It’s always difficult, achieving a national ranking only to lose on the road early in the season against a team from a smaller conference.
Having the ball in the final minute with a chance to notch the go-ahead score only intensifies the pain.
That makes the Bruins’ game against the Cardinal next Saturday at Stanford Stadium something of a Redemption Bowl for both teams after they were upset over the weekend.
UCLA appeared capable of scoring on any given play, perhaps producing a touch of hubris in quarterback Josh Rosen as he continually forced passes while under pressure during the No. 25 Bruins’ 48-45 loss to Memphis.
Stanford’s grind-it-out approach ran aground during the No. 19 Cardinal’s 20-17 setback against San Diego State, the Aztecs unleashing an even more punishing style.
Both UCLA (2-1) and Stanford (1-2) will probably be unranked in the polls released later this week. The Cardinal will be on a two-game losing streak after also getting pummeled by USC in their Pac-12 Conference opener on Sept. 9.
There is also the matter of the Bruins’ nine-game losing streak against Stanford, the longest skid by either team in a series that began in 1925.
The only loss UCLA cares about at the moment is the one against the Tigers. Rosen completed touchdown passes of 65, 22, 21 and five yards on the way to 463 passing yards. He also had two passes intercepted and put himself on the verge of a third interception in the final minutes when he flung the ball into coverage, forcing receiver Theo Howard to grab a defensive back to prevent an interception. An offensive pass interference penalty on Howard left the Bruins in a first-and-25 bind.
“Obviously not a good situation to be in,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said afterward, “when you don’t have a timeout and the game’s on the line.”
The Bruins’ comeback hopes were dashed with 56 seconds left when Rosen’s fourth-down pass intended for Darren Andrews was broken up.
Stanford’s rally fizzled when a Keller Chryst pass was intercepted in the final minute. The Cardinal use a smashmouth style but have been uncharacteristically bullied in each of their last two games.
“I hope we didn’t take them lightly,” Stanford coach David Shaw told reporters Saturday, “but I didn’t do a good job of getting us ready to play a very good, very physical football team.”
Mora lamented his team’s three turnovers—including a fumble by tailback Brandon Stephens one play after the Bruins had forced a turnover—and habit of giving up explosive plays. Memphis notched an 80-yard run and scored touchdowns on plays that went for 47, 42 and 33 yards in addition to a 60-yard interception return.
“I have no doubt that our team will come back strong,” Mora said, “they’ll find a way to put the disappointment behind them and get back at it and work.”
Trying to regroup, Rosen said, leaves the Bruins with two options.
“You do or you don’t,” he said, “and we will.”
Score one for the unheralded guys.
Anthony Miller, a former walk-on turned record-setting receiver for Memphis, repeatedly beat UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes, leading Bruins coaches to bench the highly coveted freshman late in the game.
Miller had referenced a matchup against more ballyhooed players earlier in the week, tweeting, “Game Week!!!! Walk-ons vs the 5-stars.”
Miller outmaneuvered Holmes on back-to-back plays before halftime that gave Memphis a 27-24 lead. On the first play, Miller faked outside before cutting back up the field to create the space he needed to make a sprawling, over-the-shoulder catch that went for 41 yards.
On the next play, Miller beat Holmes again on a 33-yard touchdown catch with 42 seconds left before halftime. Miller bested Holmes once more on a route over the middle for a 12-yard touchdown catch on Memphis’ opening drive of the third quarter.
Holmes eventually went to the bench while Miller finished with nine catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
“Things like that happen when you play corner and you’re out there by yourself,” UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said of Holmes’ losing some one-on-one battles. “You know, you’re going to have some situations like that, and throughout the course of his career, he’ll learn how to deal with that and get better.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch