What a Drag — UCLA takes an offramp from the Freeway to the Playoffs, as the Offense sputters early, the Defense breaks down late, and the Special Teams idle throughout (except for Ka’imi Fairbairn’s career-long 53-yard Field Goal), leading to Arizona State pulling away 29-10 after three quarters, then surviving a furious comeback, and pulling away again, 38-23
The Bruins’ dreams are gone. Hopes of a National Championship are dust in the wind, after a stunning HOME defeat at the hands of 13-point underdog 2-2 Arizona State. For the fifth time in a row, the visiting team has won in this series, as this match-up against the Sun Devils proved to be the trap game that some people feared. Just like last year, when the undefeated Bruins choked at Home against Utah, this time it was ASU to ruin a promising season.
It’s not that a team can’t overcome one loss and get back into National Title contention; It’s more about being exposed as a pretender. Two more Defensive contributors were missing on Saturday evening, as Marcus Rios and Jayon Brown joined Myles Jack, Fabian Moreau, and Eddie Vanderdoes on the inactive list, forcing Randall Goforth to move from Safety to Cornerback, and forcing the Bruins to lose depth, and rely on more inexperienced players. With all these problems, the Bruin Defense should have been the weakest link of the team, but in the early stages of the game, that was NOT the case.
In the first quarter, both defenses dominated play. There were 7 punts in the first 12 minutes, and no one scored until UCLA QB Josh Rosen grounded the ball in the end zone, giving the Devils 2 points. The Bruin Offense was manhandled at the line of scrimmage. Paul Perkins couldn’t find any running room, and Rosen was pressured on most pass plays. The Bruins mustered only 7 yards rushing in the first half.
After a last-second 53-yard Field Goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn — his career best — it was 15-10 ASU at the Half, but the Bruins’ inability to convert third downs forced the UCLA Defense to be on the field too long, and lacking depth, they tired. ASU drove for two TD’s in the 3rd quarter, making it 29-10. To the Bruins’ credit, they did not quit. Personally, I thought the game was over, but I was wrong. The Defense stepped up, led by fantastic (all-game) performances by Isaako Savaiinaea and Kenny Clark, and then Rosen found some rhythm, Perkins had one great run and a TD run, and then Rosen hit Thomas Duarte for that combo’s second TD of the game, making it 29-23. Then the Bruin D held again, and UCLA got the ball back. But the ASU punter put the kick out at the Bruin 1-yard line, and the Bruins couldn’t get a first down. They ended up taking a Safety on purpose on 4th down, to try to get better field possession after the next stop. So the Bruins were down by 8, instead of risking an ASU possession with a short field, leading to a Field Goal which would have made it a two-possession game with 5 minutes to go.
The problem with this strategy is that the Bruins didn’t get the next stop. ASU marched all the way to another TD, making the final score 38-23.
So what went wrong? There is plenty of blame to go around. The Bruin Defense couldn’t stop the ASU QB when he RAN (just like last week); On Special Teams, Bruin punts were short, and ASU got a huge runback on a free kick (after the first Safety); Josh Rosen couldn’t handle the ASU Defense, and he threw a lot of bad passes, and one bad Interception; At least 5 different Receivers dropped catchable passes; and also, the Offensive Line was not doing their job. ASU out-schemed Mora and Staff, finding ways to get rushers clear paths into the Bruin backfield all night. The UCLA Offense was simply horrible for the first 20 minutes of the game, in terms of playcalling AND execution. The Bruins looked flat, like they thought they could win this game by just phoning it in. Like I said, they get credit for NOT QUITTING (when I did), but it was still DEJA VU — another unforgivable home loss in Week 5, with a National Title hope falling by the wayside.
Here are the rest of my SIXTY best photos from Saturday (in keeping with the “Gone in 60 Minutes” theme). But first, a special shoutout to five former Cheer Squad members who were super-nice to me while tailgating: Kayley, Kirsten, Amanda, Paula, and Sarah. I consider myself extremely lucky to have them as friends. And I hope I’m not being presumptuous by using the term “friends.” I really do care about them, and would do anything to loyally support them as their lives progress.