The UCLA Bruins football team started their 2023 campaign with a bang. It ended with a loud thud. After starting the season off winning three straight games, the Bruins closed the regular season losing three of their last four games, including dropping a 33–7 beatdown to the Cal Golden Bears at the Rose Bowl Stadium.
Suffice it to say, the defeat to Cal at home was not the way that Chip Kelly and the Bruins had envisioned finishing off the season, especially a week after dispatching crosstown rival USC. Cal put up 20 points in the first half and added 13 more points in the fourth quarter to win the game decisively.
After the game, Kelly talked to the media about how the Bruins’ promising season turned into a different direction.
UCLA defensive lineman Gabriel Murphy (11) assists on a tackle to bring down a Cal Golden Bears ball carrier in a Pac-12 Conference matchup at the Rose Bowl Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023. Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline
“It was a tough season,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve got one more opportunity, as I told the players in the locker room, they’ve got one more opportunity to get this taste out of their mouths. We do not know when we are going to play or where we’re going to play . We’ll find that out a week from tomorrow.
“But this group’s got one more chance to send our seniors out the right way. And we knew going into this we had one more bowl game, but that wasn’t our plan. Our plan was to do it tonight. We didn’t. Give Cal credit. They did a really good job tonight. But it has been a tough season. We have one more chance to show what we can do.”
There were a couple of things that directly contributed to Cal pulling off the upset against the Bruins. First things first. UCLA could not run the football. For the game, the Bruins rushed the ball 36 times for a grand total of 70 yards, a paltry 1.9 yards per carry.
UCLA also lost two of three fumbles, allowed Dante Moore to be sacked six times, and converted only one of five red zone opportunities in the game. Kelly talked about the errors and missed opportunities his team had.
“Yeah, we obviously didn’t — special teams tonight had a kickoff return for a touchdown,” Kelly remarked. “We fumbled a kickoff. They had a good hit, but we’ve got to hold onto the football. From a special teams standpoint and an offensive standpoint, again, we moved the ball but we didn’t convert that into points. I think that we wasted a really good effort from our defense.”
UCLA redshirt senior defensive back Alex Johnson was able to put things into proper perspective despite the Bruins not coming up victorious in their regular season finale.
“Even with the way things went, I honestly wouldn’t take away anything that happened,” Johnson said. “Going out to play that game with my brothers, with Dante, it’s always a blessing. It’s special for me looking at where I’ve come from personally to where I am now.
Cal wide receiver Mavin Anderson (11) attempts to break away from the grasp of UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu in the Golden Bears’ 33–7 win against the Bruins on Nov. 25, 2023. Photo credit: Melinda Meijer/News4usonline
“I tried to not get too emotional about it, but obviously it was a big thing and it’s something I’ll always cherish with me no matter the outcome. Just being able to be out on the field cheering my guys on, being excited, it was one for the memories.”
While UCLA struggled to close out the 2023 college football season, Cal won their last three games and might have improved their chances of going to a bowl.
“We had to believe,” Cal freshman linebacker Cade Uluave said. “We had to be persistent, and we knew it was not going to be easy getting those three wins. But we knew it was possible. Coach Wilcox really hits on that. After the loss at Oregon in the locker room after that day he said we’re going to bounce back, get these three wins, and we’re going to go to a bowl game. That’s what he said the entire time and we believed him. We trust him and it’s worked out for us.”