The UCLA Bruins began the 2015 campaign with aspirations of a national title. Following consecutive 10-3 seasons, with appearances in Pac-12 Championship games to match, Head Coach Jim Mora had his sights set a bit higher this year.
Unfortunately, the Bruins have been hit with the injury bug as hard as any team in America. It’s not only the amount of casualties in the lineup; it’s also the quality. In the season opener, UCLA lost Eddie Vanderdoes to an ACL tear. Vanderdoes (pictured left) was highly decorated and is a sure-fire NFL talent. Senior cornerback Fabian Moreau has also been lost for the season due to a broken foot. That injury came as the Bruins were set to reinstate Ishmael Adams back into the secondary following a suspension.
As if that weren’t enough, the Bruins were dealt a haymaker when all-world linebacker Myles Jack suffered a season (and college-career) ending knee injury in practice on September 23.
But they battled on. Even without Jack, Moreau and Vanderdoes, the Bruins were able to defeat number 16 Arizona in the desert, moving their record to 4-0 and climbing up to number 7 in the AP Poll.
Then UCLA fell at home to an ASU team that had just been walloped on their home field by USC. A second straight loss at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal saw the Bruins fall completely out of the rankings less than three weeks after being a top-10 team.
It seemed as though UCLA was finally feeling the pain of all the injuries, and with a handful of very strong Pac-12 opponents left on the schedule, would be feeling it for a while.
So last Thursday night’s matchup against number 20 Cal and college football’s best quarterback Jared Goff seemed like another game that UCLA could and probably would lose.
Instead, freshman quarterback Josh Rosen and the depleted Bruins defense made a statement with a 40-24 win. The news wasn’t all good for the Bruins though, as they had to deal with even more injuries. Mora lost his best offensive player, running back Paul Perkins, in the second quarter and would lose receiver Devin Fuller and linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea, as well. With all three injuries looking bad, it’s “next man up” for a Bruin team that has adopted that mantra all year.
Two days later, USC did the Bruins a huge favor by knocking off undefeated Utah in Los Angeles. With the loss, Utah fell to 3-1 in the conference and gave UCLA (2-2) a chance to get back to the Pac-12 Championship game with a November 21 matchup looming between the Utes and Bruins in Salt Lake City.
With eight Power 5 conference teams still undefeated, it seems unlikely that a two-loss Pac-12 champion will have a shot at the playoffs, but the Bruins aren’t dead yet.
Still, it looks like the dream season for UCLA won’t be 2015.