The stage could have been set better only if Stanford’s marching band was on the field.
UCLA’s offense got the ball with 2:57 left on the clock, down 17-10 to then-No. 13 Stanford in a nationally televised game and brandishing a ranking it hadn’t seen at the conclusion of a season since 1998.
Starting on his own 23-yard line, redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley had the opportunity to put together a drive to tie up the game and redeem himself after a tough start in which he threw for just 37 yards in the first half.
Instead, the offense sputtered out two incomplete passes, and on its third down, the redshirt sophomore threw his second pick of the game to seal UCLA’s fate.
And it wasn’t exactly a unique opportunity – the Bruins had two other chances to tie up the game before its final demise but suffered penalties on both drives.
With three total drive opportunities in the fourth quarter and down seven points, UCLA had drives that ended in two three-and-outs with a penalty in each, and a two-and-out courtesy of a Hundley interception.
These are all self-inflicted wounds. As good as Stanford is, UCLA could have won the game but instead beat itself.
Winning games like these is something the Bruins have been craving for the past few seasons. Losing games like these is something UCLA has become all too familiar with.
With the possibility of becoming known as an elite team, UCLA demonstrated that it wasn’t ready just yet to be promoted from the shadow of mediocrity of the program’s recent past. Elite teams don’t shoot themselves in the foot – they find a way to win.
The last time UCLA beat a team that highly ranked was against then-No. 7 Texas in 2010 – a season in which the Longhorns finished 5-7. As of now, UCLA hasn’t found a way to beat a team in the national spotlight.
Prior to Saturday’s game, the Bruins were nitpicked after their performances this season. Pundits, reporters and fans looked for wrinkles and nuances in UCLA’s games, yet the Bruins won by dozens of points. Games like the one against Utah, in which UCLA found a way to win, are games that the Bruins of old would lose. A mediocre performance against California still amounted to a resounding 37-10 victory.
It was a good conversation to be had for Bruin fans. It’s a different conversation from what UCLA fans are used to.
However, Saturday’s loss may require a different tune.