SAN DIEGO — As UCLA football players trudged to the locker room after the Holiday Bowl on Thursday night, it was clear there were as many questions unanswered as those the Bruins solved this season.
The 49-26 beating Baylor administered was a reminder that UCLA’s successful season essentially ended on Nov. 17 with a 38-28 victory over USC.
What followed was three consecutive losses.
There was a listless performance in the regular-season finale against Stanford. There was the 10-point lead the Bruins lost in the rematch with the eighth-ranked Cardinal six days later in the Pac-12 Conference title game. And finally, there was UCLA’s no-show in the Holiday Bowl.
It took a little luster off the Bruins’ season — a 10-4 record, double digits in wins, would have looked much better than 9-5.
“I’m going to take the losses and I’m going to work hard and remember,” sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks said.
Work won’t be enough. Baylor exposed significant holes, particularly among the personnel who are suppose to open holes for UCLA’s offense.
The Bruins did not have seven blocks of granite along the offensive front this season. Adobe bricks — sunk-cracked bricks — would have been a more accurate description.
It’s far from a sexy story line, but improving the offensive line is UCLA’s main theme for 2013.
Two weeks ago, when offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said there were guys starting for him who “didn’t deserve it,” some UCLA fans were appalled. It would be hard to find anyone to disagree after Thursday.
Baylor blitzed . . . and kept on blitzing.
“When it’s working and effective, you stay with it,” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said.
Baylor stayed with it.
Running back Johnathan Franklin had 1,700 yards rushing coming into the game. He was smothered, gaining a paltry 34 yards.
Quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 329 yards, but he was on the run all night and was sacked six times. When center Jake Brendel and tackle Torian White suffered ankle injuries, the Bruins’ woeful lack of depth was exposed.
It was not the first time UCLA was overrun. All the Bears seemed to have figured out the Bruins this season. California sacked Hundley five times in a 43-17 victory.
UCLA gave up 52 sacks, second-most in the nation. All Baylor did was pressure the weak point and UCLA’s game plan collapsed.
“It’s a cliche, but they controlled the line of scrimmage,” Mora said.
Hundley had a stream-of-consciousness postgame interview in which he tried to put the responsibility on himself. “I’ve got to help them out by making something happen or just throwing the ball where it needs to be,” Hundley said.
After being harassed all night, Hundley at least was able to make the correct postgame read. “I’ve got to play my game and make sure I’m on top of the offensive line and they’re trying their best,” he said.
It’s hard to believe everyone wasn’t trying their best. The concern is that their best wasn’t nearly good enough.
Along the line, guard Xavier Su’a-Filo appears to have an NFL future. He is also the only one who is guaranteed to have a starting spot next season. The Bruins started three freshmen on the line all season — White, Brendel and tackle Simon Goines. Whether they will start again remains to be seen.
UCLA has oral commitments from seven offensive linemen: Carlsbad La Costa Canyon center Scott Quessenberry, Memphis (Tenn.) East tackle Christian Morris, Moreno Valley Rancho Verde tackle Poasi Moala, Orange Lutheran guard John Lopez, Phoenix Mountain Pointe tackle Kenny Lacy, Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes guard Caleb Benenoch and Los Alamitos tackle Alex Redmond.
Franklin’s 1,734 yards rushing were the 11th-most in a season by a Pac-12 player. He finished six yards behind USC’s Reggie Bush, who had 1,740 yards in 2005.