The Bruins clinched their third straight sub-.500 season with a loss to the Ducks on Saturday.
UCLA football’s (2-7, 2-4 Pac-12) year has been defined by inexperience and miscues, with a number of underclassmen getting a majority of the team’s reps; but against Oregon, the problem came from an unexpected source – the special teams unit.
“Overall this year, we’ve been extremely focused and detail-oriented on special teams,” said redshirt punter Stefan Flintoft. “You just can’t be perfect, and sadly, a lot of it happened in the same game.”
The Bruins surrendered a 56-yard punt-return touchdown, a fake field goal first-down conversion and muffed a punt inside their own 10-yard line in the first half alone.
UCLA was also flagged for a false start before attempting a 51-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter. Junior kicker JJ Molson then missed the ensuing 56-yard attempt by no more than two or three yards, adding insult to injury.
The same blunder occurred two weeks ago against Utah, when a false start pushed Molson’s field goal attempt from 47 to 52 yards. Molson’s kick then came up short.
Coach Chip Kelly said although he believes special teams has been a strength this season, giving up 21 unanswered points on the heels of mistakes made by the unit was unacceptable.
“I think our (special) teams have been good. (Flintoft) and (Molson) have been two real positives for us this year,” Kelly said. “Our special teams were not good on Saturday. We gave up, we gifted 21 points to them.”
Redshirt senior defensive back Adarius Pickett also muffed his second punt in as many weeks, which allowed Oregon to take over at the UCLA six-yard-line before a touchdown put the Ducks ahead 21-0.
Kelly said injuries to his normal punt returners have forced his hand in terms of who he can utilize at the position.
“(Freshman wide receiver) Kyle Philips isn’t with us, (freshman running back Kazmeir Allen) wasn’t with us, so we don’t have a lot of returners right now in the program, so everybody’s got to be back there and ready to go,” Kelly said. “So we just have to know who’s healthy and who’s available.”
The Bruins don’t blame all their problems on injuries, however.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Christian Pabico said the team’s main focus in the final three weeks of the season is to clean up on self-inflicted wounds.
“The last two games, I think a lot of it came down to us just shooting ourselves in the foot,” Pabico said. “You know, simple things like false starts, little holding penalties or just not getting lined up, not being in the right personnel or whatever the case may be.”
Pabico also said he believes that some of the issues on the field in recent weeks have been caused by fatigue or – in the case of this past weekend – the setting.
“You get fatigued, you get caught up in the atmosphere of the game,” Pabico said. “I think that you’re trying to balance that dynamic as well as focus on the task at hand, both individually and as a team.”