It's an oft-used cliche in football, but if there was a ever a game that embodied the "tale of two halves" description, it was this year's Alamo Bowl between our UCLA Bruins and the Kansas State Wildcats. The Bruins came out firing on all cylinders to climb to a dominating 31-6 lead at the half. Mazzone's offense was clicking, with some creative play-calling, some excellent work on the ground by Brett Hundley and Paul Perkins, while Ulbrich's defense was shutting Kansas State completely down, coming up with two huge turnovers to give the Bruins a lead that looked insurmountable. It looked like the Bruins were on their way to their highest score in IE Angel's "Eye Test" of the year, just completely dominating the Wildcats.
And then the second half happened.
For much of the second half, UCLA looked completely inept on offense, unable to generate much of anything (except one drive that whimpered out in field goal range). The playbook closed up and the Bruins went into a conservative NFL-style run-and-grind-the-clock shell - something that we are sadly becoming accustomed to under Jim Mora's watch in Westwood. Instead of keeping the throttle wide open, the Bruins went vanilla and conservative, allowing the Wildcats to climb back into a game that looked well out of reach. And while UCLA fans have bemoaned the "stupid Pac-12 referees" all season long (which conveniently overlooks how undisciplined and penalty-prone UCLA is under Jim "Penalties Don't Matter" Mora), the Bruins got sloppy on both sides of the ball, committing far too many stupid penalties - this time, there's no Pac-12 referees to blame, just the complete lack of discipline by this football team (with Priest Willis' selfish and idiotic penalty costing the Bruins an interception that would have ended the game - and of course, it was Willis who got smoked by Tyler Lockett for the Wildcats' late TD).
Meanwhile, on defense, the Bruins suddenly found themselves unable to stop the slow, steady march of the Wildcats on offense - with Kansas State able to grind out three touchdown drives to bring it to 34-28 very late in the fourth quarter. But thankfully, despite running a "run, run, run" offense in a sad NFL-mentality attempt to run the clock out, Paul Perkins burst out and take it to the house on a late TD run to give the Bruins just enough to squeak out a narrow win because the Wildcats game within - literally - inches on an onside kick of stealing a win from a mentally soft UCLA team that is still unable to finish off a football game with conviction.
So, yes, this was the classic "tale of two halves" - but what it really was, when you examine it closely, it was a team with vastly superior talent rising above to beat a team with vastly superior coaching. Why was it a completely different game in the second half? Why were the Bruins unable to finish their opponent off? Why was Kansas State able to make halftime adjustments that let them come within way-too-close to coming back after being down 31-6?
To answer those questions, you need look no further than the coaching staffs - the Bruins, with elite four- and five-star talent at every position on the two-deep, managed to just barely beat a team of second- and third-tier recruits and junior college transfers led by a soon-to-be Hall of Fame college football coach.
It's a win, but it sure doesn't feel like much of one with the way the Bruins almost completely collapsed in the second half in San Antonio. It's great to see Brett Hundley leave Westwood with a 10-win season and a win in the Alamo Bowl, but you can't help but feel that there was enough talent for this season to have been so much more.