Column: UCLA’s last sparks of 2020 are extinguished with entertaining loss to Stanford

UCLA running back Brittain Brown stiff-arms Stanford safety Malik Antoine on Dec. 19, 2020.
UCLA running back Brittain Brown stiff-arms Stanford safety Malik Antoine in the second half. Brown rushed for 219 yards in 29 carries in a losing effort.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

UCLA’s season fizzled out just short of the end zone in double overtime at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, a failed two-point rushing attempt providing a bizarre conclusion to a season overshadowed by questions about whether the Bruins would be able to play in the middle of a pandemic and about the wisdom of chasing TV dollars and competing during such a perilous time.

Before their 48-47 loss to Stanford turned the lights out on their 2020 season, the Bruins generated some entertaining sparks, making an unlikely second-half comeback against Stanford behind backup quarterback Chase Griffin. Their ability to score 31 straight points was a credit to their resilience and to the readiness of redshirt freshman Griffin to step in when junior Dorian Thompson-Robinson injured his right knee in the second quarter.

Until Griffin stepped up, the Bruins were limping to the finish as unsteadily as Thompson-Robinson had hobbled off the field; his return for the second half, wearing street clothes and an ice bag on his right knee while leaning on crutches, was a sad sight. Sadder still if it’s his last appearance as a Bruin before he declares for the NFL draft.


The College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Rose Bowl has been relocated to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, because of coronavirus restrictions.

Dec. 19, 2020

With Thompson-Robinson standing on the sideline and sometimes joining the huddles to offer advice, the Bruins made an impressive push and seemed bound for a joyful ending until Stanford scored twice in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter to pull even at 34-34.

A frantic overtime ended with Brittain Brown agonizingly close to the end zone, the last spark extinguished. “Right now, all I feel is proud of my team and the way they worked,” Griffin said in a postgame video interview. “They competed in a way to win and I’m very proud of my team.”

The depleted Bruins didn’t quit in a game that meant little statistically, and coach Chip Kelly, intent on extracting whatever positives he could find from a loss that tipped their record to 3-4, noted their willingness to fight back.

After Chase Griffin rallied UCLA in the second half, the Bruins failed on a two-point conversion try in the second overtime and lost 48-47 to Stanford.

Dec. 19, 2020

“One thing about this program is we don’t make excuses or let others make excuses for us,” he said. “They rallied. We had to come together as a group because we lost some guys. Everybody else deals with injuries in this league and no one feels sorry for you. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Still, it’s impossible to ignore that their losses last week to USC and on Saturday to Stanford (4-2) resulted in the Bruins’ third straight sub-.500 season under Kelly. His cumulative record with UCLA is 10-21, hardly the turnaround he was expected to launch. Attendance at home games was light in the seasons before the pandemic shut the doors to spectators, and fans have become restless and frustrated with Kelly’s inability to bring about dramatic improvement while the Bruins’ losing continues.

Even so, Kelly is expected to keep his job. He got support from athletic director Martin Jarmond last week, when an outlet called @footballscoop said via Twitter that Kelly’s return wasn’t guaranteed and that UCLA might target a “big name” replacement for him. “Not true. Very disappointing,” Jarmond tweeted, adding an invitation for @footballscoop to call him next time for the real scoop.


Kelly said he wasn’t bothered by the speculation over his job status. “Martin called me Thursday and said whatever was written — I don’t pay attention to that — but that wasn’t true and that was it,” Kelly said.

Highlights from UCLA’s 48-47 loss in double overtime to Stanford on Saturday.

Asked what he’d say to fans about the direction the program is taking, Kelly pointed to the team’s perseverance on Saturday in the wake of narrow losses all season to Colorado, Oregon and USC.

“I think you look at how hard our players played,” he said. “You lost the game by one, you lost a game by three, you lost a game by five, you lost a game by six. There was great effort and great attitude. They can be proud of these young men. I think they gave everything.”

On Saturday, their everything wasn’t good enough to win. When will it be good enough to win games that matter? “I think the trajectory of this program is to be a winning program,” Griffin said. They fell short of that end point this season.