STANFORD, Calif. — The scoreboard can be deceiving.
While No. 9 UCLA looked as though they were close to No. 13 Stanford nearly the entire game Saturday afternoon, that wasn’t necessarily the case.
The Bruins were never able to get in a rhythm offensively. Injuries, especially to the offensive line, penalties and mistakes mounted and Stanford bettered the Bruins for the sixth-straight time, winning 24-10 at Stanford Stadium.
“That was just a really difficult loss for our football team,” said head coach Jim Mora. “We struggled hard. It was difficult to get going the way we are capable of getting things going offensively and that’s not like us.”
On paper, it was the worst performance of the season.
UCLA (5-1, 2-1) ran just 66 plays and netted 266 yards – both season-low numbers. Quarterback Brett Hundley especially struggled, completing 24-of-39 passes for only 192 yards with two interceptions. Hundley was also sacked four times and although the offensive line suffered severely from injuries, the redshirt sophomore showed a reluctance to get rid of the football under pressure.
“We just couldn’t the car out of the starting gate,” said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “We had that sucker gassed up and couldn’t get it going.”
Off the field, it was a heartbreaking loss for other reasons.
“This one is really going to haunt me,” said linebacker Jordan Zumwalt. “If there was a game I wanted to win more than any of them, this was it for me.”
Zumwalt is one of several seniors that have never been a part of team that has beat Stanford (6-1, 4-1). UCLA has just six losses to its credit since last season – half have come against Stanford. Bowl game scenarios were in play and this loss effectively ends any chance of a BCS Championship and UCLA will now have to win the Pac-12 Championship to reach a BCS game of any sort.
“You want to win these games so bad,” Hundley said. “So bad.”
The offense was disrupted by Stanford’s pounding, bruising style of play. Mistakes were made early and the Bruins were shut out in the first half.
In the opening minutes of the second half, the offense took an even bigger blow when two offensive linemen went down in the first three plays, forcing a near-complete overhaul of the line on the fly.
The Bruins settled for a field goal after changing out the line, tying the game at 3-3. But the Cardinal then scored on their next drive when Kodi Whitfield leaped into the end zone and caught the ball with one hand as he was wrapped up by Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams.
It was quite possibly one of the top catches of the year and it effectively deflated UCLA.
“We started to hang around then we just made mistakes,” said receiver Shaquelle Evans. “That’s how Stanford plays – they’re going to pound you and pound you until you make a mistake.”
The Bruins will now have to regroup to face No. 2 Oregon at Autzen Stadium in Eugene next Saturday. It’s a game that could potentially define their season or show that the program is still in the building stages.
“Every once in a while you take a punch in the mouth and you get knocked down,” Mazzone said. “These kids will get back up and they’ll be better because of it.”