After getting pummeled by Stanford, these Bruins fought back, took a 14-7 lead right out of the gates and did offensively what no other team has done to Stanford outside of Arizona. Johnathan Franklin torched the Stanford Cardinal like no other running back had done all season, too, and the UCLA defense got stop after stop when the Stanford defense caught up to UCLA.
This game hurts, though. For fans, for players, for coaches. Everyone that associates themselves with UCLA in some manner is in serious pain.
Because UCLA had a legitimate shot at winning this game. Led by freshmen, this UCLA squad nearly took down a veteran, well-coached Stanford team that has looked thoroughly impressive all season.
The Bruins came a few yards short, whichever way you twist it. Perhaps it was the few yards needed to sack Kevin Hogan when he threw a desperation bomb to the corner of the endzone. Perhaps those few yards could have been used to turn Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 52-yard attempt on UCLA’s final possession slightly to the right. Maybe those few yards could have applied towards going for it on fourth-and-5 instead of taking a shot at said kick.
And, in most other games, UCLA wins this. In nail-biters, games which UCLA plays well for 60 goddamn minutes? Games in which the Bruins head into the fourth quarter with a slim lead and little momentum? They win those contests most of the time.
But Stanford has, too. And though losing out on a Rose Bowl bid stings, both squads haven’t been there in well over a decade.
And this game was a classic, don’t you dare kid yourself. While we’re sure you, dear reader, are a UCLA fan, remember that everyone who was impartial to the outcome was watching and got exactly what they asked for: A back-and-forth tilt between two squads that have been the joke of the conference for the entire 2000s. Their resurgence has signified that the Pac-12 has had its best season in years, making UCLA’s rise to the top that much more impressive.
It’s hard for your humble narrator — a die-hard, a true blue-blood, just like all of you — to put this into words, to describe a game that came down to the wire, that saw UCLA come thisclose to a Rose Bowl berth.
Of course, one of the major issues with this game was the defense, which, to their credit, got stops at crucial times and consistently made life hell for Stepfan Taylor and Kevin Hogan.
Still, these Bruins couldn’t seem to hang with Hogan when he went for this incredible read-options and fake hand-offs. Countless times, Hogan, Stanford’s freshman QB, made the UCLA defense react to the wrong guy, heading where the defenders weren’t and earning necessary yardage for a first down, touchdown, whatever.
That won’t be discussed as much as Sheldon Price’s baffling coverage on Stanford’s last touchdown, though, which saw Hogan throw the ball — in desperation — to the corner of the endzone to tie the contest at 24, after he had come within a yard of getting sacked as a result of just a three-man rush. Sheldon Price, somehow, was beat on a third-and-forever, and from there, the momentum shifted dramatically after UCLA had held it firmly in its grasp with a 24-17 lead.
What’ll also be discussed: Jim Mora’s decision to kick a 52-yard field goal on UCLA’s last possession instead of going for it on fourth down and five, having already converted on fourth down that same drive. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but given Kaimi Fairbairn’s kick was off by a yard, and considering Jeff Locke’s hold was flighty, and considering this was on a wet field? The decision shouldn’t be lamented.
As was mentioned earlier, these little mishaps are accentuated quite significantly in a close game like this. The penalties (UCLA was called for seven of them) were also a problem but again, were only magnified in the context of a close game (UCLA actually cut their penalties to nearly half the season average).
The game was not played perfectly, and UCLA still nearly knocked off what should be a national title contender in Stanford. Things don’t swing the right way and, sometimes, decision-making is faultier than you’d like.
But again hindsight is always 20/20.
We’ll have more on this game, this season, and the Bruins’ bowl situation soon.
For now, forget the loss, remember this season, and thank you for reading Go Joe Bruin.