It was a throwback performance, reminiscent of much darker days.
There were dropped passes, missed tackles and poorly timed penalties. A small Rose Bowl crowd dwindled considerably in the final minutes, nothing left to see besides the vestiges of embarrassment.
UCLA’s showdown against No. 23 Utah turned into a smack-down Friday night, the Bruins battered by their own shortcomings as much as a brawnier and more poised opponent.
Utah bullied its way to a 41-10 victory, a potential share of first place in the Pac-12 Conference’s South Division slipping away from the Bruins like Utes tailback Zack Moss through the arms of flailing defenders.
“We didn’t tackle well in the first half,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, “we didn’t tackle well in the second half.”
Moss finished with 211 yards rushing and three touchdowns, leading a relentless Utah offense that notched scores on its first four drives of the second half. The runaway handed the Bruins their worst home loss since a 35-0 setback against Stanford in 2010.
The Utes’ defense held firm after spotting UCLA (2-6 overall, 2-3 Pac-12) an early 7-3 lead. Bruins tailback Joshua Kelley ran for a 25-yard touchdown on the way to 90 yards in 16 carries, a solid average of 5.6 yards per carry even if he did fall short of extending his streak of four consecutive 100-yard games.
It was pretty much the extent of UCLA’s offense.
Bruins quarterback Wilton Speight was spotty in his first start since the season opener, completing 20 of 40 passes for 164 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Speight got the start with freshman counterpart Dorian Thompson-Robinson unavailable because of an upper-body injury suffered last weekend.
Speight conceded having forced some passes, though a bevy of dropped passes didn’t help.
“It just kind of felt like one play after another, a couple of plays added up,” Speight said. “It just didn’t really feel like our night. Sometimes in sports, that’s how it goes.”
By game’s end, the UCLA student section from the crowd of 41,848 had long conceded defeat, leaving its part of the stadium almost entirely vacated. Most of the fans remaining were wearing red, lingering to celebrate a triumph that moved the Utes (6-2, 4-2) into sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South. Utah fans had made themselves at home for hours, a plane toting a banner reading “GO UTES!” circling the stadium in the hours before kickoff.
There were long stretches when UCLA looked like it had trotted out its 2017 team.
What had the makings of a long touchdown pass from Speight to a streaking Demetric Felton went off Felton’s hands for an incompletion.
A false start on lineman Chigozie Nnoruka turned J.J. Molson’s 47-yard field goal attempt into a 52-yard attempt, which fell a few yards short of the crossbar.
A slew of missed tackles also hurt. Badly.
Moss bounced off one defender on an eight-yard gain. Receiver Britain Covey slipped two tackles on a 17-yard reception when the Utes needed 15 to convert the third down. Receiver Demari Simpkins dragged cornerback Elijah Gates along for several yards on a 20-yard reception.
The mistakes kept adding up.
“It’s a fundamental game,” Kelly said. “We have to catch the ball on offense and we have to tackle on defense.”
The Bruins also needed to catch the ball on special teams. Adarius Pickett dropped a punt to give Utah the ball at UCLA’s five-yard line in the first quarter, leading to a field goal.
“I just misjudged the ball,” Pickett said. “I shouldn’t have even tried to catch the ball. The ball was inside the 10-yard line. There was no spin on the ball, that was just on me.”
UCLA’s defense briefly generated some momentum when safety Quentin Lake made a leaping interception of a Tyler Huntley pass in the end zone. It was Lake’s second interception in as many games, both coming in the end zone.
But UCLA lost the turnover battle, committing three to Utah’s one, after having gone plus-seven in that department during its two-game winning streak.
It contributed to an emphatic end to the Bruins’ hopes of a storybook run following an 0-5 start.