In keeping with the week’s tendency to let the unthinkable become reality, UCLA found itself on the winning end of a football game, as they snapped a four game losing streak and beat the Oregon State Beavers 38-24 on a balmy Saturday evening in Pasadena.
It was their first win since a 45-24 pounding of Arizona back on October 1st. Now sitting at 4-6 with 2 games to go, the long odds of earning a bowl bid got a tad bit shorter.
Hey, it’s something in a season that’s been plenty full of nothing in Westwood.
The Beavers, now 2-8, entered Saturday on a 4 game losing streak of their own, including close calls at home against both Utah and Washington State. Gary Andersen faces a long road ahead in rebuilding a proud football program to compete in the Pac-12 North.
It didn’t help that both teams started backup quarterbacks. Mike Fafaul continued to take the reigns for UCLA, while Marcus McMaryion deputized for Darell Garretson, who, like Josh Rosen, was also lost for the season.
This game, rife with turnovers (3 by each team), penalties (21 combined for 201 yards) and dropped passes (6 by UCLA receivers), was played at the level one could expect between two teams that had combined for 8 straight losses. Soso Jamabo fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, and after a long return of said fumble, Artavis Pierce punched in from 2 yards out two players later to put the Beavers ahead before most Bruin fans could finish their last beers from tailgating.
Oregon State’s second touchdown came courtesy of some special teams trickery. After Austin Kent shanked a punt for 35 yards, the Beavers return unit veered right and fooled the UCLA coverage into charging down the waiting returner. Meanwhile, gunner Rahmel Dockery shot left to catch the punt where it actually landed and return it to the UCLA red zone.
Check it out in the clip below. It’s a carbon copy of the now-LA Rams pulling a same stunt against the Seahawks a few years ago that went for a touchdown.
Jordan Lasley, who vacillated between fine plays such as his 48 yard reception in the first quarter and boneheaded plays, had one of the latter after fumbling an easy reception, which Manase Hungalu returned for a touchdown to bring Oregon State within 24-21 in the 4th quarter. Oregon State would tack on a field goal to come with in 31-24, but they could get no closer.
Meanwhile, UCLA turned Oregon State mistakes into points of its own. After Jordan Villamin fumbled in Oregon State territory, the Bruins cashed in after Jalen Starks rumbled in for 4 yards out. The Beavers committed a third down holding penalty that extended the UCLA drive and put the Bruins up 14-7.
On the next Oregon State possession, DeChaun Holiday flew in untouched to block the punt, which was returned by Lasley for a touchdown to push the Bruins ahead 21-7 in the first quarter.
Like I said, in a game between two teams with 5 combined wins, mistakes were to be expected.
What certainly wasn’t expected was an effective UCLA rushing attack, at least on paper. What has been among the nation’s worst came alive on Saturday for 163 rushing yards on over 5 yards a clip. Five UCLA running backs got carries and four - Jamabo, Bolu Olurunfunmi, Brandon Stephens and Nate Starks - all averaged at least 4 yards a carry. It was refreshing to watch UCLA running backs not struggle for yardage behind a much-maligned offensive line.
The only one who didn’t average 4 yards a carry - 240 pound Jalen Starks - scored two touchdowns from short yardage and was an effective battering ram against a hapless Oregon State defensive front.
Also in the unexpected column was the extended sighting of Theo Howard. While Howard’s box score line looks paltry - 5 catches for 30 yards - he was a constant threat for the Beavers defense to take into account, as he drew two pass interference penalties and sprung an outside run with a textbook block.
People took notice that Theo was finally freed.
True freshman WR Theo Howard has four receptions tonight. He came into the game with five total this season.— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) November 13, 2016
Five catches on Saturday for UCLA freshman Theo Howard out of Westlake High. See, he can catch when given the chance.— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) November 14, 2016
(Very Gus Johnson voice)— David Woods (@daviddavidwoods) November 13, 2016
THEO HOWARD WITH THE BLOCK!
Meanwhile, the UCLA defense came to play. Takkarist McKinley had one of his quieter games going by the box score; he only had one sack and two tackles for loss.
It was the first time in 3 games he didn’t register at least two sacks, and now he only has 10 on the season in 1 less game than the rest of the field.
Only good for 6th in the country now.
What a slacker.
(just kidding, Takk. You are a monster and please don’t sack me into nothingness.)
Aside from McKinley, the rest of the Bruins defense balled out. Oregon State was held to a shade over 300 total yards and only mustered 75 yards total rushing. As mentioned above, the Beavers scored 21 points off of a combination of short fields and fumble recoveries aided by the Bruins’ offense and special teams units.
The Beavers had no space to run to, and the Bruins were masterful in shutting down the jet and fly sweeps Oregon State ran to Victor Bolden Jr. in particular. The visitors were stymied on third down, going only 3-15.
Overall, it was an uneven UCLA performance, and the score line should not have been that close, but a win is a win, and as Jim Mora said postgame, they’ve been hard to come by.
It’s now Rivalry Week. A storming Southern Cal team will charge into the Rose Bowl riding the high of their domination of previously unbeaten Washington in Seattle on Saturday and looking for a second straight win over UCLA.
The odds look marathon-long for the Bruins at this point. Any objective (and biased) observer will admit truthfully that Southern Cal is the better team by all measures and that they should win this in a romp to give themselves a shot at a division title.
Meanwhile, UCLA is struggling across the finish line and would do well just to get to Las Vegas or Phoenix for a bowl game.
The reading looks grim. It also did in 2006, when UCLA was scuffling with a backup quarterback and came up against a Southern Cal team with repeat national title aspirations.
I’ll end with this: it’s 2016. The unexpected is to be expected.
Right, Eric McNeal?