Bruins v. Ducks Surpass Expectations

The Pac-12 Inaugural Championship game was mocked and jeered. But the Bruins' effort in its 49-31 loss to the Oregon Ducks should only be cheered.

EUGENE, Ore. -- The jokes began six days ago. Coined as a lame duck versus the Ducks. The green machine opposite the teddy bears. The Los Angeles Leftovers against the Eugenic Nikemen.

The inaugural Pac-12 Championship game between Northern division champion Oregon (11-2) and Southern division "representative" UCLA (6-7) was ridiculed, mocked and taken all but seriously.

Because the game itself was predicted to be a riot, exemplified by the 31-point spread-- the largest ever for a championship game in the sport.

And to the joy of the betters, Oregon won as expected.

But the Bruins surpassed expectations in its 49-31 loss by scoring and doing so often.

After a brutal 50-0 beatdown last weekend by the hands of crosstown rival USC and the Bruins' season mired by the firing of their head coach, UCLA gave an incredible last-ditch effort Friday to memorialize Rick Neuheisel.

"It's one of those things where I didn't really want it to end," Neuheisel said. "But end it did, and we'll move on."

"Nothing to Lose" Neuheisel and his Bruins scored five times against the explosive Ducks. At two different points in the game, UCLA was down by a single touchdown.

A courageous effort, which could have been a miracle.

The doubters got tense when UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore intercepted Ducks' quarterback Darron Thomas, who had been picked off just five times this season.

Nor did critics foresee a trick play, a Kevin Prince flea flicker pass that would leave Bruins' Nelson Rosario to see an open pasture of green.

Add in Tyler Gonzales' 44-yard field goal, Prince's keeper or Rosario's talented one-handed grab and the Bruins might have had a shot at winning this game.

Unfortunately, they were paired up against the flashiest, fastest and most prolific offense in the country. This Oregon team is so explosive it put up more points than its own basketball team this season. Twice.

As typical of Oregon opponents, they get gassed. As the wheels slow down on one train, somehow, somewhere, the Ducks find steam.

Choo. Choo.

No amount of conditioning in a single week could have prepared these Bruins.

No amount of emotion associated with the beloved Neuheisel's final game could have lifted these underbears.

And no amount of scoring for UCLA, it seems, could have shifted the outcome of this game.

Especially with roses on the line. Oregon had already experienced a loss at home, a 19-game streak broken at the hands of USC.

So the Nikemen did what they do best and scored.

In the first half alone, the Ducks went all the way five times. In two halves, all but one of Oregon's touchdown drives was more than two minutes long. The Bruins could barely get a hand on the green machine much less stop it.

Granted, the game's Most Valuable Player, LaMichael James, didn't give UCLA much of an option, rushing for 219 yards and scoring three touchdowns.

Friday's game toppled James over the 1,500 yard mark. He became the first player in the history of the Pac-12 conference with three seasons of as many yards.

"He's special. It's not just a football thing with him. It's the way he lives his life. He's this university," Kelly said of James. "And I truly believe that our university is about unique excellence, and that young man is about unique excellence."

There was something else both unique and excellent about this football game. Despite the pregame cracks, pokes and prods, UCLA versus Oregon went beyond sports and statistics. For a moment, albeit just one, the Pac-12 flood of money became an afterthought.

The Bruins' courageous effort Friday paid homage to a man many thought of as their second dad. Despite the loss, those 60 minutes were a tribute to their Coach who instilled in them skills more valuable than an obscenely heavy trophy.

"I'm really bummed, not to be selfish, but I really wanted a win for him," linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said.

The act, shared by an entire roster of bears donning blue and cold, wasn't selfish. It was selfless.

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