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UCLA football crumbles under California in final Pac-12 matchup

Freshman quarterback Dante Moore attempts to evade a California defender during Saturday’s game. Moore was sacked six times by the Golden Bears. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Football


California33
UCLA7

By Benjamin Royer

Nov. 25, 2023 11:48 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 26 at 8:46 p.m.

Ethan Garbers dropped back to pass on the Bruins’ first drive of the game.

Boom. Pac-12 After Dark struck.

A hit sent the redshirt junior quarterback barrelling to the ground as he released the ball toward the end zone. As Garbers got up from the grass – his right arm limp from the tackle – the Golden Bears scooped the ball and ran the length of the field for a touchdown to kick off the conference’s final regular season contest.

The officials reversed course, quickly ruling the fumble an incomplete pass. But the sequence caused Dante Moore to take over under center for his elder signal caller.

Like many of the opening drives of his freshman campaign, Moore returned to an old habit: throwing an interception. After the Golden Bears drove downfield for a field goal and sent the Bruins into a deficit in the Pac-12 finale, UCLA football (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) never dug out of the hole, suffering its biggest defeat of the year to California (6-6, 4-5) in a 33-7 drubbing at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

“We didn’t do what we needed to do, and it’s disappointing because in phases, I think we’ve played really, really well,” said coach Chip Kelly. “But we got to put it together. And in five games we didn’t put it together.”

Despite outgaining the Golden Bears in yards, the Bruins only converted 1-of-5 red zone trips and scored the least out of Cal’s opponents in 2023. Moore’s three turnovers – two of which led to points – put an end to two UCLA drives that entered Cal territory. Redshirt senior running back Colson Yankoff’s fourth-quarter kick-return fumble consequently led to a touchdown as well.

Similar to its last home game – a 17-7 defeat to then-two-win Arizona State – the offense struggled to consistently drive downfield because of a series of miscues.

“In both games (against USC and Cal), we moved the football, but when we got down in the red zone, we didn’t convert those into points, and you can’t be good between the 20s just moving the football,” Kelly said. “You don’t get credit for yardage gained – you get credit for points scored, and we have to be more efficient in the red zone.”

After another first-quarter field goal put the visitors up six and junior running back Carson Steele came up short on fourth-and-1 – continuing the Bruins’ recent short-yardage woes – UCLA received life from its defensive ignitor. 

Entering the day as the NCAA’s sacks leader, senior defensive lineman Laiatu Latu showcased his versatility and picked off Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza and brought the ball back to the Golden Bears’ 8-yard line.

Moore finished what his teammate began by connecting with senior wide receiver Logan Loya for a 5-yard touchdown grab.

However, UCLA’s 7-6 advantage was short-lived. 

Redshirt freshman defensive back Kamari Ramsey walks off the field in front of senior offensive lineman Josh Carlin after the Bruins’ loss. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

On the following kickoff, Cal running back Jaydn Ott replenished the Golden Bears’ lead on a 100-yard kick return touchdown, ultimately ending the day with 181 all-purpose yards. A one-score game quickly became two after Moore fumbled at his own 11-yard line – a turnover that would lead to scoring another touchdown and sending the Bruins to the locker room down 20-7.

“At the beginning of the season I played and took a lot of snaps in college football,” Moore said. “Of course, I’m learning still – a lot of things to learn from. When my chance got called, and I had to go out there and make my opportunities, I made my mistakes. These are all learning points in my life.”

Cal’s success snowballed into the second half.

Moore threw a pick for the second time in the third quarter, and two drives later, the Golden Bears extended their lead with another field goal. After Yankoff’s fumble, Mendoza converted a third-and-9 and threw a dart to give Cal a 30-7 lead in the fourth.

Redshirt senior defensive back Alex Johnson – who played in his final game at the Rose Bowl after six years with the program – said the Bruins will rely on their team culture going into their bowl game

“No matter what obstacles are thrown at us, what challenges we have to overcome, we just band together as brothers, really rely on that friendship and brotherhood and bounce back as a team and a unit,” Johnson said.

Kelly’s team failed to score in the second half, with the offense stumbling through the final minutes of conference play.

And with the final whistle on Kelly’s 60th birthday, the Pac-12 – and the Bruins – went dark at the Rose Bowl.

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Benjamin Royer | Assistant Sports editor
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
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