UCLA’s 56-35 loss at Stanford last night exposed even more of the Bruins’ flaws. The game story is here, and below are some more thoughts on what happened at Stanford Stadium.
1. Was this UCLA’s worst loss under Jim Mora? The game ended less than 24 hours ago, so there’s certainly some temporal bias to account for here. Still, I don’t remember seeing an uglier outing by these Bruins.
The 49-26 loss to Baylor in the 2012 Holiday Bowl would be at the top of the conversation, but that — like losses to then-unranked Oregon State and Cal the same year — can be chalked up in part to first-season growing pains. Back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon in 2013 were thought of as part of UCLA’s developmental process.
But Thursday night? That felt more damning, another brick in the wall keeping the Bruins on the side of “good” rather than “great” — the side of nine-win seasons rather than playoff berths. UCLA’s eight-game losing streak to the Cardinal is now its longest to any opponent, surpassing the Bruins’ seven straight losses to USC from
1997 1999-2005. Losing 31-10 at the Rose Bowl last year, when Stanford had a down season, stands as a major missed opportunity to get over the hump.
2. Can the defense be repaired? Errors by the offense (Josh Rosen’s pick six) and special teams (Christian McCaffrey’s 96-yard return) dug UCLA into an early hole, but what truly did the Bruins in was their porous defense.
The Bruins gave up 6.31 yards per carry to the Cardinal, the most they’ve allowed in a game since Nebraska and Houston both averaged more than 7.2 in early 2012. In the 42 games between those outings and Thursday, only six opponents averaged more than 5.0.
Coaches have talked about the need to rearrange the puzzle in the wake of season-ending injuries to defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, cornerback Fabian Moreau, and linebacker Myles Jack. On numerous occasions, they’ve brought up on sophomore Kenny Young’s need to adjust from “Mike” to “Will” linebacker. But that type of transition is best suited for the offseason; is it feasible in mid-October?
3. How many more injuries can the team sustain? UCLA stayed relatively healthy through its first three seasons under Jim Mora. Quarterback Brett Hundley never missed a start, despite a playing style that exposed him to big hits. In 2013, the offensive line lost both Simon Goines and Conor McDermott in the same game, but the latter wasn’t a starter then. Defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa sat out a whole season following hip surgeries, but that gave UCLA time to practice without him.
In comparison, this season seems cursed, with injuries forcing UCLA to redraw its preseason plans. In addition to having already lost Vanderdoes, Jack and Moreau from the defense, the Bruins took a few more blows on Thursday. McDermott missed the second half with a knee injury. He walked unassisted after the game, but limped noticeably as he made his way up the stairs.
Offensive guard Alex Redmond left the game with a hand injury, while linebacker Deon Hollins suffered a knee injury. The severity of the injuries is still unclear.
UPDATE: Receiver Tyler Scott is out for the season after tearing his ACL. Running back Nate Starks suffered a head injury.