Opportunity knocks only so many times.
It doesn’t knock loudly, and it tends to fade away quickly.
UCLA heard the knocks on Saturday, heard them like the Bruins have all season. It was there, ever so quietly.
And then, like the season, it was gone.
UCLA could not convert key plays, could not finish key drives, and ultimately could not finish the season on a winning note, falling to USC 28-14 on Saturday at the Rose Bowl in front of 71,105.
“Throughout the season, we’ve seen we’re capable of making plays, but shoot, we’ve got to finish,” junior wide receiver Taylor Embree said. “That’s what it comes down to. Making plays at the end. Our defense could not have done a better job, but we have to capitalize. That’s the biggest thing as a team; there have been games where we just didn’t capitalize. We just didn’t do it.”
The missed opportunities started early, and they hurt the Bruins badly. Boy did they hurt.
With the score tied at seven midway through the second quarter, a Johnathan Franklin fumble was gobbled up and returned 68 yards for a touchdown by USC linebacker Malcolm Smith. The Bruins were driving, poised to take the lead after getting the ball back following a botched 4th-down pass attempt by Mitch Mustain at the UCLA 17- yard line.
It was the second straight year that Smith doomed the Bruins, as his 62-yard interception touchdown last season gave the Trojans a 7-0 lead.
“Turnovers,” Neuheisel said, regretfully. “We had far too many turnovers. We turned the ball over too much and squandered drives too many times because of them.”
It wasn’t just turnovers on Saturday night.
Twice the UCLA offense found itself driving with the possibility for points, only to be killed by crucial penalties, including back-to-back penalties with 1st-and-10 at the USC 24-yard line, a holding call on junior right tackle Mike Harris and a false start on junior tight end Cory Harkey.
“We got close and didn’t make the play, and we have to look in the mirror and try
and figure out what we need to do to make those plays,” Neuheisel said. “We as a coaching staff and players have to perform at a higher level.”
The pain of regret, for both the game and the season, was readily apparent after the game.
UCLA junior safety Rahim Moore stood in front of his locker in the Rose Bowl locker room, bible spread open to Psalms 18, shaking his head.
“As a team, we have to finish better, Moore said. “You can talk about the game, the season – we have to finish better. The worst thing in sports is the coulda, woulda, shoulda. We had so many opportunities to get a ‘W’ and we didn’t.”