SAN FRANCISCO –
Of all the fitting endings for a UCLA football season that bordered on absolute chaos, perhaps the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was the most appropriate.
After all, the Bruins were starving for some offense on Saturday afternoon at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
UCLA managed just 219 yards – gaining just 18 on the ground – as a bloodthirsty Illinois defense made the bowl live up to its name with a 20-14 win over the Bruins.
And if anything sums up the UCLA season, it’s this: After leading for nearly the whole game, the Bruins become the first team in college football history to finish 6-8.
“This one stings,” UCLA junior offensive lineman Jeff Baca said. “We led most of the game, had a great defensive battle. Our defense played lights out. You saw today how good our defense could be, and if we don’t put them in such bad positions, it’s a different ball game. I’m not really thinking about next year yet.
“This one stings.”
The Illinois defense did not so much sting UCLA as punch the Bruins in the gut, though.
With 2011 Hendricks Award-winning defensive end Whitney Mercilus leading the charge, the Illini pushed the Bruins offensive linemen back, back, way back, almost into McCovey Cove, finishing with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
UCLA was on its heels for much of the game, resorting to desperate heaves to spark an offense that simply could not get its footing. The Bruins tried to run early but found little success, ultimately finishing with 170 rushing yards under their season average.
“They won the line of scrimmage today, and when the opposing team wins the line of scrimmage, there really aren’t very many holes,” said junior running back Johnathan Franklin, who finished with just 29 yards on eight carries. “I can’t just point fingers at the offensive line; we have to hit the line faster. But we can’t just be one-dimensional. When we throw the ball, we have to be able to complete it.”