UCLA Is Out of Its Depth
As evening shadows fell on Memorial Stadium three minutes into the second half, the sun set on the UCLA career of Cory Paus.
As he was being carted off with a fractured right ankle, the senior quarterback cried out for his teammates to win for him. They might well have, but his replacement, freshman Drew Olson, soon departed with a shoulder injury and the Bruins would have been better off shutting off the lights and sparing themselves the agony of 15 minutes of offensive blunders and blown opportunities.
Two blocked punts in the fourth quarter by the Bruins and a sensational defensive effort throughout could not overcome a rudderless offense in the fourth quarter and California escaped with a 17-12 victory Saturday before 46,697.
“What are the odds?” Bruin defensive end Dave Ball said. “Two quarterbacks get injured in the same quarter. It was too much to overcome.”
The score was tied, 10-10, when Olson was replaced by third-string quarterback John Sciarra, a redshirt freshman whose sum total of experience was handing the ball off a few times during mop-up time against San Diego State three weeks ago.
He misread the call signaled in from the sideline on his second play and fumbled, giving Cal the ball on the UCLA 25-yard line. The Bears scored five plays later on a four-yard run by Joe Igber.
UCLA scored two points on the game’s final play when quarterback Kyle Boller ran out the clock on fourth down by throwing a long lateral to Jonathan Makonnen, who stepped out of the end zone for a safety.
Without Paus or Olson, it might be a while before the Bruins score again. Coach Bob Toledo is unsure who will play quarterback next week.
“I have to sit and think,” he said.
Besides Sciarra, there is Matt Moore, another freshman. Moore is scheduled to redshirt and was not on the traveling squad. Brian Callahan, a walk-on freshman quarterback, was on the sideline in street clothes.
Sophomore cornerback Matt Ware played briefly at quarterback last season, exclusively running the option, but Toledo said Ware hasn’t taken any snaps at the position in practice.
Sciarra, the son of a former UCLA standout quarterback with the same name, hasn’t taken many either.
“It was kind of weird playing for the first time,” he said. “I have confidence in myself and my teammates. I know they say they believe in me too.”
He did little to inspire confidence during a quarter that probably ended any hopes UCLA (4-3, 1-2) had of winning the Pacific 10 Conference title.
First came the fumble, then came a botched possession that began at the Cal three after Marcus Reese blocked a punt with 9:32 to play. The Bruins were guilty of a false start before the first play, but a pass interference call gave them another first down, at the two.
Tyler Ebell lost five yards, then gained three, bringing up third down. Sciarra made a good pass, but it sailed through the hands of leaping receiver Tab Perry. A 21-yard field goal try by Chris Griffith was blocked.
“I definitely should have caught it,” Perry said. “I feel like that loss is on my shoulders.”
UCLA had another chance, taking over on the Cal 20 when Ware blocked a punt with 2:31 to play. Ebell, who rushed for 102 yards, gained three on first down, but linebacker Marcus Daniels tipped a pass intended for tight end Mike Seidman and Sciarra threw high on a middle screen to Craig Bragg, bringing up fourth down.
The Bears (5-3, 2-2) blitzed on fourth down and Sciarra fumbled as he was hit. It was the seventh sack of a UCLA quarterback, five by blitzing linebackers.
Paus was 10 for 15 for 129 yards, but Swiss-cheese protection resulted in four sacks. On the fateful play that probably ended his UCLA career, he called an audible and connected with Bragg on a perfectly thrown pass for 28 yards.
He was sandwiched by Bear ends Josh Gustaveson and Tully Banta-Cain as he released the ball, landed awkwardly and did not get up.
The injury stirred passion in the Bruins, and they scored in two plays, Ebell runs of nine and 11 yards, to knot the score, 10-10.
“Our leader was down and everybody had to suck it up and get it done for him,” said Ebell, who has rushed for 424 yards in three games.
Olson, who had played credibly in three earlier relief appearances, appeared ready for the challenge. He connected with Seidman on a 49-yard touchdown pass that was nullified by a holding penalty, but two plays later he was injured on a hit after throwing an incomplete pass and did not return.
“They were looping linebackers around,” Olson said. “I got hit on my backside and my shoulder hit the ground first.
“It’s a shame because we had such a good feeling. I felt it. Everybody felt it. Now I just have a sick feeling in my stomach.”
As did Bruin defensive players, who held Cal to 40 yards rushing and limited Boller to 13-for-30 passing for 133 yards.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” Bruin safety Ben Emanuel said. “There’s nothing we can do. We gave a great effort out there. But when two quarterbacks get hurt, it’s hard to overcome.”
The immediate challenge is not to allow the season to spiral. UCLA has had losing streaks of at least three games each of the last three seasons and is 6-9 after losses in the last four years.
“I’m convinced we’ll come back strong,” Toledo said. “A couple real good players are hurt. It’s a mental thing too. We lost one of our leaders.”
And a game that seemed within the Bruins’ grasp until the quarterbacks went down.
“That’s what hurts the most,” Reese said. “We had it. Then we didn’t. Now we have to figure out what to do next.”