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Bruins defense rolls over for a third straight loss

UCLA gives up over 300 yards rushing in a 52-45 shootout loss to Utah in what has become a ruff season in Westwood.

NCAA Football: Utah at UCLA
UCLA continues to chase its own tail, as the pass rush showed up on Saturday, but the run defense didn’t.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Do you like dogs and puppies?

I hope so. Everyone likes the sight of a doggo or little pupper running around and being cute and bringing joy into the world.

How could you not think a face like this is cute?

As I left the Rose Bowl on Saturday afternoon after watching UCLA lose its third straight game, this one a wild 52-45 shootout to Utah, I thought about puppies, mostly because I wanted to think about something happy after a third straight UCLA loss and the 7th of the last 10 games going back to last season. It’s not fun to think about this program going into a steep and swift decline on the basis of no offensive line depth, little to no receiver talent and disastrous special teams, all even before taking into account the injured all-world talented quarterback who has nerve damage in his throwing shoulder.

So while dogs were on my brain, it soon dawned on me that I saw a lot of puppy-like qualities on the field from the Bruins on Saturday. Allow me to explain, and as a reward, I will include visual evidence for both UCLA and canines.

1. Puppies are pretty darn cute and do really adorable things sometimes.

With UCLA’s running game being one of the worst in the country (and being officially so at 85.5 yards per game after Saturday), it was maddening to watch Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu try to establish the run game in step with the offensive philosophy shift going into the season. UCLA’s running game is a hopeless venture and it was a waste of snaps to watch backs barrel into the line for 1 and 2 yard gains if they were lucky to gain yards.

So it was actually refreshing and fun to watch UCLA reinvent itself as a spread offense, especially in the first quarter when the offense scored 21 to come back from an early 14-0 deficit. Mike Fafaul completed 40 of 70 passes for 464 yards, Nate Iese and Jordan Lasley both had over 100 yards receiving, and it was a thrill to watch UCLA play offense competently and to its strengths. Credit Fafaul for hanging tough all game and engineering a comeback after his team was socked in the mouth and down two touchdowns within the first 5 minutes.

On the other side of the ball, while the defense got absolutely blitzed in this game by Joe Williams (more on that later), Takkarist McKinley is an absolute joy to watch. He was an animal on Saturday and took up permanent residence next to Troy Williams in the Utah backfield, finishing with 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, while forcing two fumbles and recovering one. He talked about being the best defensive end in the country before the season, and he’s playing like it. His presence will be sorely missed next year, and he should be a top-half draft pick and even drew a comparison to Demarcus Ware from NFL scouts.

Similarly, it’s fun and cute to watch dogs run around and bring their innocence and mirth to everyone around them. See exhibit A below:

2. Puppies in particular don’t quite have all their faculties yet and can be pretty clumsy, which makes for entertaining viewing watching something struggle and be kind of helpless.

As fun as it was to watch UCLA sling it around the yard and turn into an Air Raid offense in the span of a week, it wasn’t a total success. Mike Fafaul played as well as one could expect a backup quarterback to do, but that means the ceiling is severely limited. Fafaul is no Rosen, and there were throws that Rosen can make that Fafaul simply couldn’t. At the start especially, he was shorting out routes and floating up some ducks that were waiting to be intercepted.

For Utah, the wait for interceptions wasn’t particularly long, as Fafaul was picked 4 times on Saturday, including a brutal pick in the endzone that thwarted a UCLA comeback attempt early in the 4th quarter. There was also the underthrow of Theo Howard by two yards, as well the throw deep into double coverage in UCLA territory at the end of the first half that ended up turning into a Utah field goal to go into halftime.

But then again, it’s a tall order to be asked to throw the ball 70 times as a backup and not expect some mistakes. Fafaul played admirably, and he wasn’t the one who gave up 330 yards to a running back that had retired a month ago.

This little pupper had to found out the hard way just how loud of a bark he has and just how scary he can be one day. It’s cute, and there’s nothing the humans here can do other than just laugh.

3. Puppies don’t come housetrained, and even with housetraining, you’ll probably get stains on your carpet or torn furniture, much to your chagrin.

For the past 5 games, UCLA’s defense had been carrying the team as far as it could. While the offense sputtered and failed to run the ball, the defense was holding firm behind the likes of McKinley, Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenny Young and Fabian Moreau at all three levels.

So in a game where the offense finally realized it can’t run the ball and scored 45 points, it was incredibly dispiriting to watch the defense cede over 300 yards rushing. Joe Williams finished with a Utah school record 333 yards on over 11 yards an attempt, and of his four touchdowns, three went for 40+ yards. What was so frustrating to watch was that Utah ran the same counter action on all of its big runs to absolutely gash the Bruins. On one Williams touchdown, there were two defensive lineman on the ground pancaked, and one Utah guard pulled and didn’t block anyone because he didn’t have to. Utah deserves immense credit for finding a weakness in the UCLA defense and exploiting it until it couldn’t be stopped, but UCLA’s defense just folded on Saturday.

The special teams were again bad on Saturday, this time from the opening kick, when Cory Butler-Byrd took the kickoff 99 yards for touchdown while barely being touched. While the punting improved, the kickoff return ended up costing UCLA the game when the offense was once again forced to attempt a desperate last-gasp drive with no timeouts.

Dogs have a propensity to chew things and sometimes pee on your rug and just be messy overall, especially if they shed. They also can sometimes cause that havoc while you’re gone or just when you least expect it, like this guy below:

UCLA now sits at 3-5 and 1-4 in the Pac-12 after nearly going 0-for-October. With Josh Rosen sidelined indefinitely, this season is just about lost. Even the most optimistic and foolhardy UCLA fan can’t see 3 wins out of Colorado, Oregon State, USC and Cal to finish the season in a bowl game, especially without a healthy Rosen. UCLA now goes into the bye week, which will allow for healing and continued retooling before next Thursday’s now daunting trip to Boulder.

In the Josh Rosen era, UCLA is 11-10. As We Rate Dogs might say, that’s h*ckin disappointing af. There were high hopes for this season, but they’re now well dashed, and UCLA fans are collectively left to look like this little doggo (who is ironically named Ralphy like the Ralphie to come next Thursday) watching the bubble burst. The difference is, while it might be okay for Ralphy, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be okay for UCLA football, at least for this season.