Timing is everything.
It’s something that, for the past decade, has not been on the side of the UCLA football program. Whether it was bad luck, a result of incompetent leadership, or as some UCLA fans like to think, the curse from the 1998 Miami game (that game was re-scheduled due to a hurricane, and UCLA ended up blowing a 17-point lead, which destroyed its hopes of playing in the national championship), the program has not been able to catch any breaks. Whenever something positive would happen, take for example, the 13-9 win over USC in 2006, the bruins would follow it up with a complete stinker.
Something feels different about UCLA football this year. It almost wasn’t that way, though. After UCLA sprinted to an impressive 4-1 start, they dropped a game to lowly Cal, losing at Strawberry Canyon 43-17. It brought back the familiar feeling of UCLA teasing you into thinking they’ve turned the corner and then losing a game they had no business dropping.
They responded by gutting out a tough 21-14 win over the scrappy Utes the following week. The next two games would prove to be monumental.
UCLA was holding a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter against ASU on the road, when the defense seemed to crumble and the offense got stagnant, only to find themselves trailing 43-42 with a minute and a half remaining. You got the sense this was the same old UCLA team from the past, and that they were going to blow a golden opportunity to win a huge conference game on the road.
Led by a redshirt freshman quarterback in Brett Hundley, the Bruins calmly marched down the field to get in field-goal range, and their beleaguered freshman kicker knocked through a 33-yard field goal to secure the 45-43 win.
If there was ever a game to point to in terms of turning a corner and winning a game that previous UCLA teams simply would not have, ASU was it.
This was a game they would not have won under Rick Neuheisel or Karl Dorrell. Going against all of the perceived notions that have been placed on the football program, such as being soft and undisciplined, UCLA found a way to come back and win a game in a tough environment. To think they did this with three freshmen starting on the O-line and a freshman at quarterback only makes it more impressive.
It can only mean brighter days are on the horizon.
The 66-10 walloping of Arizona the following week was just as impressive on many different accounts. First of all, instead of suffering a let down from the huge win at ASU, the team came out on fire with a sense of urgency and a will to win. It cannot be overstated how un-UCLA like this performance was given the circumstances. Not only was it a week after the big ASU win, it was an enormous game in the Pac-12 south race. It was a game that in the past, UCLA would have found a way to lose by coming out flat or disinterested. That is no longer the case under the direction of head coach Jim Mora.
While its probably still premature to say UCLA has turned the corner on the past decade, it is fair to say they’re headed in that direction. While a win over WSU is expected Saturday, how the Bruins perform against USC and Stanford will determine whether or not they have ultimately turned that corner.
A win over USC would do wonders for the confidence of the players and fans.
Coming into the year, the USC game was looked at as a probable blowout in favor of the Trojans, and now it’s a game many would consider up for grabs. That is truly a testament to the coaches and, specifically, Mora himself. They’ve not only got the players believing, they’ve got them executing and delivering on their potential. While outsiders may see that as a rather undecorated fact, UCLA fans see it as a revelation. The best part about it is that the timing could not be better.