Holiday Bowl: Baylor 49, UCLA 26

Well, that was certainly an ugly game.

What went wrong: Just about everything, but the most glaring was the porous offensive line. Jake Brendel and Torian White both left the game in the first half with high ankle sprains, which forced Brett Downey into his first action in months. Simon Goines also played sparingly, still bugged by a bad right knee. He’ll undergo surgery in the next week or so.

“I think Baylor recognized that we were down, not a man, but two men, and they pinned their ears back and came at us,” head coach Jim Mora said. “It was working. When it’s working and going effectively, you stay with it. We’ve got to build depth at that position and that’s one of our goals.”

Brett Hundley set a UCLA bowl appearance record with 50 pass attempts, which really underscores how one-dimensional the Bruins’ offense looked at Qualcomm Stadium. His previous high was 47 in the 43-17 loss to Cal. In nine wins this season, Hundley averaged 30 attempts. At least he avoided interceptions in the Holiday Bowl.

“For him to keep his poise and not throw a pick, not fumble the ball, that’s impressive,” said Baylor coach Art Briles.

Baylor’s receivers also burned the secondary so often I’m surprised Aaron Hester didn’t look singed after the game. Tevin McDonald’s suspension hurt too; Dalton Hilliard’s move back to safety exposed how much he struggles in pass coverage.

What went right: Special teams. Shaq Evans and Steve Manfro both had big returns, although Manfro nearly coughed up another fumble after a 51-yard kick return that UCLA couldn’t turn into points. Jeff Locke landed three punts inside the 20, and also extended a drive on a fake punt.

Stat of the game: The obvious one is Baylor’s six sacks, but here’s one that’s probably just as depressing for UCLA fans — eight, the rushing yards of second-leading runner Jeff Locke. The punter got a first down on a fake punt, which was a really fun play to watch. But that no Bruin except Johnathan Franklin rushed for more also illustrated just how few options UCLA has at tailback next year.

Damien Thigpen might not regain full speed after his ACL tear, while Jordon James and Steve Manfro have proven little as tailbacks. True freshman Craig Lee or redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, Brett Hundley’s high school teammate, will likely need to make immediate impact.

Looking ahead: Progress next season will depend heavily on how well the Bruins’ touted recruiting class performs. The offensive line was a primary focus of the team’s recruiting efforts — one keyed by position coach Adrian Klemm — and the result was a haul that could contribute immediately.

Of note are four-star recruits Christian Morris and Caleb Benenoch, both of whom stand at least 6-foot-5 and could start at tackle and guard, respectively.

“We’ve got some ballers coming in,” said sophomore Xavier Su’a Filo, the Bruins’ best offensive lineman and their only All-Pac-12 first team selection on offense. Su’a-Filo, already eligible to declare for the NFL Draft after serving a two-year Mormon mission, has said he will definitely stay another year.

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  • James Katt

    We definitely need more offensive linemen. They are the heart of the team. No heart means a perpetually losing team. I hope Klemm can recruit even more since they have recently dropped like flies.

  • James Katt

    The worse thing that went wrong was not the offensive line, it was the attitude. I was there. UCLA’s players came out sluggish, sleepy, without energy excitement, without aggression other than in spurts. When UCLA plays with aggression, someone in the opposing team is injured and knocked out of the game – just like USC’s quarterback. Football is a collision sport and we did not hit them hard enough. If we had seriously injured a Baylor player, I would have been happy that we gave it our all. But no… our players had to smoke pot and lose. What a disappointment.

    • grave soul

      I agree with you that a major problem was how slow and sluggish the Bruins played. There was no sense of urgency for the most part; no fiery desire to win that game. I don’t know about “seriously injur(ing)” a Baylor player, but I definitely think that big hits and aggressiveness were missing for the Bruins. All said, the O line collapsed time after time after time and Hundley was running for his life on almost every play. It was taxing to watch the O line collapse so often.

      • The defensive line did little also.

        • grave soul

          Agreed. I think James Katt is correct in stating that both sides of our team just slept through this game.

    • I had hoped that a lack of consistent effort was a thing of the past.

      We’ll have to wait and see.

  • Gary Greenacre

    That was very disappointing. I was anticipating a shoot-out…maybe last team with the ball wins. Maybe the poor attitude that has been stated was the big factor. The injuries on the offensive line and Tevin’s suspension certainly played a big role in that mess of a game.

    Still I had to watch to the end. Other than what this game showed, this team has worked hard and improved so much. I felt like they deserve to have their fans stick it out with them in the bad games…they have to play to the end of those, too. I’m pretty sure the coaches have the handle on what to work out and continue the upward path that was demonstrated this season.