By Jon Gold
CORVALLIS, OR. –
Russian chess grandmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower must never have faced a 16-point deficit on the road in the Pac-10 against a team clad in orange-and-black on Halloween, of all days.
Tartakower must never have watched an offense continually sputter until finally finding itself 50 minutes into a 60-minute football game.
Tartakower must never have had to rely on a redshirt freshman quarterback and a pieced-together offensive line and sophomore wide receivers.
So, when he uttered that etched-in-time quote – “Moral victories do not count” – he must not have been staring down the tail end of a five-game losing streak.
But down 19-3 and with an offense that had only mustered 164 yards through three quarters, UCLA rallied back to tie Saturday’s matchup with Oregon State, before ultimately falling to the Beavers 26-19, after Beaver wideout James Rodgers scored on a reverse with 44 seconds left.
If there was ever a time for a moral victory, this was it.
“I don’t even know what the hell that is,” UCLA senior linebacker Reggie Carter said. “That sh*t don’t mean nothing. Ain’t no such things as moral victories. There’s victories and there’s losses. We just took a loss.”
The Bruins were in no mood to pat themselves on the back after falling to 0-5 in Pac-10 Conference play for the first time since 1994.
Perhaps for good reason: UCLA allowed more than 450 yards for the third straight game, watching the Rodgers brothers, Jacquizz and James, dance around tackles like Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.”
There was no rain in Corvallis, but the Rodgers’ sure were slippery.
Jacquizz Rodgers, the younger brother who won Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors as a freshman last season, had 112 yards rushing and 92 yards receiving.
James Rodgers, the older brother who leads the conference in receiving, had 10 catches for 106 yards and 28 yards rushing.
It was his touchdown with under a minute left – after UCLA tied the game on a Kevin Prince-to-Taylor Embree 7-yard score and ensuing Prince-to-Johnathan Franklin two-point conversion – that spelled disaster for the Bruins.
Rodgers took the handoff from quarterback Sean Canfield and followed a cavalry of blockers, running almost untouched into the endzone.
“They just kept going up front and the receivers did great blocking which allowed us to keep driving,” James Rodgers said. “We just stuck with it and we knew had to come down here and make a good drive. We practice on this two-minute offense all the time and it came into play today.”
The Bruins were only in position to suffer a soul-crushing loss after the late-game heroics by Prince, who finally showed glimpses of confidence early in the fourth quarter, when the UCLA offense scored for the first time in more than nine quarters.
Prince appeared harried, tentative and almost scared for three quarters, as the limp Bruins managed only 164 total yards. Prince had just 125 yards going into the fourth quarter, willing to settle for short gains rather than test the defense.
Finally he threw caution to the wind and the ball into it, connecting on 9-of-13 passes for 198 yards in the quarter, with touchdown passes to Embree and Nelson Rosario, on a 58-yard score that pulled UCLA within eight points.
“I wouldn’t say we were scared, but I think some people are just hoping for someone to make a play instead of us wanting to make a play,” Rosario said. “Then we realize it’s time that we have to, and that’s when stuff starts clicking. It’s all a mindset. We have to go out there and tell ourselves that we have to make this play, and it will come.”
But it needs to come sooner, if the Bruins are to break out of their current slide, their first five-game skid since 2003.
It needs to come sooner, if UCLA is to get back into the bowl hunt, as the team needs to finish 3-1 to even be eligible.
It needs to come sooner, or else all the team can keep hoping for is positive progress instead of tangible wins.
“To be honest with you, there’s no such thing as a moral victory to me,” sophomore safety Tony Dye said. “The only stat that ever matters is the wins and the losses. We came out with another ‘L’ today. It’s heartbreaking to get so close.”