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Bruins crash and burn in Boulder

The 2016 train officially goes off the rails for UCLA as the Bruins drop a 4th straight game.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Colorado
Jim Mora’s Bruins are on pace to finish with the school’s worst record in 39 years.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In my 23 years of life, the 4 UCLA coaches that I have vivid memories of (sorry, Terry Donahue, I can’t say I remember your tenure when you when I was 2 in 1995) has “that game” in their tenure.

Which game?

It’s one that burns in the minds of UCLA fans (or maybe just my mind) for one horrible reason:

UCLA embarrasses itself on national television, usually on a day like Thursday or Friday when more people than normal are watching.

For Bob Toledo, it is that one game in 1998 with that natural weather occurrence in Florida that you will never catch me speaking of on purpose.

For Karl Dorrell, it was the 52-14 loss to a 2-7 Arizona in 2005 when the Bruins were ranked #7 and undefeated on the fringes of BCS title conversations.

Rick Neuheisel’s “that game” came in his last season in 2011, also against Arizona. The Wildcats came into that Thursday night game losers of 5 straight and having fired Mark Stoops the week prior and installed interim coach Tim Kish. However, Arizona won that game 48-12 after leading 42-7 going into halftime before this moment:

So like his predecessors before him, Jim Mora had “that game” last Thursday in Boulder, as UCLA lost its 4th straight game 20-10 to Colorado. Oddly enough, the 10 point deficit is the largest the Bruins have lost a game by this season.

In a game that will be remembered more for the referees calling a combined 25 penalties for 224 yards between the two teams than anything else, Jim Mora’s squad embarrassed itself in a fashion befitting of other Bruin teams before it.

This game had bad portends before even starting. Less than an hour before kickoff, Josh Rosen was pronounced out for the rest of the season with his ongoing shoulder issues. The real worry for UCLA fans now becomes whether his career is in any kind of jeopardy beyond this last month after his surgery yesterday.

During the actual game, when there wasn’t a flag on the play, there wasn’t much being done by the Bruins offense or special teams. The best play of the game for the UCLA offense was its lone touchdown, a Mike Fafaul toss to Darren Andrews in the first quarter after the Buffaloes secondary busted a coverage and lost him on the sideline.

There were actual moments early in the game as well when the Bruins ran the ball successfully. At one point, Soso Jamabo had 2 consecutive runs that went for 9 and 5 yards in the first quarter. Jamabo’s 66 rushing yards in this game were the most he had since the UNLV game on September 10th and over double the amount he had accrued in the last 5 games combined.

But those early moments of success proved fleeting. Mike Fafaul had by far his worst game since being installed as the starter after Rosen’s injuries, completing less than 50% of his passes and throwing yet another interception in the first quarter in Colorado territory that killed a promising looking drive. Fafaul now has 10 on the season, already surpassing Josh Rosen’s total in 5 games in the three and a half games he’s played in.

There isn’t much else to report on the UCLA offense. At this point, it is what it is: a horribly imbalanced unit that can’t run, block or catch consistently. The Buffaloes blanked UCLA and only gave up points after a busted coverage and a long kickoff return from Ish Adams that set up UCLA inside the Colorado 40. Colorado’s defense is among the Pac-12’s best, and it was always going to be tough to move on it. That the offense didn’t is not the frustrating part.

What was frustrating was its performance placed in the context of the UCLA defensive performance.

Among the many stellar games this defense has played that has kept the Bruins in every single game this season, Thursday’s was arguably the best. Colorado’s offense was held to 3.6 yards per play despite running 26 plays more than UCLA. The 304 total yards gained was Colorado’s lowest output of the season, and the Buffs’ lone offensive touchdown - a one yard plunge by Philip Lindsay midway through the first quarter - came after a drive which Colorado started at the UCLA 38 yard line.

In this game, the secondary’s performance stood out. Randall Goforth has been picked on by opposing quarterbacks all year when he has played corner as a converted safety. He was stellar on Thursday, the highlight of his game coming after interceping Steven Montez after he played textbook coverage against the go route sent at him.

The usual suspects - Takkarist McKinley and Jayon Brown - balled out as they have done all season. McKinley finished with two sacks and a forced fumble of Sefo Liufau, and Jayon Brown led the team with 13 tackles, 2 of which went for losses, and he recovered the McKinley fumble and advanced it deep into Colorado territory.

Speaking of that fumble, just watch Takk McKinley on this play. This guy is a monster.

In all, the Bruins forced 4 Colorado turnovers, three via interceptions of Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez. And yet, the Bruins managed to do absolutely nothing with those points, which is what they’ve done all year.

After the game, unconfirmed reports stated that UCLA trashed the opponent locker room as offense squared off versus defense. If what was rumored ends up true, with the way the offense has piddled away every lifeline the defense has handed it by keeping them in every game this season, could you really blame the defense at this point?

On Thursday, the special teams were also directly responsible for losing UCLA this game. Jim Mora toggled between both of his kickers - JJ Molson and Andrew Strauch - and was rewarded by them combining to miss 3 of 4 kicks, including a block by Colorado in the 4th quarter.

Oddly enough, the one make - a 48 yarder by Molson - was the toughest. His usage of both smacks of a desperate man throwing anything at the wall to see if it sticks, and his lack of patience with the highly recruited Molson is a far cry from the patience he stressed with Kai’mi Fairbairn as he struggled early in his career before leaving UCLA a Lou Groza winner.

The punting unit cost UCLA points and possibly the game. Even before the 68 yard punt return touchdown by Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter that made it a 20-10 game, Jim Mora started by trotting out his third-string punter on the first punt of the game. There were also 2 false start penalties on the Bruins, which is something you rarely see happen once in a game.

Speaking of penalties, I would be remiss to recap this game without a mention of those. The Pac-12 refs turned this game into performance art, calling 25 penalties combined between UCLA and Colorado. Eleven of the 25 were personal fouls, 5 of which unsportsmanlike conduct calls on the Buffs, including a targeting call on Colorado’s Jimmie Gilbert that earned him an ejection on the second play from scrimmage.

There was also this unnecessary roughness penalty on Colorado that set the Buffs’ official football twitter account into a frenzy.

Of the many strange things about this game, the descent into madness by the Colorado account was among the funniest and the strangest.

While Colorado’s rise continues to be real, UCLA’s descent into its own kind of madness continues to be an unending nightmare for Jim Mora and the UCLA fanbase. My thoughts on what should happen with the coaching staff will come as the season ends. Right now, it’s useless theorizing over what should be done, because the odds of any kind of change occurring are slim to none.

That being said, from the next stream of tweets, my thoughts on the matters at hand should be pretty clear. By the way, note the source who breaks the news about Josh Rosen having surgery yesterday on his shoulder.