The honeymoon is over.
After an exciting 3-0 start to the season that gave the UCLA football team its first top-25 ranking since 2008, the Bruins hit their first bump in the road under the tutelage of coach Jim Mora.
“I don’t know if you can say it’s a wake-up call, but now we’re in Pac-12 and that’s a good football team that came down here and we played,” said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone following a 27-20 loss to Oregon State. “(Our players) were thinking, “˜Oh wow, this is fun,’ but life isn’t always like that; there’s always going to be adversity.”
Adversity was abundant on a warm Saturday afternoon in the Rose Bowl, particularly for No. 19 UCLA’s running game. Despite touting the nation’s leading rusher ““ redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin ““ going into the game, the Bruins (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) were only able gain 72 yards on the ground.
Franklin had just 45 yards on the ground while averaging less than four yards per carry. In his first three games, Franklin averaged more than eight yards a carry.
“They have a very good run defense,” Mora said of Oregon State (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12). “They are big and physical up front. “¦ They respond really quickly and are stout at the point (of attack) and they won the battle at the line of scrimmage.”
The lack of a running game put the ball in the hands of redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who had a solid performance, racking up more than 400 total yards and two touchdowns, one passing and one throwing.
“Every week he gets a little bit better,” Mazzone said. “Every week he becomes more of a quarterback in this system.”
Unfortunately for the Bruins, Hundley didn’t receive much help from his receivers outside of redshirt junior Shaquelle Evans, who had a career day going for 148 yards receiving and a touchdown.
The rest of the receiving corps left plenty to be desired, as there were several dropped balls on the night.
“So many different things go into a drop,” Mora said. “Ball placement isn’t exact, a guy runs a route differently so the timing is off. Lots of that happened today.”
While there were plenty of missed opportunities, none was more devastating than UCLA’s failure to capitalize on back-to-back turnovers from Oregon State in the third quarter.
Down 17-10, junior linebacker Anthony Barr sacked Oregon State redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion and forced a fumble that was recovered in Beavers’ territory, only to see the offense stall and turn the ball over on downs.
On the first play of Oregon State’s next possession, redshirt junior safety Stan McKay intercepted Mannion on the Beavers’ 48-yard line. The offense, once again, was unable to convert the turnover to points after a costly holding penalty followed by consecutive drops.
“We felt like the (opportunities) were there,” Evans said. “But everything doesn’t work out as planned all the time. We didn’t make all the plays we needed to make today.”
In the end, the mishaps and miscues led to UCLA’s first loss of the season, but the Bruins have no intention of letting this loss define their season.
“We have to respond to adversity,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks. “This is an adverse situation and we have got to have good practice habits, good study habits and we have to get better.
“We are much better than this and we’re going to practice hard to prove it.”