1. Sealed with a Pick
Fresh off the back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon, UCLA was in desperate need of a win against California. The game was a back and forth affair, marked by some sloppy offensive play that gave Cal short fields and easy scoring opportunities. In the end, the game was only sealed when cornerback Marcus Rios, fresh off sitting out a year due to a life-threatening fungal infection, picked off Bears quarterback Jared Goff in the final minute of the game. That play quite possibly saved the season from completely derailing. That it was Rios who did the saving was simply perfect.
2. Running Backer Runs Over Washington
UCLA’s game against Washington was one of the more complete games for UCLA all year, but the thing most fans will remember from that game was Myles Jack’s incredible touchdown run in the second quarter that put the Bruins up 28-10 and put the game out of reach. The run showed everything about Jack that makes him such a potentially exciting running back prospect – speed, vision, explosiveness, strength, balance, and moves. When you add in that, en route to the 28-yard score, he also bowled over his former teammate Budda Baker with a brutal stiff arm, it makes the run all the more impressive. It may have been the single most impressive play we saw out of UCLA this year.
3. The USC Three-Peat
|Thomas Duarte (Steve Cheng, BRO)|
4. Pac-12 Tournament Blitz
The UCLA basketball team had a decent regular season marred by some inconsistent play at times, but when the lights came on in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament, UCLA was at its best. The Bruins scored double-digit dominant wins over Oregon and Stanford in the first two rounds before facing top-seeded Arizona in the championship game. Against the Wildcats, UCLA used a first half offensive surge to go ahead 14-3 to start the game and ended the first half up 43-40. Then, in the second half, UCLA showed better defensive effort than it showed all year in putting the clamps down on Arizona, and winning 75-71. The win helped propel a UCLA team with a fairly mediocre resume to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest seed for UCLA since Ben Howland’s last Final Four team.
5. Jerry’s World
When Brett Hundley went down early against Texas with an elbow injury, it was easy to think that all was lost. After all, Jerry Neuheisel had never played more than a few snaps, and really didn’t seem to have the physical tools to carry a team to victory in such a difficult environment. Then, in one of the best individual performances of the year, Neuheisel played the game of his life, completing 23 of 30 passes for two touchdowns, including a 33-yard game winner to Jordan Payton on a beautiful hitch-and-go down the left sideline. The win preserved UCLA’s (at the time) undefeated season, and, given what would happen in a couple of weeks, was another step in preventing a truly disappointing season.
Now, we may be suffering from some recency bias, but, in our eyes, there was nothing uglier about this year than the recent 39-point loss to Kentucky. Everything that’s been a question mark about Alford’s teams – commitment to defense, Bryce Alford’s ability to play point guard, the general mental toughness of the team – seemed to come to the fore, leading to the worst half in UCLA history, with the Bruins going down 41-7 after 20 minutes. It was a damaging loss for recruiting, obviously, and for Alford’s team this year, since UCLA will likely have a steep upward climb to get back into NCAA Tournament contention. But the real damage may have been to the UCLA brand – the team with 11 national championships should just never be in a position to look like that on national television.
2. The Stanford Four-Peat
|Photo: Steve Cheng, BRO|
3. The Beard Caress
It was the moment that really captured what looked like a team collapsing under the weight of expectations. After Oregon scored a touchdown to go up 15-3 on UCLA – and the Bruins looked like they were absolutely scuffling on both sides of the ball – defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich lost his cool with head coach Jim Mora, throwing his play card at him, throwing down his headset, and making as if to walk off the field. Then, in a moment that will live on in memes for as long as both are coaching football, Mora went back to Ulbrich, put his hands on Ulbrich’s (glorious) beard, and calmed him down. UCLA went on to put together its best defensive performances of the season after the blowup, and Ulbrich really did seem to grow into the position as the year went on, but that was obviously not an ideal moment.
4. Signing Day Strike Out
UCLA, in a bit of a weird year, went into Signing Day with many of its top prospects still waiting to announce, which left many irons in the fire entering the day. Almost universally, every top prospect that UCLA was in the mix for ended up signing elsewhere. Rashaan Evans went to Alabama. Malachi Dupre went to LSU. Adoree Jackson went to USC. Solomon Thomas went to Stanford. Budda Baker went to Washington. Davon Godchaux went to LSU. About the only Signing Day decision that went UCLA’s way was Kenny Young, and he had been silently committed for months and months. It was a beyond ugly day, but on the positive side of things, it seemingly fueled UCLA heading into the 2015 and 2016 cycles, which should end on decidedly more positive notes.
5. White Gone
Torian White looked like the best offensive lineman on the team entering 2013 and was thought to have the most pro potential among the offensive linemen. He suffered a lower leg injury in the early part of 2013, but was expected to recover by the start of spring practice. However, in November, he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and then, just before the start of spring practice, it was announced that he was off the team. That kind of ugly incident would make any worst list, but then, factoring in the potential impact White might have made if he had been healthy and legally unencumbered (he probably would have been a starting tackle to begin the year, and might have helped mitigate the issues UCLA had with pass protection at the beginning of the year), it’s an easy pick for this list.