It was the game we expected – physically punishing, mentally taxing, and stylistically familiar to the Utes battle a few weeks ago. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the result was also eerily similar to two games prior in Salt Lake City. In a game that saw UCLA outgain the Beavers (453 to 415), have more first downs (27 to 18), garner more third and fourth down conversions, and win the time of possession battle, the Bruins still found themselves on the short end by double digits. All because of, you guessed it, untimely turnovers.
It’s a story unfortunately retold so much over the past weeks, that for Bruin fans, it makes Taylor Swift’s budding romance with Travis Kelce feel under the radar. There were plenty of ebbs and flows Saturday night. Here are the primary plot twists:
Part I – Dante’s Growing Pains…Again
In the third installment of Dante Moore’s on-the-job training in conference play, the true freshman had two interceptions within the Bruins inaugural 12 offensive plays. The first was a roll-out to the left where he was unable to set his feet or twist his hips and ultimately threw a pass behind Logan Loya. Next was a floater down the right hash mark where he was unable to feel the rush in time, was hit as he released, and the ensuing floating duck was caught like a can of corn.
Sandwiched in between those turnovers was a three-and-out. The Bruins defense was valiant in holding the Beavers to field goals in their first two possessions, but ultimately lost red zone favorite, Jack Velling, on third and goal from the 10 for a walk-in score near the far side pile on. The Bruins were down 13-0 at the end of the first frame and in danger of getting blown out. The lone offensive bright spot was a dazzling Keegan Jones 26-yard check down that included a buttery smooth inside-out hesitation followed by an effortless, Baryshnikovian inside spin move.
Part II – The Schlee Package
Credit to Chip Kelly for making an astute in-game adjustment. Realizing circumstances had evolved into a two-score game, and anticipating the Beavers’ physically imposing pass rush pinning their ears back to relentlessly attack Moore, who is still a very unwilling runner in the RPO game at this stage of his physical maturity, he installed Collin Schlee into the game as signal caller. In an ode to Tim Tebow’s role on the 2006 national champion Florida Gators, Schlee’s presence restored defensive gap contain for the Bruins as OSU would still need to account for both the run and the pass.
Kelly’s plan played to perfection as the Bruins went 75 yards in eight plays, the first 65 of which were exclusively on the ground highlighted by a magnificent Schlee 28-yard keeper. Moore, despite getting popped on the release, found Loya on third and eight from the 10-yard line on the senior wide receiver’s quintessential route, the underneath cross. The Bruins forced a fumble four plays later, recovered by Oluwafemi Oladejo, and managed to slog for 29 more yards on nine plays, 23 of which were on the ground. The passing highlight was Moore’s precise delivery to the under-utilized Kyle Ford for five yards on fourth and three from the OSU 29. UCLA managed to methodically inch within 13-10. Game on.
Part III – Big Play Gashes
The game’s next phase was a plethora of big plays that didn’t go the Bruins way…and one near miss that could’ve been tectonic. OSU subsequently and robotically went 77 yards over 10 plays to extend their lead 16-10. The drive’s pivotal play was a 22-yard completion from DJ Uiagalelei to Silas Bolden on a third and one deflected pass from the UCLA 44-yard line. In fact, the ball went right through the hands of Bruins defensive lineman Jake Heimlicher before surprisingly finding Bolden’s chest. Get that pick and the Bruins are in business down three with a chance to tie at the half.
But disaster truly struck on the Bruins subsequent drive to close out the half. After a few promising underneath throws to Kam Brown and a gutty 16-yard scramble on third and three, Moore locked eyes on J. Michael Sturdivant on a near-side out route. The Beavers’ Ryan Cooper jumped the pass and made a 67-yard house call that ultimately enabled OSU to regain their 13-point lead and home-field momentum at 23-10. After the teams exchanged punts after halftime, OSU gashed the Bruins courtesy of a 15-yard zone read run by Damien Martinez. DJU then immediately found a streaking wide-open Bolden for a 43-yard in-stride touchdown strike. 29-10 and ultimately the dagger.
Part IV – Resilient Bruin Spirit
From there on out, with nine minutes left in the third quarter, the game felt out of reach and on the Beavers’ terms. But that didn’t stop these Mighty Bruins from demonstrating a terrific tenacity until the final whistle. Kelly brought Schlee back into the game and he delivered once again on a five-play 69-yard drive, exclusively on the ground. The drive has highlighted by Schlee’s second 28-yard keeper where he miraculously broke two tackles simultaneously at the RPO mesh point and streaked down the right sideline to setup first and goal at the nine, where TJ Harden capitalized on the very next play to make things interesting at 29-17.
The Beavers came right back to answer highlighted by two DJU completions to Velling that totaled 68 yards. The first was a sandlot-like improvisational throw by Uiagalelei, where he scrambled left and threw back across his body on a jump-ball, jump-throw that Velling caught in traffic for 36 yards. Three plays later DJU found his favorite tight end once again galavanting wide open down the far side hashmark on a 32-yard coverage bust seam route. At that point, the game was officially christened into garbage time at 36-17 with about four minutes left in the third quarter.
But there was no quit in this 2023 edition of the Mighty Bruins as they countered by going 75 yards on 16 plays that took five minutes off the clock. 68 of the 75 yards were on the ground, the lone pass completion being a seven-yard curl by Moore to Brown on fourth and seven to keep the drive alive. Carson Steele ultimately found pay dirt on a seven-yard inside zone counter run that capped off his 22-carry, 110-yard performance.
The Bruins subsequently didn’t have enough time in a two-possession game to stay committed to the run game. The lone highlight was Moore’s 34-yard completion to Moliki Matavao late in the fourth quarter on a subtle misdirection out route. But Moore was also repeatedly bruised on UCLA’s last two possessions, a culmination of his five-sack beating Saturday night, given the Bruins’ one-dimensional reality.
Sitting with two conference losses and one of the nation’s top defensive units, the Bruins need to go back to the drawing board offensively. Their identity is anchored by their run game, evidenced by Saturday’s 284 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry. This unit was heavily aided by Schlee’s ability to complement bell-cow Steele as a change of pace in the backfield. But in a crushing turn of events, Schlee reportedly has a broken sternum, a significant setback that would effectively end his season.
At the game’s end, Moore looked battered physically and mentally. For the first time all season, even outside the turnovers, he seemed to regress from the prior week with accuracy, touch, and ball placement in traffic. It wouldn’t shock me if Moore sat the Stanford game to view the game with a fresh vantage point from the sideline, heal physically, and reset emotionally.
The Bruins have four more games to find offensive consistency and explosiveness prior to the USC game, with a road game to Tucson in between that’s shaping up to be one of the season’s surprisingly biggest tests. Outside of exploiting slot matchups on underneath routes to Loya, the pass offense has lost all semblance of an identity. They can’t get JMS the ball consistently, Carson Ryan is the team’s most athletic tight end and he had zero receptions versus the Beavers, while Keegan Jones is still not getting more than a handful of touches.
It might be time for a veteran presence like Ethan Garbers to make a spot start and shake up the offensive cobwebs in propelling the Bruins to a promising finish.