It’s the one thing that could make Joshua Kelley’s smile vanish.
The perpetually cheery UCLA running back looked as if he might tear up just at the mention of his final game at the Rose Bowl, which comes next Saturday.
The transfer from UC Davis who ranks No. 15 on the school’s all-time rushing list didn’t pretend that it would be just another game when asked about his farewell following the Bruins’ 52-35 loss to the Trojans on Saturday.
“I’ll definitely be emotional,” said Kelley, who has piled up 2,227 yards in less than two full seasons. “I wouldn’t catch me after the game.”
The Bruins (4-7 overall, 4-4 Pac-12 Conference) won’t play in a bowl game and are headed for a fourth consecutive losing season, but they would like to provide a happy ending for their 10 seniors and two graduate transfers with a victory over California (6-5, 3-5).
“I told our players in the locker room to send our players out the right way,” coach Chip Kelly said. “We’re an underclass-driven team with not many seniors, but we owe it to those guys to show up next Saturday against Cal.”
Redshirt freshman Kyle Philips said the small group of seniors that includes Kelley, center Boss Tagaloa and linebackers Krys Barnes, Josh Woods and Lokeni Toailoa had set the standard for a robust work ethic while laying a foundation for better seasons to come.
“That game should be 100% for our seniors because they’ve done so much for this program and just for us individually,” Philips said. “They’ve shown us the right way of how to do things and doing work the right way.”
Barnes and Toailoa were injured against the Trojans, leaving their status for the game against the Golden Bears uncertain.
Those who attend the game could witness two oddities. Should the Bruins prevail, they would not qualify for a bowl despite compiling a winning record in Pac-12 play.
There also could be a minuscule crowd at the Rose Bowl considering the nighttime start for a post-Thanksgiving game with so little at stake. Even if UCLA surpasses the record-low crowd of 32,513 that came to watch the Bruins play Oregon State in November 1992, the team figures to set one dubious record at the stadium it has called home since 1982.
UCLA is averaging 44,998 fans for home games this season, meaning it will need 69,658 to show up Saturday to stay above the previous season low average of 49,107 set in 1995. Getting that many fans to come might require Beyonce to perform at halftime.
The Bruins’ attendance has suffered from a variety of factors, including the team’s lack of success and no USC game on the home schedule this season. There is little palpable buzz around a program that needs to beat Cal to avoid ending the season on a three-game losing streak.
Of course, that doesn’t make the personal journeys any less compelling.
“There’s a lot of motivation for sure,” Kelley said. “There’s a lot of emotion for this next game. … We have a lot of seniors, so we’re excited to put them out on top.”