Saturday, December 1, 2012

The REAL UCLA Showed Up Friday

Those sneaky UCLA Bruins.

They snookered us. They tricked us. They wanted us to believe the crew that was shuffling around the Rose Bowl last Saturday in the Stanford game was the real UCLA.


The guys who played doormat for Stanford, while the Cardinal rolled to a 35-17 win, weren't the real Bruins. A 9-2 team? No way. They looked like lame leftovers from the Neuheisel era.

What they were doing was playing possum, cagily trying to avoid the gallows, or college football's equivalent of certain death--playing Oregon up in Eugene. UCLA, rulers of the Pac-12 South, could eliminate Oregon from championship consideration in the Pac-12 North by merely losing to Stanford, which would automatically make the Cardinal king of the North.

For the Bruins last Saturday, being the best they could be meant beating Stanford and making Oregon Pac-12 North champ. Then the Bruins, the road team in the Pac-12 championship game, would have to journey up to Autzen Stadium and spend an evening futilely trying to corral those green-and-yellow-clad gazelles on their home turf. The Bruins' chances of winning up there? Forget it. Stanford won in Eugene a few weeks ago, but that was Oregon's annual home loss. The Ducks weren't going to blow another home game. So the Bruins would do anything to avoid the Valley of Death, better known as Autzen Stadium..

What made sense for the Bruins was playing possum last Saturday at the Rose Bowl, let Stanford win and take their chances battling the Cardinal in Palo Alto When UCLA tanked at the Rose Bowl, it seemed possible that devious plan had been implemented.

Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins spent the week denying it. We played our best, they insisted all week. Mora and aggressive LA Times columnist T. J. Simers even tangled over this issue. The evidence, though, really did scream foul. Bruin RB Jonathan Franklin gained 65 yards in 20 carries against Stanford. In the average game, he can get that many yards in one decent offensive series. What about QB Brett Hundley, normally a shifty runner, playing statue and getting sacked seven times? That also was way out of character.

The Bruins didn't really have to lay down against Stanford last week. All they had to do was use a conserative game plan that Stanford would easily figure out, a plan that would limit Franklin and reign in Hundley. The offensive schemes cleverly shackled the two Bruins' stars. UCLA didn't really challenge Stanford's defense, using only part of its playbook, making it relatively simple for those first-rate defenders to shut down the Bruins' offense. That way the Bruins could lay down without really looking like they laid down. Clever, really, clever.

Halfway through the first quarter of Friday's championship game it was clear that we'd all been had. UCLA scored two TDs in the first quarter. Hundley was running circles around Stanford's defenders. Franklin, who looked  like his legs were full of lead last week, suddenly was a fleet-footed powerhouse. The possums had sprung to life.

Stanford won a tight game, 27-24, mainly on the Bruins' one big mistake, a Hundley pick on a dumb pass that led to a gift TD. Otherwise UCLA matched Stanford blow for blow. It was a battle of heavyweights that was pretty even. The Bruins even led in the fourth quarter. Stanford eventually eked out a victory on a field goal. The Bruins missed the tying field goal on an attempt doomed from the start by a bad snap.

No shame though. Yes it was a loss, but a very respectable one. Losing in Palo Alto to Stanford, one of the two or three best teams in the country, is no disgrace..

The real Bruins showed up Friday in Palo Alto and, on the heels of a fiendishly clever plan, nearly won the Pac-12 title. More power to them.