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.