We will have more extended reflections tomorrow on the collective punch in the gut (and in other sensitive places) we took last night in Palo Alto. After sleeping over it - I am still having a hard time getting over this.
THIS HURTS. And it's not just. It's pretty evident Coach Jim Mora and the players are feeling the same way. Here are comments from Coach Mora and Jet Ski after the game in which they were gracefully emotional and eloquent, taking pride in a good first season and also giving a great and poised Pac-12 football team their due credit (thank you BruinSportsReport):
I am happy with how the UCLA football season turned out. As Coach Mora said at the beginning of the presser all of this is only the "beginning." That said, I am having a hard time feeling good about last night's loss. I have never been one to take satisfaction in moral victories because I think that reflects a loser mindset, constantly having to come up with silver linings for coming up short.
There is no doubt - right now Stanford is the better football program in the Pac-12. They have more experienced, polished and more talented players in the offensive front-line that can control a game. The Trees probably beat the Bruins 6 out of 10 times. That said I strongly believe the Bruins should have won the game last night.
Bruins would have won the game if we had not two committed devastating mistakes. First, was the unfortunate interception thrown by perhaps the best freshman football player ever to wear a UCLA football uniform (thank you Coach Neuheisel). The second one was a "communication breakdown" on a "busted coverage" as conceded by Mora in the presser that resulted Stanford's last TD in 4th quarter on a 3rd and long.
Also, while I believe coaches came in the game with a very solid game plan, Mora and Noel Mazzone made some bizarre and questionable decisions in the closing mins, which didn't put the Bruins in best position to finish the game. Everyone has talked about the bizarre spiking the ball on first down. That is going to be as painful as Wayne Cook's spike against the Rose Bowl and Troy Aikman's spike against Washington State (in 1988) with about 50 seconds left from the 5 yard line.
I also don't think it was smart to put the game on the leg of freshman kicker, who has been improving through the season, but didn't really have the track record of executing on long attempts. That was a decision based on conservative NFL instinct but not on data. Fairbairn had converted only 1 of 4 FG attempts all season between 40 to 49 yards and until last night had never attempted a 50+ yarder. So, I just think it wasn't fair to the kid to put the season on his shoulder (and it wasn't fault as the snap and hold wasn't executed properly). I also, didn't like our play calls in our second to last drive near our goal line and certainly didn't like the use of TOs with more than 4 mins left in the game, which could have come in very handy in our last possession.
For the first time in a generation we had a chance to go the Rose Bowl and arguably be in position to win against a mediocre Big-10 conference. And we blew it. So no, we are certainly not going to celebrate some kind moral victory because we are left with same bitter tastes we experienced in 1988 (Washington State), 1994 (Wisconsin) and 1998 (Miami).
I sure hope this season is "a beginning" but if Mora wants to optimize the momentum from his good first season, he will have to win the Bowl game. Otherwise, losing three games in a row to end his first year, will take a lot of shine of his good first season.