PASADENA, Calif. — During halftime of UCLA’s regular season finale against Stanford at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, the UCLA pep squad brought out their shiny, improved, and now blue Victory Bell that was reclaimed in last week’s win over USC.
There was an 8-clap, because everything is approved with an 8-clap around these parts.
But this 8-clap was special. It was capped off by a “Beat SC!” UCLA was trailing 21-10 at that point.
When the Bruins stormed out of the tunnel for the second half, their thoughts and the pep squads thoughts must have been in sync. The problem with that is, USC wasn’t on the field, Stanford was and in the third quarter, the bottom fell out. Stanford scored 14 points in a 13 second span to take a 35-10 lead and all but assuring a rematch in Palo Alto six days later in the Pac-12 championship game.
Winning by losing was a topic that was heavily disputed by UCLA head coach Jim Mora during the week, much like having a hangover after the win over USC last week.
As much as he hoped it wouldn’t happen, his team was hungover from too much time ringing the Victory Bell as The Farm took over the Rose Bowl and doubled up the No. 17 Bruins (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12 South) for a 35-17 win, clinching the Pac-12 North title for No. 8 Stanford (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12 North).
“We had a little hangover,” said UCLA tight end Joe Fauria. “Guys got all hyped up for a rivalry game and it wasn’t the same this week.”
The Cardinal takeover didn’t include any bells and whistles, just jumbo packages with two and three tight ends or upwards of eight offensive linemen for Stepfan Taylor to run behind and shred the UCLA defense to the tune of 142 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
It was a throwback of sorts for the Bruins, looking as undisciplined and downright sloppy as they have in the past. They took a step back.
Wide receivers had a case of the dropsies. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley looked like a freshman, having statistically the worst performance of his career, completing a career low 52 percent of his passes. He was under duress, being sacked by Stanford seven times which contributed to overall poor execution.
“You hate to have that happen in a big game like this,” Mora said.
The Bruins treated Saturday’s matchup against Stanford like the opposite of a big game. It leaves doubt to Mora’s disputes and begs the question, was the effort not there on Saturday so that the Bruins could avoid having to travel to Eugene on Friday for the Pac-12 championship game?
“That’s just complete nonsense,” said UCLA defensive back Aaron Hester. “We don’t never go into a football game wanting to lose because we don’t want to play anybody else. We lost the game. Oh well.
“We’re not scared of anybody. I don’t know why people think that we just supposed to lay down or bow down. We lost a football game just like any other football team. Just like Oregon loss. Just like Stanford loss. …we didn’t lay down.”
Added Mora: “We are trying to create a culture about winning. The only way to try to win is you go for it every single time that you step on the field and if you don’t do that you cheat everybody.”
Whether avoiding the Ducks or not, the energy and excitement the Bruins carried into the Rose Bowl last week against USC just wasn’t there against the Cardinal.
The focus lacked tremendously. The most penalized team in the nation did nothing to dispute that notion by committing 12 penalties for 135 yards. Whether the Bruins were holding back or not for next week’s showdown in Palo Alto, their fans were certainly cheated by the team’s performance. With about seven minutes remaining in the game, the aisles were jam packed with Bruins fans trying to exit the Rose Bowl.
These Bruins now have six days to sharpen their focus and make sure they’re ready to face a very physical Stanford team with a whole lot more on the line than what they faced on Saturday.
If there is a positive to take away from this loss, it allows Mora to crack the whip between now and Friday to get his team to refocus. It also leaves him with answers to what to correct six days from now.
“We just got to tackle better, and cover better, and rush the passer better, and gap control better and do all those things,” Mora said.
He may also want to leave the Victory Bell in Westwood.