Whenever the Bruins seemed to do something right Saturday at Memorial Stadium, they’d match it with something wrong. That was until, finally, when Cal made one fatal mistake late in the game that allowed UCLA cornerback Marcus Rios to intercept Bears quarterback Jared Goff, which esentially sealed the game.
And thus, the Cal Curse was officially broken as UCLA won 36-34 for its first win in Berkeley since 1998. It was also the first win for the Bruins in their last three tries, and keeps hope alive for the Pac-12 Championship.
"We overcame three turnovers on the road to win a game in a place where UCLA hasn’t won since 1998," head coach Jim Mora said. "To come into an environment where UCLA has struggled, overcome three turnovers and the back-and-forth to get a win, that’s something you build on."
But once again, the Bruins’ wounds were self-inflicted. There’s little room for error through the rest of the season, but UCLA still made plenty Saturday. Cal turned those three UCLA turnovers into touchdowns. And there were still more dropped passes and fumbles that didn’t result in turnovers.
The Bruins out-gained the Golden Bears by 201 yards and finally managed to establish the running game. But some of those runs went for naught, and all of that momentum swung to the other side after each turnover in their own territory.
"I thought we had things going pretty well on offense and then we would turn it over," Mora said. "It’s kind of uncharacteristic for us to turn it over the way we have. We’ve been a pretty decent team taking care of the football and all three of the turnovers game them the ball in plus-territory and they resulted in touchdowns."
Hundley was responsible for two of them and another fumble that was recovered by a teammate. The quarterback was finally able to remove the bulky elbow brace and used a compression sleeve for the first time since injuring his elbow against Texas earlier this season. But the sleeve was slick and the football easily jarred loose.
"I took it off," he said. "But that comes from not carrying the ball right. If anything is effecting it, I’ll just try and figure it out and take it off."
But there were things that UCLA did do right in this game, and it showed both growth and resolve. The last two weeks have been dismal for the Bruins, but they didn’t let two losses and three turnovers doom them completely when it was all said and done Saturday.
They ran the ball effectively. They rushed a very good quarterback in Jared Goff, sacking him three times. While there were a few instances of blown coverage, they kept his dynamic plays to a minimum, limiting him to 303 yards — well below his 363.2 average. The Golden Bears’ offensive line couldn’t handle two newly-added Takk McKinley and Owamagbe Odighizuwa — two big, strong defensive linemen with tremendous speed on the pass rush.
"When we (rushed) three, which is typically a time when you don’t affect the quarterback and bring much pressure, I thought we were able to a lot of times," defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "Overall, I felt like we were consistent getting to the quarterback."
So, all is not lost for the Bruins this season. A two-point win wasn’t exactly the dominant, blowout win that it seemed that they needed to get on track, but this was more effective. You might say that Rios saved the season when he hauled in an interception with only 51 seconds left on the clock, but you could also say that the Bruins have yet to give up on a season that has fallen so short of grand expectations.
"We just had to come out with a win," Hundley said. "The harsh reality is we’re 5-2. But we still have stuff in front of us that we can get to. If we win out, we can still get to where we want to be."