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KURT STREETER

No ducking this reality for UCLA: It was bad

After a particularly ugly 24-10 home loss to 13th-ranked Oregon, the Bruins should just move on and act as if it never happened.

October 11, 2009|KURT STREETER

Oregon 24, UCLA an ugly and largely incompetent 10. Unlike last week at Stanford, when the Bruins were knocked on their keisters but at least made a fight of it, no silver lining can be found in this. It would be best for the Bruins, staring now at the possibility of another dismal season, to simply move on. Act as if this never happened. Pretend Saturday afternoon in Pasadena was little more than a bad and very inconvenient dream.

This was a game where, aside from maybe a dozen plays, UCLA could not pass, could not run, could not catch. Too often, they could not tackle. Worse, when the game was still a tossup and their offense took four straight snaps a shadow from the goal line, they could not score.

They didn't just look outmanned and out-coached; during a terrible stretch at the start of the second half, they looked like they'd entirely lost their bearings. Like they had forgotten they were playing a college football game against a ranked opponent at the Rose Bowl. Like they were just lazing on a Malibu beach, roasting marshmallows, gawking at bikinis, collectively shouting: "Flag football, anyone?"

An educational video should be made of the opening minutes of the second half, which UCLA entered leading by the tellingly non-dominant score of 3-0. The title: "Learn How Not to Play Football in Just a Few Slim Minutes."

Here's how it would look. Act 1: Nice and easy 100-yard Oregon runback of the second-half kickoff. Act 2: UCLA interception on its first second-half play from scrimmage, the pass lodged precisely in an Oregon defender's gut. Defender scores, untouched. Act 3: UCLA loses fumble. Act 4: Oregon receiver takes a little dump pass from his noodle-armed second-string quarterback, then strolls through a series of arm tackles -- touchdown, Ducks!

That nifty little series of stumbles took just under four minutes. Oregon suddenly led by 18. It never looked back.

Oh, there were still a few glimmers of UCLA hope. First came Akeem Ayers' nifty end-zone interception for a touchdown, pulling the Bruins to 21-10. For the first time since the opening quarter -- that awful drive where the Bruins had a first down at the Oregon two, only to get stuffed -- the crowd was on its feet and the Rose Bowl shook. Oregon promptly countered with runs of 12, 10 and 48 yards, punctuating matters with a field goal.

Momentum flushed.

There was one more chance. With about 10 minutes left, UCLA's Terrence Austin returned a punt to the Oregon 15. One sack, one short rush and two clunky incomplete passes later, Oregon took possession. The game, for all intents, was done.

So much for finding small victories amid defeat. That angle could be taken last week, and many of the Bruins and their coaches tried to spin it that way at the end of Saturday's game. But this was too ugly. Too hard to run from. Oregon came to Pasadena as the nation's 13th-ranked team and on a nice four-game winning streak. But take a little look under the hood. Their quarterback, a second-stringer pressed into action by injury, looked as if he were using Saturday's game to learn the forward pass. Their best running back, LeGarrette Blount -- a k a Mike Tyson in cleats -- was nowhere to be seen. Same goes for a pair of their best defensive backs.

And UCLA's opening second-half stretch? It brought flashbacks from last season, terrible memories of Provo and BYU, Rick Neuheisel's second game -- 59 to zip.

That game was played in the immediate aftermath of last season's surprising win over Tennessee. Saturday's loss to the Ducks came three games after this season's surprising win over Tennessee. Maybe the Bruins should never play Tennessee again. The Volunteers create a false sense of optimism.

So here we are, the season near its midpoint. Looking at what's left of the Bruins' schedule, the throat tightens. There's only one clear patsy left. If the Bruins don't straighten up, if they don't clear the memory banks, forgetting this game ever occurred and reclaiming a positive vibe, they could well be staring at just one more win, against Washington State.

Who would have thought, after Knoxville, after Kansas State, that the Bruins and their fans would now be staring squarely at another year of pain? Another season sitting home, watching every bowl but the one in January with the Trojans running up the score. Another string of droopy post-game scenes like the one that unfolded Saturday. The coach stuck in an over-optimistic feedback loop. The quarterback, dazed, bravely shouldering blame. Linemen and linebackers, kickers and running backs and wide receivers preparing to get back on campus, wondering just what happened to a season that not so long ago seemed surely destined for something surprisingly good.

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kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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