in December – he is one of the favorites to win it – is notorious for his running ability, which the Bruins did a good job containing (18 yards on seven carries).
But he showed why he may well be holding that iconic statue in about a month as he proceeded to shred UCLA with his arm; 21-out-of-28 passing for 230 yards and a touchdown, which doesn’t seem overwhelming at first glance but was an illustration of how outstanding Mariota is.
Meanwhile, Hundley’s passing surpassed what he did against Stanford the previous week as the worst of his career. His 64 yards in the air was eight yards less than his 72 on the ground, and for the second consecutive week he threw two interceptions, one of them by Boseko Lokombo while inside the Ducks’ ten-yard line.
This being his second sub-par performance in a row as he was also sacked three times, I know that Bruin Nation is thinking out loud, “What’s wrong with him?”
At least the Bruins did well in the running game despite having three true freshmen on the offensive line, gaining 219 yards on the ground with Paul Perkins leading the way with 93.
The problem was, Oregon racked up 325 rushing yards on their way to a total of 555, UCLA’s defense tiring at the end.
And I was a bit upset that UCLA didn’t use their bruising back, Malcolm Jones, more; he rushed for 58 yards on 12 carries, but the coaches should have given Jones the ball 20 to 25 times as his ability to get yards after contact due to his strength and bulk is better than all the other Bruin running backs.
On short yardage situations, particularly on third down, giving Jones the ball should be automatic.
The Bruins will get the chance to rectify that against a team that they should beat comfortably, Colorado, this week at the Rose Bowl as even though they are 2-2 in the Pac-12 South, their chances of winning the division and going to the conference championship game are more than good.
If they win out.
Colorado Buffaloes (3-4, 0-4 in the Pac-12)
PLACE: Rose Bowl
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 2, 4:30 p.m. PT
TV: Fox Sports 1
LAST MEETING: UCLA won, 42-14
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 6-2
A complete preview of this game will appear on this site later this week.