Well, they did it. The UCLA Bruins football team (3-8, 3-5 Pac-12) saved their season last weekend and beat the Southern Cal Trojans (5-6, 4-5 Pac-12), winning the LA City Championship and painting the Victory Bell a beautiful shade of powderkeg blue (soooo much better than ketchup). Barring a miracle on Saturday against the Golden Domers, Southern Cal will not be bowl eligible thanks to the UCLA’s upset victory.
But the Bruins still have business of their own to conclude. With no bowl game this season, UCLA now will try to get the monkey off its back and end it’s 10-game losing streak to the Stanford Cardinal (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12). A victory over the Cardinal—something Head Coach Chip Kelly’s predecessor was never able to accomplish—would show that clear progress has been made.
I did a lot of road tripping while at UCLA: Vega$; Joshua Tree; San Felipe; Lake Tahoe; Rosarito Beach; Eastern Sierra Nevada; Santa Barbara; Tempe for NCAA Tourney hoops; and an epic Spring Break trip to mainland Mexico, to name a few.
With the exception of the ‘88 season, my friends and I road tripped to UCLA football games every year—Stanford in 87, Stanford again in ‘89, UC Berkeley in ‘90, and Arizona State in ‘91.
That 1987 Stanford trip was glorious, as the Bruins waxed ‘Furd 49-0. I was a freshman and I thought that UCLA would routinely crush the Cardinal. I was wrong.
Fast-forward 31 years—ugh—and UCLA has not beaten the Tree since 2008, in Rick Neuheisel’s first season at the helm for the Bruins. Kevin Craft was under center and had perhaps his best game as a Bruin.
Kevin Craft. Let that sink in. That was a long, long time ago.
During all those road trips in the late 80s and early 90s, my friends and I had a rotation of “road trip” music favorites (in cassette tape form, of course) that made most every trip. Social D’s self-titled album, Steve Miller’s Greatest Hits 74-78, and some other, more obscure bands, like Tones on Tail’s “Pop” or Agent Orange’s self-titled album.
But one other rocking album always made the trip. This band released a more “gothic” album a few years earlier and their most commercially successful album a few years later, but the 1987 album (released the same year as UCLA’s 49-0 smashing of the Tree) is hands down my favorite. The band is The Cult, the album is “Electric,” and I am picking not one of the hits, “Lil’ Devil” or “Love Removal Machine,” but one my favorite deep cuts from that album. “Aphrodisiac Jacket”:
Oh, the syrupy sweet sounds of Steven Duffy’s guitar!
Hopefully, my nostalgia for that 1987 game and the music selection here in Florida creates a butterfly effect and helps propel the Bruins to victory!
But UCLA needs a lot more than just nostalgia to win tomorrow. This is going to be a taller order than Southern Cal.
Although the Tree have four losses in ten games, all of them came against very good or great teams—#8 Notre Dame; #14 Washington State; Pac-12 South Champ Utah, and Washington. The Cougs and the Huskies will battle it out today in the Apple Cup to see who plays the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Stanford does a lot well, but there are a couple of glaring ax marks already in the Tree this season, one of which is the Cardinal’s passing defense. That unit is ranked #105 in the nation in passing yards allowed, averaging 263.3 yards against through the air.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, their strength on offense is running the ball. UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight managed the game against Southern Cal well, while letting Joshua Kelley carry the load, literally and figuratively. Does the game plan change this week? Will UCLA throw the ball more?
PREGAME GUESS NUMBER ONE: Predict UCLA QB, Wilton Speight’s stat line, including attempted, completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and interceptions.
The other glaring ax mark in the Tree is its rushing offense. Although the UCLA defensive line is young and the linebackers are inconsistent at best, the Bruins did a good job stopping Southern Cal’s running backs last weekend, holding them to 112 yards.
Stanford’s rushing attack is worse than the Trojans’ rushing attack—the Cardinal are #121 in the nation, gaining only 108.2 yards per game on the ground. Bryce Love has not been the force that he was last season, missing a few games and only gaining 580 yards on the season.
Can UCLA step it up like it did against Southern Cal? Or will Bryce Love remind Bruin fans why he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2017?
PREGAME GUESS NUMBER TWO: It’s a two parter: predict the number of rushing yards allowed by the UCLA defense and how many of those rushing yards will be gained by Bryce Love.
I know that the guesses have focuses on penalties several times in the last few weeks, but I believe another guess regarding penalties is warranted here for two reasons.
First, UCLA committed just two (2!) penalties last week, both in the 1st quarter, for a total of 15 yards. That number is incredible, considering the history of UCLA’s penalty-ridden execution (or lack thereof) in earlier games this year, but even more so during the Jim L. Mora era. Just one or two more untimely penalties could have cost UCLA versus Southern Cal.
Second, the Bruins face Stanford, which has always been a disciplined team under Head Coach David Shaw. The Cardinal are tied for #22 in the nation in the number of penalties, averaging only 5.4 infractions per game. So, it is critical that UCLA play as clean if not cleaner than Stanford tomorrow.
PREGAME GUESS NUMBER THREE: Predict the number of penalties and penalty yardage given up by UCLA tomorrow.
The attendance at the Rose Bowl for The City Championship was awful: 57,118. Will it get any better this week with the UCLA fanbase energized after beating Southern Cal? Or will the Thanksgiving weekend and absence of fans from our local opponent (although Stanford fans usually show pretty well at the Rose Bowl) cause even that low number to plummet?
BONUS GUESS: Predict the attendance at the Rose Bowl.
That’s it for this week and the season as well. It has been another fun year of writing the Pregame Guesses column. I hope that you enjoyed both this one and the eleven that preceded it.
Let us know your guesses (and other thoughts) in the comment section below.