Was there any other way to finish the 2020 UCLA football season? UCLA ended the 2020 season, such as it was, in a fashion totally befitting its play. Mix together some unimaginably soft defense, injuries to key players, and flashes of intestinal fortitude in the face of obstacles. Brittain Brown had the game of his career only to be stopped one yard short from getting UCLA a win. Just short. The story of the UCLA season. Heck, the story of so many games in the Chip Kelly era. So it played out Saturday night at the Rose Bowl as Stanford beats UCLA in double OT 48-47.
Stanford Beats UCLA In Double OT 48-47
The Bruins decided earlier in the week to decline any potential bowl invitation and just end the season with the Stanford game. Turns out it was a moot point. They gave up an 18-point lead in the loss to USC, and then a 14-point lead against Stanford. Predictably the season ended with back-to-back losses.
Getting Behind Again
The defense was getting gashed up the middle by Cardinal running back Austin Jones early on. Stanford quarterback Davis Mills was picking apart the Bruins defensive secondary, connecting on 12 of his first 15 passes for 185 yards.
On Stanford’s first possession, Jones ran for 19 on the drive and then picked up one more yard through a soft middle of the UCLA defense, to get the touchdown and give Stanford a 7-0 early lead. The defense was playing without starting linebacker Bo Calvert who was, “unavailable.” It clearly mattered in the middle of the defense.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was the only Bruins running game early on. They were playing without starting running back Demetric Felton for undisclosed reasons. Thompson-Robinson was eight of 12 in the early going for a modest 65 yards passing, but was keeping plays alive with his running.
The Bruins got a 31-yard field goal from Nicholas Barr-Mira for their only score of the entire first half.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s Mills was connecting with Bryce Tremayne for 42 yards over a wide-open defensive middle. Isaiah Sanders, (son of Barry), ran it the last two yards for the touchdown. The PAT was no good, but the Cardinal had a 13-3 lead.
They piled up more easy yards in the late minutes of the first half. Jones got a one-yard touchdown run to make it 20-3 Stanford. But that was the least of the first half bad news for UCLA.
On a quarterback scramble, Thompson-Robinson grabbed his right leg, right below the knee, when he hit the ground. He had to be helped off the field. Trainers had him try to jog on it on the sidelines but kept pulling up with a limp. He would come out of the halftime locker room in street clothes and on crutches.
With Stanford already up by 17, and Bruins players falling by the wayside, with the ones still on the field struggling to keep up, it only made sense for back-up quarterback Chase Griffin to take a knee and call it a half. Only one half of the season left, and the Bruins could end the insane roller coaster of 2020.
Or they could come out fighting.
The UCLA defense held Stanford to six yards on six plays to start the third quarter. On its own first possession, the Bruins got a 29-yard run from Brown, and a nine-yard touchdown run by Keegan Jones. The drive covered 64 yards and only burned a quick 2:41 off the clock to make the score 20-10 Stanford. Brown was just getting started. And so was the UCLA defense.
Mills had gone 222 consecutive passes without an interception. But this is the weirdness of the 2020 season. Mills was intercepted by Elijah Gates at the UCLA 40-yard line. Brown contributed 38 yards on five carries from there. On fourth and four at the Stanford 31, Griffin hit Kyle Philips for 14 yards. Then it was a 17 yard completion to tight end Greg Dulcich. The Stanford lead was down to 20-17. Griffin went three for three for 39 yards on the drive, and Brown was getting his legs under him.
Remember when Mills had only the one interception in 222 passes? Neither does he anymore. On the very next series, with Stanford driving deep into UCLA territory, he threw into double coverage. It was intercepted by Mo Osling.
It was back to Brown being the workhorse from there. After an 18-yard option play run by Griffin, Brown picked up 41 yards to the Stanford 23-yard line on the last play of the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Griffin rolled to his left and floated a pass to Chase Cota who was wide open the end zone. The ball had so little zip on that Cota had to go to the ground to make the catch. Still, UCLA had its first lead of the game at 24-20 after looking horribly flat in the first half.
Barr-Mira gave UCLA a 31-yard field goal to boost the lead to 27-20 with six minutes left in the game. On Stanford’s next series, UCLA defensive back Jay Shaw gave Mills his third interception of the game and ran it back 39 yards for the touchdown and the 34-20 lead with just five minutes left in the game. The Bruins had salted the game away. Yeah, have you seen UCLA this season?
Mills completed seven of 10 passes on the next drive, including one for an 11-yard touchdown to Simi Fehoko. Mills to Fehoko was a painful combination for the UCLA defense all night. The receiver finished with 16 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns. The UCLA lead was down to 34-27, but Stanford had burned more than three minutes off the clock. All UCLA had to do was protect the ball and get the win. Again, we ask…have you seen UCLA this season?
On third and eight at the Stanford 25-yard line, Griffin and Brown ran into each other in the backfield. It looked like Griffin was supposed to pull the ball back, but regardless the result was a fumble recovered by Stanford. After the game Griffin said the fumble was his responsibility.
The Cardinal needed nine plays to go the 72 yards to tie the game. Mills hit Fehoko again. This time it was for 21 and the Cardinal had tied it up at 34 apiece with only seconds remaining in regulation. Instead of calling for a game altering play as he did in Oregon loss, Kelly had Griffin take a knee and go into the overtime.
In the first overtime, on second and six from the Stanford 21-yard line, Griffin bobbled the snap but kept his composure in the pocket and connected with Dulcich for the touchdown and the 41-34 lead.
On its first overtime possession, it was a lot more of Jones pushing through up the middle. Then Sanders took it in from three yards out to send the game to a second overtime at 41-41.
Stanford scored first in the second extra period. Mills connected with Fehoko, of course. The receiver made a great over the shoulder catch in the back of the end zone and Stanford had its lead back for the first time since early in the fourth quarter, at 48-41.
The Bruins had one more moment of splash. On 4th and 18 from the Stanford 21-yard line, Griffin found Philips in the front of the end zone. Down by one, Kelly decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win rather than the safe kick for the third overtime. After the game, he said the Bruins were losing players to injuries and he did not think the team had enough left to make another defensive stand. “We were running out of players. We were running out of some guys.” On the play, Griffin fired the ball into the end zone to avoid the sack. He was called for intentional grounding. But Stanford was also called for defensive holding. One more chance to send the season off with something positive.
Kelly called for a Brown run up the middle. He needed three yards. He got two. UCLA’s season finishes just short of the goal line in a poetic ending. Brown finished the game with a career high 219 yards on 29 carries. If he had finished with 220 yards, we would have been re-writing this article for a fourth time with a different tone and tenor.
2020 Drops Its Mic On UCLA
But the ending was not on Brown. It was on a UCLA team that did not play 60 minutes of football in any one game this season. They finish with a 3-4 record and much soul searching that needs to be done in the off-season. It is one thing to give credit for continuing to fight and never giving up. It is another to be realistic about why the team routinely put itself in that position to begin with.
Griffin said, “Days like this hurt. Days like last week hurt. They are supposed to hurt.”
Thankfully for Kelly, he does not subscribe to momentum stretching from one season to another, as the team takes a few weeks off before heading into camp in late January.
(Photo courtesy Getty Images)