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After they beat USC last week to win the Pac-12 South Division and a berth to the conference championship, UCLA was riding higher than it had in years.
Maybe too high.
A week after they triumphed over the Trojans, the Bruins (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) came crashing down to earth in a 35-17 loss to the Stanford Cardinal (10-2, 8-1) in their last game of the regular season.
“We didn’t have the energy or the execution that we did last week,” redshirt senior receiver Joseph Fauria said. “We had a little hangover from ‘SC, but we’ll wake up tomorrow and get ready to come back next week.”
UCLA started out strong, scoring on its first drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley to Fauria to tie the game at 7-7.
Both teams traded defensive stops until Stanford finally broke through in the second quarter, scoring touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to put the Cardinal up 21-7.
UCLA was able to kick in a field goal late in the first half to pull within 11 points, but that was all the momentum the Bruins could muster.
Midway through the third quarter, Stanford’s running back Stepfan Taylor scored the second of his two touchdowns on the night to make it 28-10.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman receiver Kenny Walker fumbled the ball, which was picked up by Stanford and returned for a touchdown, putting Stanford up 35-10.
“That hurt a lot, but we’ve got to do a better job of overcoming adversity,” Hundley said. “We didn’t do that today as well as we had in the past and that came back to hurt us.”
UCLA tried to work its way back into the game, but the Bruins ended up being their own worst enemy, accumulating 12 penalties for 135 yards on the night ““ the most penalty yardage they have surrendered this season, even as the most penalized team in the nation.
“At some point, the amount of penalties we’ve had this year was going to bite us in the butt and that’s exactly what happened today,” Fauria said. “You just can’t have that against such a fundamentally and technically sound team.”
Despite the loss, UCLA will still compete in the Pac-12 Championship game this coming Friday in Palo Alto, once again facing Stanford.
Saturday’s win clinched the Pac-12 North title for the Cardinal.
This game will give the Bruins the opportunity not only to earn redemption, but also to earn a berth to their first Rose Bowl since 1999.
“It means a lot to us to try and get back here for one more game,” said redshirt senior safety Andrew Abbott. “We basically had two weeks to prepare for them so we’re looking forward to coming out next week and showing we can beat them.”
Clarification: UCLA accumulated the most penalty yardage they have surrendered this season, even as the most penalized team in the nation.