The UCLA Bruins end the season with a disturbing loss to the Cal Bears

The California Golden Bears arrived at the Rose Bowl on Saturday Night needing a victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since the 2019 season. The Bears were 9.5-point underdogs going into the game. The UCLA Bruins were already bowl eligible and still on a high from their blowout win over the USC Trojans the previous weekend at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The table was set for an upset.

In the final regular season game in Pac-12 conference football history, at least as we know it, the Cal Bears upset the UCLA Bruins, 33-7. The Bears played like a desperate team and the Bruins turned in a listless performance. The win for the Bears improved their final regular season record to 6-6, which made them bowl eligible. The Bruins fell to a final regular season record of 7-5.

With ten of the twelve teams in the Pac-12 leaving for other conferences next season, the conference will never be the same. UCLA is headed to the Big Ten Conference and Cal is headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Cal leaves the conference with a win and UCLA with a loss. Losing to Cal and getting beat by 26 points was disturbing and disappointing for UCLA fans, who expected a better effort from their team.

The Bruins lost starting quarterback Ethan Garbers for the game on the first offensive drive of the game. Garbers went out with an undisclosed injury. That injury impacted the Bruins offense. He was replaced by five-star freshman quarterback Dante Moore, who had struggled in recent appearances and Saturday Night against the Bears was no exception.

Moore completed 23 of 38 passes for 266 yards but was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. He was sacked six times and he seemed to struggle with seeing the pass rush, picking up the blitzes. Moore acknowledged after the game that that he has struggled adjusting to the college game.

“Some areas I know I need to grow in is adjusting to the speed of the game and how athletes move,” Moore said. “At practice they challenge me to make sure I’m getting better every day. In college football everybody is fast. Everybody is strong. D-ends runs 4.3 or 4.4’s. More of it is just adjusting to the speed of the game and getting the ball out faster. More arm angles or just getting the ball out. And the best way I can protect the football.”

UCLA had three offensive drives of at least 10 plays that resulted in no points in the game. The Bruins also had an eight play, 45-yard drive that stalled at the Cal five-yard line, which resulted in a 23-yard field goal attempt that was missed by kicker Blake Gessner. The Bruins had four turnovers, the three turnovers by Moore and a fumbled kickoff return by Colson Yankoff, that led to a Cal Bears touchdown.

The Bears do have talent and they made sure to get the ball to their star players. Cal wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter had 8 receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Hunter leads the Bears in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Running back Jadyn Ott is a player the Bears need to get the ball to. Ott leads the Pac-12 in rushing yardage per game and is 5th in the nation.

Ott played his high school football at Norco high school, where he was a four-star recruit. Ott rushed for 80 yards in the game and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Bears head coach Justin Wilcox was determined to get him the ball and the kickoff return was one way to accomplish that goal.

“We know that he’s an explosive player,” Wilcox said. “He’s shown that. And in a game like this, where we thought there would be fewer possessions potentially and the strength of their run defense and some of the style of play, we just wanted to find different ways to get him the ball. That’s a good start and he’s an explosive guy. Give a lot of credit to our special teams staff as well getting that thing schemed up.”

The 7-5 regular season finish for the Bruins is not what the Bruins or their fans wanted, but there were some good things that came out of the 2023 season, besides the thrashing of USC. The Bruins led the Pac-12 in rushing yardage per game at 191.1 and led the Pac-12 and the nation in rushing defensive yardage allowed per game at 69.6.

Individually, the performance of defensive end Laiatu Latu will be one for the UCLA football history books. Latu led the nation in tackles for loss with 21.5 and was the leader among all power conference schools with 13 sacks. Latu is one of three finalists for the Bednarik award, which is given to the best defensive player in college football. Latu is also one of four finalists for the Lombardi award, which is given to the college football lineman of the year and is one of four finalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, given to football’s best defensive player in character and performance.

Latu had an interception in the game against Cal, which set up the Bruins for their only touchdown of the game. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly said of Latu, “He’s truly a special player that can do so many things. You saw the interception that he made today. He can drop into coverage. He can obviously rush the passer. He’s very tough to block at the point of attack. He’s got an amazing skillset.”

The Bears are projected to play in the independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana on Saturday, December 16th. There is a chance that they could end up in the Los Angeles Bowl. The Bruins are being projected to play in the Los Angeles Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Independence Bowl. Bruin fans can at least hope that their team stays at home in the Los Angeles Bowl, which will be played on Saturday, December 16th at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

 

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