A season that started with hopes of success and built into a 20-game winning streak and aspirations of a national championship ended for the Bruins on their home field in Pasadena, making it all the more a house divided.
They lost to Wisconsin and the power running of game most valuable player Ron Dayne, 38-31, before 93,872.
They also lost faith in one another.
"I think a lot of players are lacking heart," said Freddie Mitchell, who returned 3 1/2 months after breaking his leg. "It's not who's the strongest. It's who loves football and who wants to go out there and play."
To which tackle Kris Farris responded: "He might be on to something there. I'm not going to name names. There's a lot of guys giving everything they've got. Myself, I won't recover physically for a week. Freddie, [Danny] Farmer, [Cade] McNown--guys like that played their hearts out.
"One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. I'm not naming names. But some guys can play harder. Or else be more focused. I think it was a matter of focus."
Mitchell's comment was not met by universal agreement. Several players disagreed without hesitation.
But there were also the opponents who agreed. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher, whose 46-yard interception return for a touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter provided the insurmountable 38-28 lead for Wisconsin, called the Bruins soft and intimated they played without heart.
If nothing else, it offers a startling perspective as to how the UCLA season changed so dramatically in the last month.
From 10-0 to 0-2.
From thinking about a national championship, to not even winning the Rose Bowl championship, a final blow in what, save Arizona's victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, has been a disastrous postseason for the Pacific 10 Conference.
From being ranked No. 2 in the bowl championship series ratings and No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, to possibly falling out of the top 10.
It's not all solely because of attitude, if that's any consolation.
There was the little matter of the opponent.
Wisconsin came in as a 10-point underdog, but, more pointedly, as the team that supposedly should not have been here.
The common cry was that the Badgers were the third-best team in the Big Ten, awarded the trip only because of the tiebreaker clause that said the team from the conference that hadn't been to Pasadena in the longest time got to go.
CBS' Craig James said Wisconsin was the worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl.
Said Coach Barry Alvarez, after beating the Bruins in the game for the second time in five years:
"We're at least the second worst."
Wisconsin, of course, had every right to be playful.
The people of the state again had come in full support, drenching a little more than half the stadium in red and making so much noise at one end that UCLA, according to one rumor the local school, had trouble hearing McNown call out signals.
The team of the state then did them proud.
"I think we proved that we can play with the big boys," Fletcher said, "and are good enough to deserve to be in the Rose Bowl."
Said Alvarez: "That's why you play the games--to have wins like this when nobody thinks you can do it.
"I've taken the high road through all of this. I'm not trying to take this game and stick it down anybody's throat. I addressed my kids all year about making statements on the field. People can say whatever they want. It's what you do on the field that matters."
On this field--where the Bruins had not lost in just under 16 months, a run of 10 consecutive wins that dated to Sept. 6, 1997 and the fourth-quarter comeback against Tennessee that fell six points short--Wisconsin asserted itself from the beginning.
The Badgers' first play from scrimmage was a 10-yard run up the middle by Dayne.
The next two were seven-yard grinders by Dayne.
That opening possession ended in a punt, but the second resulted in a touchdown, a 54-yard dash by Dayne through a Bruin defense that at that stage was looking emotionally fragile in the wake of the Miami game and physically weak from a series of injuries. And when UCLA answered with its own score, on a 38-yard throw from McNown to Jermaine Lewis out of the backfield, Wisconsin came right back.
The drive lasted 85 yards, 10 plays and 4 minutes 59 seconds, capped by Dayne's sweep around the right side from the seven, after the Bruins appeared to have strung out the run and contained. This came two plays after the 52-yard pickup on the option by quarterback Mike Samuel, when UCLA missed a tackle in the backfield that would have kept the Badgers in their own territory.
That was typical. Not problems with the option--the Bruins were concerned about facing the offense for one of the few times, but weren't hurt much by it other than Samuel's run--but the missed tackles.
There were memories of Miami. "Trying to play anyone who would give us an effort," as defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti later said, UCLA reached deep. Cheyane Caldwell, a linebacker, got time at nose guard. Vae Tata had a chance early. So did Billy Pieper. None of them were on the Bruins' two-deep list coming in, and that was before star safety Larry Atkins was knocked out with 44 seconds left in the first half because of a sprained knee.
The Badgers continued to pound inside, piling up 258 yards in only 25 carries in the first half. Dayne had 173 in 15, an average of 11.5 yards an attempt. Samuel had all of 75 yards through the air, and still Wisconsin led at the break, 24-21, because Dayne had three rushing touchdowns and Matt Davenport had a 40-yard field goal at the end of a drive that included a 17-yard run up the middle on a quarterback draw and 14-yard gain by Eddie Faulkner.
In the second half, the Bruins tightened. Wisconsin managed only 85 yards, in 23 carries, but one of those was a 22-yard touchdown by Dayne early in the third quarter.
Still, Dayne finished with 246 yards. It wasn't the opponent-record 299 by Miami's Edgerrin James, but Dayne did average more per carry, 9.1 to 7.7. The four touchdowns also tied the modern Rose Bowl record for rushing scores, previously done by Sam Cunningham of USC in 1973 and Eric Ball of UCLA in '86.
The strong second half by the Bruin defense limited Wisconsin to one touchdown, and none in the final 26 minutes, which normally would be enough for the Bruin offense to capitalize on.
But this was not on a normal game because this was not a normal season, for good reasons and bad.
This time, it was the Bruin offense that faltered. With UCLA trailing, 31-21, early in the third quarter, the Bruins had first and goal from the Wisconsin six, only to fumble because the crowd noise prevented tailback DeShaun Foster from hearing an audible that changed his carry from a handoff to a pitch.
Another opportunity was lost early in the fourth. McNown, on a day in which he would end his superb college career by completing 19 of 34 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns, underthrew Foster down the left side. Fletcher intercepted and returned it 46 yards for the score.
Davenport's extra point made it 38-28, enough to hold of a Bruin offense that got a 30-yard field goal from Chris Sailer with 6:05 remaining but made no serious threat at scoring on the final possession. With the Rose Bowl on the line, the vaunted UCLA attack had only 233 of its otherwise impressive 538 yards in the second half.
The Bruins' biggest gain of the day had come on a trick play, a 61-yard receiver option from Mitchell to fullback Durell Price.
"I blame this one on the offense," Farris said. "We gave them [the Badgers] the touchdown that won the game."
No need to worry, really. This month, there has been plenty of blame to go around.
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BY THE NUMBERS
246: Rushing yards for Ron Dayne, one short of the Rose Bowl game record.
4: Touchdowns for Dayne, tying Rose Bowl game record.
11.8: Yards per carry for Dayne on first down (16 rushes).
343: Rushing yards given up by UCLA (second most this season).
2: Losses in a row for UCLA (after 20 consecutive victories).
5--7: UCLA's record in the Rose Bowl.
2--3: Wisconsin's record in the Rose Bowl.
* RANDY HARVEY
With the crowd in Wisconsin's favor, this must have been Madison, right? S2
* HIT BY A TRUCK
UCLA was nearly helpless against Ron Dayne's power, speed and determination. S3
* A SAD SACK
Badger freshman Bryant supplies the final insult against Bruins and McNown. S4
* NUMB KIND OF LOSS
Seniors know how to react to the crushing defeat. They can leave quietly. S5
* ONLY AN ILLUSION?
In a season full of magical endings, the harsh reality comes in the final two losses. S6