It was a farewell to harm’s way.
UCLA will not be subjected to any further misery after its season ended Saturday evening in appropriately gloomy fashion, the Bruins faltering badly over the final two quarters of a 36-10 loss to California.
At least there would be no need to ponder the potential awkwardness of going to a bowl game with a losing record. UCLA (4-8 overall, 2-7 Pac-12 Conference) finished with its worst record since it also won only four games in 2010, which was also the last time it did not go to a bowl.
The Bruins stumbled over the finish line on a chilly, overcast evening that included a downpour in the first quarter. A rainbow descended onto a nearby hill, but there was nothing golden in store for either team.
“It’s depressing,” UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown said of the atmosphere in the locker room after his final college game. “Hopefully the young guys can know this feeling right here and they know they don’t want to feel like this next season, so hopefully they go into the off-season hungry to be better.”
The problems were familiar for UCLA. The Bruins couldn’t run the ball and their defense wore down from being on the field far longer than it would have liked on a day Cal (5-7, 3-6) totaled 496 yards and ran a staggering 102 plays.
UCLA receivers dropped passes and so did its safeties, Randall Goforth and Adarius Pickett failing to secure what appeared to be sure interceptions. Cornerback Nate Meadors wiped out another potential interception by holding a Cal receiver.
Cal, not known for defense, shut out the Bruins in the first half, the first time the Golden Bears had shut out a Pac-12 opponent in a half since 2011.
Things were briefly intriguing early in the third quarter when receiver Kenneth Walker III leaped in the corner of the end zone to snag a pass from Mike Fafaul, pulling the Bruins to within 12-7.
Then a sequence involving two of the largest players on the field proved pivotal. Cal fullback Malik McMorris , a 5-foot-11, 310-pound bundle of energy, plowed ahead for a one-yard touchdown. UCLA’s Ainuu Taua, conservatively listed at 5-11 and 295, couldn’t handle the short kickoff that followed, the ball bouncing off him for a fumble that Cal recovered at the Bruins’ 32-yard line.
Six plays later, Davis Webb threw a two-yard touchdown pass to give the Golden Bears a 26-7 lead, and that was that. Webb completed 32 of 48 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Fafaul picked a bad day to have his worst performance as a starter since taking over for the injured Josh Rosen last month. His first six passes fell incomplete. His next pass was complete, for one yard. It never got much better for Fafaul, who finished 12 of 30 for 176 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“They were bringing some pressure,” Fafaul said of the Cal defense, “so it was harder to see my reads because I felt like there was somebody in my face the whole time.”
UCLA quarterback Mike Fafaul (12) is sacked by California defensive tackle James Looney (9) and defensive end Cameron Saffle, right, during the second half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
California linebacker Devante Downs (1) intercepts a pass in front of UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson (81) during the second half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
UCLA wide receiver Kenneth Walker III (10) catches a touchdown pass in front of California cornerback Marloshawn Franklin Jr., left, during the second half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
UCLA Coach Jim Mora watches from the sideline during the second half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
California running back Khalfani Muhammad (29) rushes past UCLA linebacker Kenny Young (42) during the second half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
California receiver Jordan Veasy (15) is tackled by UCLA defensive back Jaleel Wadood (2) after making a catch during the first half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
California cornerback Camryn Bynum breaks up a pass to UCLA wide receiver Kenneth Walker III (10) during the first half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
California receiver Jordan Veasy catches a pass over UCLA defensive back Adarius Pickett (6) during the first half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
UCLA receiver Ishmael Adams (1) slips past California’s Matt Laris (89) on a kickoff return during the first half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
UCLA quarterback Mike Fafaul throws a pass against California during the first half.(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
The unmistakable demarcation point in a lost season for the Bruins was the shoulder injury suffered by Rosen, his team losing six of its final seven games without him. But the Bruins’ issues transcended his absence.
UCLA now turns to an off-season of uncertainty. The Bruins hope to have Rosen back for spring practice and must decide whether changes in their offensive scheme and their coaching staff are in order.
Coach Jim Mora said during the week that he did not believe a major overhaul was necessary, that the team could get back in contention for the Pac-12 title with only tweaks.
“We’ll rise again, we just will,” Mora said Saturday. “We have the right type of young men in that locker room and we’ve just got to make some adjustments and we’ll get better.”
Perhaps the biggest decision will center on whether to remain committed to the pro-style offense that was expected to help them better match up with the more physical teams in the Pac-12. The Bruins learned the addition of tight ends and fullbacks couldn’t immediately help their running game or better protect Rosen, who was sacked 13 times in six games, only one fewer sack than he had endured in all of 2015.
UCLA abandoned the pro-style look once Fafaul took over because the fifth-year senior was far better suited to the spread. But the arrival of a new recruiting class and the development of the players who will return next season could give the Bruins reason to believe they could try the pro-style look anew.
“I’ve always believed this game is about hitting,” offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said. “You’re allowing your guys to take over and to do that, you gotta establish a physical style.”