The only reason to hold back and not immediately and unequivocally declare UCLA’s 48-31 loss to Oregon State on Saturday the low point in the program’s recent history is that the Bruins have six games left in their season and things actually could get worse for them.
It’s difficult to imagine what could be worse than the lifeless, defensively leaky performance they staged in a sluggish start that left them trailing the Beavers 21-0 in the first quarter at the Rose Bowl. But aside from the wondrous quarter-plus that they played two weeks ago in rallying from 32 points down to win at Washington State, the season has gone from bad to worse to outright horrible for the Bruins and coach Chip Kelly. Who knows what lower lows await them?
They’re 0-3 at home and were deservedly booed several times in the first half Saturday, starting with their first possession and ending when redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Burton — who was making his first start in place of injured Dorian Thompson-Robinson — was sacked on the final play of the half. By then, the 3,000 high school band members who had been invited to the game had vacated their seats in the south end in order to line up for the halftime show, giving the Rose Bowl an air of being even emptier than usual.
Those band members, by the way, were counted in the announced attendance of 48,532. Apparently that total included each band member’s musical instrument.
UCLA’s record is 1-5 halfway through this dismal season, including 1-2 in Pac-12 Conference play. Kelly is 4-14 as their coach. He didn’t see this as a rebuilding situation when he signed a five-year, $23.3-million contract to replace Jim Mora in November of 2017 but Kelly has turned it into a rebuild. His recruiting efforts aren’t bringing results on the field, and those bad results have, understandably, made potential recruits hesitant to sign up. The players he has considered good fits for the Bruins don’t see themselves fitting into a losing team. It’s an endless and damaging cycle.
How soon does basketball season start?
Although so much went so wrong, the Bruins produced occasional glimpses that they might be capable of better things. They cut the Beavers’ lead to 27-10 on a 37-yard field goal by JJ Molson late in the second quarter, and during a halftime radio interview Kelly said Burton had done “a nice job” to that point. Kelly added, “He did a nice job in Arizona. I think we’ve got to do a better job of protecting him, though.”
In that interview Kelly also said having the opening drive of the second half would be huge for his team, and he was right. The Bruins scored on that possession when Joshua Kelley recovered his own fumble and scored to cut their deficit to 27-17.
When Oregon State went three and out on its first possession of the second half thoughts of that Washington State rally might have flickered through the minds of UCLA fans. Burton began to get the better protection that Kelly had hoped to see. Kelley pulled off some productive runs that disrupted the Beavers’ defense. UCLA kept a drive going in the third quarter when a review showed that although Burton had lost the ball and Oregon State had picked it up, he had been down and so he retained possession.
But on a fourth-and four at Oregon State’s 39-yard line, Burton couldn’t connect on a sideline pass to Demetric Felton Jr. and the Bruins turned the ball over on downs.
The Beavers moved upfield much too easily. When wide receiver Tyson Lindsey, a sophomore from Corona, got several steps on UCLA cornerback Rayshad Williams and raced into the end zone to complete a 53-yard pass play that led to a 34-17 Oregon State lead, Bruin fans were too discouraged to boo.
UCLA still had some life, though, and Felton went 75 yards for a touchdown and Molson’s extra point brought them back within 10, at 34-24. But the Beavers converted a fourth-and-six to sustain a drive late in the third quarter and Luton found an undefended Isaiah Hodgins in the end zone and after the extra point, Oregon State’s lead ballooned to 41-24.
A keeper by Burton and successful extra point attempt cut the Beavers’ lead to 41-31 with 8:39 left in the third quarter, but the Bruins had let the game get away from them early and they couldn’t win by playing catch-up this time.
Losing to Oregon State should be a wakeup call for them. If not, their nightmare will continue and there are no reasons to believe it’s nearing an end.