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The Morning After, Part 3: UCLA vs BYU

U.C.L.A. faced plenty of adversity last night. We should celebrate that they overcame it, and we should demand they stop creating so much of their share of it.

Get off me, son.
Get off me, son.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

One thing about championship teams is that they're resilient. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter how deep the hole, they find a way to bounce back and overcome adversity. -Nick Saban

Coach Mora has some pretty good quotes about overcoming adversity, but there's a reason I picked a quote from another school's football coach. Part of it is because that head coach has won championships, and that's supposed to be our ultimate goal. But it's also because that head coach just happened to lose last night. At home. While ranked number 2. None of which makes him a terrible coach, by the way, though I'm sure there are some crimson eyed loonies in Alabama who would debate that.

Of course, sure, I'd rather win 60-0. Any day. It's just easier.

But there is something to be gained by finding yourself in a crappy situation and having to work your way out of it. Granted, it's probably better if that crappy situation isn't so much of your own making, but regardless, if you gotta dig yourself out of a hole, at that moment the depth of that hole doesn't really matter. What matters is getting to the surface.

Our Bruins shared plenty of adversity with us all last night. In our toughest game to date, our team came out flat at the start, and on our home field no less. Our starting middle linebacker got himself ejected after 5 plays. We got torched on an early onside kick. Our best cornerback left the game with a foot injury. Our star freshman quarterback played like a very bad freshman quarterback. Our offensive coordinator stopped giving the ball to our running back who was destroying the defense.


There is no denying that learning how to face and overcome adversity is an incredibly important skill in life. Every aspect of our lives, on or off an athletic field, presents us with challenges, and our reaction to adversity in the moment says a lot about us as a person. You can be the kind who shrinks in the moment, or the kind who projects your misery on others, or the kind who quits at halftime or moves back east, and all you'd be today is 2-1 and a bad teammate. And you'd still have all the same problems that the rest of us at 3-0 have. Or you can face the moment and keep fighting.

Look who handled adversity last night.

After a week of reading and writing about how dirty BYU was, our starting MLB makes a boneheaded targeting play and gets ejected on his first drive. Yes, that was more than a little ironic. But in that moment, his backup stepped in and and stepped up and played lights out. That's how you respond to adversity.

Our much hyped true freshman quarterback played the first half like an easily forgettable true freshman by making bad decisions and worse execution to the point that some people were inexplicably calling for him to get pulled. But the freshman came back with a second half that included going 6 for 8 passing with a touchdown and quarterbacked the team on a game winning drive. That's how you respond to adversity.

Injuries made our previously deep secondary as suddenly shallow as a California reservoir in July and BYU was eating up our freshman backup corner. In the fourth quarter, the whole defense looked tired, likely from spending two thirds of the game on the field. But in the final minutes, one of those injured players limped off the bench and back on the field and made a key play and that tired battered defense nutted up and made the game saving defensive stand. That's how you respond to adversity.

Of course, there are macro and micro aspects to everything.

There are still the macro problems of an offensive coordinator who looked a gift workhorse in the mouth and somehow forgot he had a guy who racked up 100 yards in the first quarter, and started toying around with the play calls instead of doing what was working really really well, all of which contributed in some part to that freshman quarterback's struggles. That's not the first time we've seen that problem.

There's the macro problem of coming out flat at home and getting pushed around by a physical gritty team. That's not the first time we've seen that problem.

There is the macro problem of some of our players losing focus and making poor undisciplined decisions that cost themselves and their teammates. That's not the first time we've seen that problem.

And the fact that we are still seeing problems that we've seen over and over before is the biggest problem in the first place.

Now the key would be to not dig our own holes like that. We played a good team last night but we're going to be playing better teams than that in the very near future. Starting next Saturday, in fact. And if those macro problems continue to exist, then we are going to lose one of these games and the feelings around here are going to be whole lot worse.

I'll also add, to a degree, the results don't tell everything about one's character as much as the effort and determination do, but those can be hard things to see. I mean, you can't really criticize the Titanic passengers who couldn't swim to safety in Greenland for being sissies, but maybe some of them swam really far. If BYU chucked up one more Hail Mary (do they even say Hail Marys at BYU, by the way?), would that detract from the efforts of the Bruins to claw back into that game last night? Hard to say. Not entirely. But a win sure as hell validates their efforts and how they responded to adversity, because that was exactly the type of game we have seen U.C.L.A. lose once or twice a season in previous years. And that's almost as important as the final score.

In the micro, the final score says we won. For all the problems that still exist with this program, and all the things that we are still waiting to get fixed, winning is awesome, and the way we won in the end added that much more excitement to it. When BYU's last prayer was picked off by our linebacker playing cornerback, I lived one of those amazing moments of joy when my son jumped in my arms and I swung him around as we both celebrated like crazy. It's harder to do that now that he's 13 and is very nearly my size, but football aside, in the father-son scheme of things, a moment like that feels as good as anything ever. In the macro, he saw our lack of intensity at the start and the bad play calls and the poor execution and the all-around football idiocy at times, and in the end he saw what happens when a team fights and grinds it out until the end. That's a life lesson that is hugely important to him. That micro moment with him after the game was hugely important to me.

So what did we learn? We learned to say, "Screw it. Keep fighting." I saw Southern Cal manhandling an inept Stanford team in the first quarter, a game that Stanford won. I watched Colorado State bullying a hapless Colorado team early in their rivalry game Mile High, a game that CU won.

And I saw U.C.L.A. be flat and lackadaisical and undisciplined and dumb and just plain bad for much of last night's game. But guess what...Screw it. Keep fighting. If the game plays out like crap the whole way, then we have 6 whole days to talk about it before the next game. Heck, we have a whole season and an off season and an entire coaching tenure to talk about it. We can always talk about the problems afterward, but let's work through the more immediate issues right now, because it's a whole lot better to win that game than not.

I'm not using Saban's quote to say that this Bruin team is a champion. We're still far from it. There are a lot of macro issues have to be addressed before we will ever take that leap. But battling through adversity and coming out on top is one of those traits we have to have if we want to get where we're going.

And that's why you don't give up just because it all sucks like hell at the beginning.

Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.  -William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part III

Will's not on our football team either, but they talk about him at Royce a lot, so that's close enough.