UCLA Football: The Berkeley Curse Continues
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Well, that was ugly.
Heading into the contest last Saturday in Berkeley, the UCLA Bruins were looking to break a losing streak in Strawberry Canyon that spanned fourteen years. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Golden Bears lengthened the streak with a resounding 43-17 victory.
Cal quarterback Zach Maynard torched the Bruins with a career high four touchdown throws. Maynard finished an impressive 25-30 for 295 yards, and added a touchdown on the ground to go along with his four throws for score.
On the other hand, UCLA freshman quarterback Brett Hundley looked like a freshman. He threw four interceptions, and just looked out of sync the entire night. There was a big absence of chemistry between the receivers and the quarterback, and as a result Hundley forced throws that simply weren't available.
When looking at the scoreline itself, there's no question that Cal put on a dominating performance. This game was truly a '"make or break" game for Berkeley's beleaguered coach Jeff Tedford. As many predicted, the team rose to the occasion and put on a show in front of a raucous and energetic home crowd.
Cal does deserve credit—and rightfully so. However, UCLA didn't help themselves much. Aside from Hundley's four interceptions, the Bruins fumbled twice. Steven Manfro was unable to secure a punt, which resulted in a turnover. On a backwards lateral pass to freshman Devin Fuller, Hundley threw it a bit behind the intended receiver also resulting in a turnover.
Additionally, the sheer amount of penalties absolutely killed the Bruins. For the game, UCLA committed 12 penalties for 99 yards. Currently, they lead the nation in both number of penalties (55) and in penalty yardage (519).
How many games will UCLA win this season?
This is a problem that has to be shored up immediately. Much of it stems from either over-aggressiveness or a lack of concentration, but a great majority also comes from the overall youth and inexperience on the roster.
Many of the penalties came at inopportune times. Holding penalties effectively killed promising drives, and the Bruins were drawn offsides on multiple occasions—giving the Golden Bears automatic first downs.
Again, the penalty problem reared its ugly head in regards to senior cornerback Aaron Hester. (I mentioned in a previous article that Hester is good for at least one personal foul penalty a game—whether it comes via pass interference or in some other way.) Against Cal, he crippled the defense with a foolish face mask call. At that point in the contest, UCLA had momentum and had Cal in a third-and-long situation deep in Golden Bears' territory.
These sort of flubs can't be tolerated—especially from a senior that inexplicably makes boneheaded plays every game.
Going out on the road against a talented team with their respective backs against the wall is no easy task. UCLA is a young team that relies upon personnel at key positions with little or no experience. One unit with considerable youth is the offensive line. The unit went up against a talented, veteran Cal defensive line led by Deandre Coleman, Mustafa Jalil and Kendrick Payne. The trio, along with others, absolutely imposed their will upon the young UCLA line.
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The line gave Brett Hundley minimal time to throw, causing him to make rash decisions that led to turnovers. Redshirt freshman tackle Torian White was eventually benched due to a ghastly performance. Xavier Su'a-Filo moved over from guard to man the vacant tackle spot, and Ben Wysocki—another freshman—took over at guard. Unsurprisingly, he was abused from the get-go.
One big point to take away from this game is the fact that UCLA will have growing pains. Jim Mora and his staff set the bar relatively high with the exciting win over a highly-overrated Nebraska team. Since that game, the team has fallen back down to earth, and it should have been expected.
After the Nebraska game, some media pundits (namely Kirk Herbstreit) predicted that UCLA could win as many as 10 games this season and perhaps contend for a Pac-12 South Division championship. While it's not impossible, it's unlikely with UCLA's lack of experience and depth.
This weekend, UCLA faces a stiff test in the form of Utah and all-everything defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. A positive is that the Bruins will be returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time in three weeks. School has now begun in Westwood, and the student section should be improved from years' past.
Realistically, things have to be kept in perspective when speaking about UCLA. Mora is only at the beginning of his rebuilding job with this program. Give him the next few seasons in order to build depth and increase the level of conditioning for the squad. Improvements are seemingly on the horizon, but it will take some time for UCLA to get to the point of contending in the conference with consistency.
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