UCLA Football: The Legacy Of “Busted Coverage”


This post shouldn’t exist. It’s written at 4:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, 12 days after UCLA lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Twelve days after UCLA fans came within a yard, hell, an inch away from experiencing their first Rose Bowl game.

I don’t need to remind you that UCLA played damn close to a perfect game, while Stanford did play a perfect game. I don’t need to remind you what UCLA could have done, or should have done, to come out of the dogfight smellin’ like roses.

But the purpose of this is to remind you the potential for legacy, for sheer immortality in the worst sense possible, of the “busted coverage” play.

There were but two plays that entirely took the Bruins out of the contest, deflating the hearts of millions of UCLA fans. One was a Hundley interception that was returned to the UCLA one-yard line. The other was one of the most bizarre, one of the most maddening defensive plays you’ll see in your lifetime.

The “busted coverage” play, coined by Jim Mora, who described it as such in his postgame presser. Here’s the video, if you can bear to watch it:


On two occasions, the UCLA defense came within inches of disrupting that play, which would have forced along Stanford field goal down 24-17 five minutes into the fourth quarter. Stanford would not earn a touchdown the rest of the game, settling for a field goal a few minutes after. Had UCLA stopped the play there, they might’ve been able to earn a field goal the other way to extend the lead, or perhaps Stanford doesn’t score more than what it did after this drive, leaving the score at 24-23 in UCLA’s favor.

Instead, on third-and-15, after two masterful defensive stops, one of which saw UCLA sack elusive Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, the Bruins’ secondary blew a shot at breaking up the play, although Sheldon Price might’ve stopped the nightmare if he had only jumped a second earlier.

This is how close UCLA came to getting to the Rose Bowl:

In that screenshot, it looks like Sheldon Price caught that ball. In fact, if you weren’t given the context, you’d say there was no way Stanford receiver Drew Terrell caught that ball, that Price broke up the play at worst and picked it off at best.

That didn’t happen, though. Perhaps if you gave Price one more inch on that ball, one of those things would’ve happened.

Sure, this seems insignificant now, two weeks after the game ended. Sure, we’ll look back at this and laugh.

Eventually, we’ll forget this happened. But when will “eventually” arrive?

If UCLA doesn’t get to the Rose Bowl under head coach Jim Mora, this is likely the lasting image we’ll have of his tenure. In fact, until UCLA gets to the Rose Bowl, the “busted coverage” play will live in infamy.

For comparison’s sake, Cal fans have not forgotten the infamous Kevin Riley scramble; Cal, then the No. 2 country in the nation, played Oregon State in Memorial Stadium and were heavily favored to beat Mike Riley’s Beavers. Before the game, No. 1 LSU was upset by Kentucky, and Cal was a win vs. Oregon State away from taking their spot atop the national polls.

In a tightly-contested game, Cal had driven down the field for one last hurrah down three points. With 14 seconds left, Riley had one shot at the endzone, but no timeouts to stop the clock if the Bears fell short of the first down or endzone.

In what became a career-defining, and in some ways tenure-defining for Jeff Tedford, Riley scrambled and, well:

Tedford never led Cal to a Rose Bowl and the Bears are now on their third head coach since the year 2000. It still hurts ’em, too. Exhibit A: I posted this on Twitter …

And got this response from a long-time Cal Bear fan:

UCLA missed an even closer shot at a BCS bowl against Stanford, where the Bruins were literally one game away.

Until the Bruins get to smell roses, the “busted coverage” play will be seared into the brains of every UCLA football fan alive (and throw in some of the dead ones, too), not unlike the Kevin Riley scramble.

Here’s to hoping the memory fades sooner than we’d all like.