SAN DIEGO — UCLA’s first season under Jim Mora wasn’t supposed to end like this.
After a 9-2 start, a 38-28 win over USC and a redeemed sense of pride, the Bruins (9-5, 6-3 Pac-12) looked ready to take the next step onto the national stage.
Then came a Texas-sized reality check in the form of a 49-26 loss at the hands of the Baylor Bears (8-5, 4-5 Big 12) in the Holiday Bowl.
“We’ve got a long ways to go to be the team that we want to be,” coach Jim Mora said. “Tonight showed us how far we have to go but we’re determined to get there.”
Baylor, armed with the best total offense in the nation, quickly jumped to a 21-0 lead behind senior quarterback Nick Florence, who threw for two touchdowns in the first half.
The Bears’ offense maintained pace throughout the rest of the game, racking up more than 300 yards on the ground while finishing with just under 500 total yards.
“They played a good game,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks, who led the team with 14 tackles and two forced fumbles. “Their running backs were patient and when you have patient running backs, you can find those holes and it opened up the passing game and things started spiraling downhill.”
While the impressive offensive output from Baylor was somewhat anticipated, the Bears’ defensive performance might have been the best of their season.
Baylor came into the game with the second-worst scoring defense in the nation, but the Bears were able to pressure redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley all night and contain redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin to only 34 rushing yards.
A large part of Baylor’s success came following injuries to UCLA’s already paper-thin offensive line. Both tackle Torian White and center Jake Brendel had to leave the game in the first half because of high ankle sprains, which caused shuffling along the offensive line.
“It was difficult,” said redshirt senior Jeff Baca, who played right tackle, right guard and center during the game. “Once you’re down two starting offensive linemen, the defense will start bringing some pressure, so we had a little bit of an uphill battle.”
The disappointment of the loss was palpable following the game, but a sense of optimism for the future of the program took precedence.
“We’re really looking forward to all of the great things we can do next year,” said junior defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
“The foundation we’ve built year is just going to help so much more for next year. It was definitely disappointing to lose this game but this was a great experience and a great season.”