The touchdown that UCLA CB Sheldon Price misplayed
The UCLA Bruins fell to the Stanford Cardinal in the Pac-12 Championship Game by a score of 27-24, effectively knocking the Bruins out of Rose Bowl contention.
It's no easy task playing an opponent for the second time in six days. In fact, it's the first time in over sixty years that this scenario has happened.
In the first matchup, UCLA was completely outplayed. This past Friday, the Bruins showed up with a renewed sense of pride and spirit, and in all actuality outplayed the Cardinal for the majority of the game. For the contest, UCLA had 461 total yards of offense, while Stanford had 325.
With the loss to Stanford, UCLA will play in the Holiday Bowl against Baylor in San Diego on December 27th.
Let's take a look at the winners and losers from the title game.
RB Johnathan Franklin
In the first matchup between the two teams, Stanford did a great job stopping the run. Johnathan Franklin managed a meager 65 yards on 21 carries.
This past weekend, Franklin ratcheted up his production to the tune of 194 yards on 21 carries. For those mathematicians at home, that would be a 129 yard difference in less than a week.
Putting those numbers up is no small feat when considering the stingy Cardinal run defense ranks third nationally in rush yards allowed per game.
It was a tremendous game for the senior, who is UCLA's all-time leading rusher. For the season, Franklin has rushed for 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns, with an impressive 6.3 yards per carry average.
Unsurprisingly, he was recently named as a First Team All-America selection by CBSSports.
The TD that changed the complexion of the game
I can't say that cornerback Sheldon Price is a loser from the standpoint of a poor game collectively.
However, he participated in the play that nixed all momentum that the Bruins had—ultimately causing the defeat.
UCLA's defense played Stanford very tough throughout the night (which was a far cry from a week ago). Down a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan stood in the pocket amidst an oncoming defender, and delivered a 26-yard touchdown strike in the back of the endzone to wide receiver Drew Terrell.
Why was Price the loser on this play?
For one thing, Hogan converted on a 3rd-and-15 play. The relinquishment of the first down—and ultimately a touchdown—is demoralizing in and of itself.
There was a busted coverage in the Bruins' secondary, and Price felt like he had safety help over the top. He was positioned to play a shorter route in essence. When Hogan threw the pass, Price was in no man's land (with no safety help), and scrambled backwards in order to break up the throw. He was a half-second late, and it cost the Bruins points.
At that point in the contest, the Bruins were up by a touchdown, and had the Cardinal on their proverbial heels. After that fortuitous score, UCLA was unable to snatch back any momentum, and thus lost the game in the end.
The Bruins bottled Taylor up pretty well
It's no secret that Stanford likes to run, run, and run the football more until it's opponent is essentially worn into submission. The Cardinal controls the clock by doing so, and in the process rests its vaunted defense.
A week earlier, Stanford enjoyed much success against the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards, and the team collectively ran for 221 yards. Fast-forward six days, and Taylor only gained 78 yards on 24 carries. For the game, Stanford ran for 170 yards.
UCLA did a great job at keeping gap integrity. As opposed to the week before, the front seven was not stretched out, but rather stayed at home and didn't over-pursue. Taylor had minimal lanes to exploit, and the Bruins tackled far better than they did a week ago.
After being thoroughly dominated up front in the previous week, the Bruins came back and pretty much returned the favor to the Cardinal in the losing effort.
Poor UCLA fans.
The last decade of UCLA Football could be described as the following: disappointing, underachieving, dull, boring, uninspired, mediocre.
Regardless of any adjectives one should choose to employ, this team under Mora turned it around. It's astounding to understand that the Bruins were within one win of a Rose Bowl appearance. Last year, the team finished with a bizarre 6-8 record.
This season was a tremendous achievement and step forward for the program. A win against Stanford would have meant the first Rose Bowl appearance since 1998. It has to sting considering that for all intents and purposes, UCLA outplayed Stanford in this title game.
Mora getting the troops ready for battle
No one can categorize the UCLA Football program as "soft" anymore.
Against one of the most physical teams in the country, the Bruins "out-physicaled" Stanford. The Bruins controlled both lines of scrimmage, and dominated a very tough Stanford front seven with a stellar run game.
Defensively, the Bruins displayed great amounts of energy and intensity. Anthony Barr has developed into one of the biggest threats off the edge in the country, and the defensive line is considered to be one of the best in the conference.
The "culture change" is a term bandied about every time a new head coach is appointed to a said program. An ultimate goal is to eradicate toxic tendencies from the previous regime. Under Mora, those detrimental habits have surely been banished from the program.
This program has underwent a complete transformation from less than a year ago. Not only is the success on the field from a record standpoint indicative of that, but the players actually like competing in the games. The same can't be said for previous seasons.
There is an infectious energy marinating throughout the program right now. Although the Bruins lost in the conference title game, the performance against Stanford truly does bode well for the future of UCLA Football.