Is this the End of UCLA football bandwagon?
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The UCLA football bandwagon has careened into a ditch, run off the road by some enraged Fresno males, less than a month after speeding to unfathomable speeds on the fuel of two spectacular victories.
The scream was audible. The gleam has faded. As the Rose Bowl was packed with strangers' cries, the wreckage was spectacular, turning powder blue to a deep red just before midnight Saturday.
“Fresno State!” exclaims the crowd. “Fresno State!” exclaims the crowd.
This first Bruins setback, this snatching of Bruins magic, was put to a chorus of dancing witnesses just repeating the initial syllables of a final score, and that's how it sounded in the end.
Qwuantrezz Knight, a defensive back, remarked, "It was astonishing."
To some, it's breathtaking. To some, the Bruins are the same old break-your-heart-Bruins.
Despite being 11-point favorites against the Mountain West Bulldogs, the Bruins were significantly outgained, outplayed, and outclassed.
Despite the fact that the Bruins were playing their first game as a ranked team in four years — they were ranked 13th — their defense allowed 569 yards, their offense was outgained by 174 yards, and they trailed by two possessions for much the entire game save the final eight minutes.
The Bruins had generated a lot of long-awaited local hype after winning two games that were worthy of the bandwagon that had formed in this space, but that bandwagon lost control after the first few Fresno side swipes.
It's still salvageable; they haven't even begun conference play yet, and they still possess the talent to be among the Pac-12's elite.
But, my my, it's a smokin' disaster right now.
Knight stated, "We didn't think we were going to lose."
Even in the final minute, it appeared they wouldn't lose, with a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback giving them a 37-33 lead with 54 seconds to go.
But that lousy defense was bad one more time, and Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener was tremendous one more time, marching the Bulldogs down the field for a 75-yard drive that ended with Haener finding Jalen Cropper alone in the front corner of the end zone on a 13-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left.
The final gasping UCLA response ended in a Dorian Thompson-Robinson pass fluttering harmlessly to the ground as the dancing Bulldogs charged off their bench and rushed to the stands to party with their thousands of fans above the south end zone.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Bruins fans sat still in the cool night air, their heads buried in their hands as their team trudged into the tunnel.
One shivering soul exclaimed, "Did that just happen?"
The Rose Bowl had just been rocked by the Bruins' comeback, which included two touchdowns in less than one minute.
Bulldog hoots, screams, and taunting cries suddenly filled the room.
Just as suddenly, it was filled with Bulldog hoots, howls and taunting chants.
“Definitely in shock,” said Thompson-Robinson. “Obviously heartbroken.”
The Bruin quarterback had rebounded from an awful first three quarters to throw three touchdown passes in the fourth, the final one a 15-yarder to Kyle Philips with 54 seconds remaining that seemingly gave UCLA the victory. After that pass, he twirled through the grass like a ballerina, running as if floating.
Soon enough, though, he was grounded, soberly trying to make sense of an overall effort that was far from good enough.
“This one doesn’t define us, it’s not going to help us or hurt us in the Pac-12 play and … our main goal, which is Pac-12 Championship in the Rose Bowl,” he said.
It may not define them, but it should worry them. They had a bye week to prepare, but they didn’t seem prepared. They have a great running game, but their 227-yard average was cut in half. They have a revived defense, but Haener threw for 455 yards.
Worse, they were backed by a surge of excitement from their long-suffering fans, and the Rose Bowl audience of 50,698 was primarily Bruin loyal, but they played with all the emotion of a spring game at first.
But those first two wins over Hawaii and LSU did define them as one of the surprising powers in the country. And so it was just as surprising to see them take the field as the same old UCLA.
In a game that started at 7:55 p.m., the Bruins ran out amid darkness decorated in fireworks. Yet the fireworks initially fizzled and only the darkness remained.
It was supposed to be their year this year. It still could be if Thompson-Robinson develops into a consistent game-changer and the defensive backs figure out their scripts.
The bandwagon was not completely destroyed.
However, it has already been run off the road on the third lap of its journey.