The story had been told many, many times before, just not exactly like this.
The Bruins were hosting their biggest home game in a long time, with the Pac-12 potentially on the line and fans spending the whole week building them up as a threat to make some real noise. Students showed out, the stands looked packed and, through one half, they were in a one-score game with a chance to pull away down the stretch.
Much like how things went down earlier in the year against Arizona State, the wheels fell off fast.
Facing a blowout on their own home turf though, the Bruins showed they were tired of that narrative. Departing from the 4s up started by Jaleel Wadood and Demetrice Martin half a decade ago, the players on the sideline put one finger in the air, down three scores and looking to bounce back.
"A lot of people throw those 4s up, for fourth quarter – we're attacking it just like it's the start of the game," said offensive lineman Jon Gaines. "That's what you guys saw out there. We came out there fresh, fast, physical, and that's the momentum change we needed. When those other teams start getting tired, we're just getting started."
As it turns out, the jumpstart was too little, too late.
UCLA football (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) at one point led 14-0 over No. 10 Oregon (6-1, 3-1), scoring touchdowns on two of its first three drives. The Bruins then allowed the Ducks to go on a 34-3 run, and it looked like more of the same for a team that had struggled on big stages and at the Rose Bowl this fall.
Then, UCLA strung together 14 unanswered points of its own and got an interception that set up a potential game-winning drive trailing 34-31.
And then, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson went down with an injury, and backup Ethan Garbers threw an interception to DJ James in Oregon territory.
Garbers had played one snap in non-garbage time prior to Saturday, and coach Chip Kelly said the one thing the former Washington transfer lacks is experience – not talent, not decision making and not toughness.
"Sorry, Garbers is also a hell of a player too," said linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath. "There’s no dropoff from Dorian to Garbers."
The Ducks kneeled it out and won 34-31.
"The effort these guys play with, the resiliency these guys play with, you gotta be proud of them," Kelly said. "You gotta look at the positives that you can take away from it and then also what can we correct, because obviously it didn’t go out way. So when it doesn’t go our way, what is the reason for that and let’s make the proper corrections and let’s learn from this situation."
The Bruins opened things up with a 75-yard drive that ended in a touchdown by running back Brittain Brown. After quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s arm was hit as he was throwing to start the next drive, the Ducks picked him off, only for UCLA to get the ball back still up by seven.
A blocked punt by striker Martel Irby set Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins up with a short field, and they made the most of it by feeding receiver Kazmeir Allen for a 5-yard score.
UCLA was up 14-0 having only allowed 34 yards.
For the next two quarters, hardly anything went the Bruins way.
UCLA missed a field goal from 35 yards out – one which ultimately ended up being the difference in what went final as a three-point game. Oregon got touchdowns on each of its next four drives, all ending in short scores by running back Travis Dye, who went on to set an NCAA record with four consecutive carries that finished in the end zone. While the Bruins managed to put up a field goal to end the first half ahead 17-14, the Ducks took their first lead one possession into the third quarter.
After punter Luke Akers dropped the snap on what was going to be his first attempt of the day, Oregon scooped it up and converted on the good field position with Dye’s fourth score that made it 27-17. UCLA turned it over on downs, and then allowed quarterback Anthony Brown to take one 43 yards to the house and put his team up 34-17 with just under 14 minutes to play.
The Bruins marched 75 yards down the field to avoid getting shut out in the second half via a Thompson-Robinson rushing touchdown, and after Genmark Heath got a pick off Anthony Brown, they went 20 yards and found the end zone again on a Brittain Brown run.
Still down three, UCLA needed to stop Oregon from running out the clock on the ground, and they proved unable to do so when the Ducks picked up three first downs running the ball.
Oregon switched things up though and tried to air it out, leading to cornerback Jay Shaw picking off Brown in the end zone and setting the Bruins up for a potential game-winning drive with 3:00 on the clock.
A couple first downs got UCLA to midfield, then Thompson-Robinson went down with his undisclosed injury. He was replaced by Garbers like he was against Stanford, but unlike in that game, Thompson-Robinson did not triumphantly return from the sidelines to play through the pain – he was ruled out by the medical staff and had to fully hand over the reigns to Garbers.
Garbers converted a few big plays to move the ball into Oregon territory, and then he threw a pick in the final minute when a field goal could have sent the game to overtime.
Entering the day as one of the best rushing teams in the conference, if not the country, the Bruins rushed for roughly half their season average with 110 yards. It was a new season-low for the blue and gold, and Kelly said the Ducks' front seven – whether it was edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, linebacker Noah Sewell or defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus – shut them down in a number of ways.
"They put a lot of guys down on the line of scrimmage, they were packing the box, there were a lot of blitz looks in there," Kelly said. "When you spread them out and throw the ball a little bit, then you leave them five 1-on-1s in terms of pass rush situations. So there's kind of a pick your poison when you're putting together your game plan against someone like that."
Taking out the sacks, Thompson-Robinson led UCLA with 54 rushing yards on 11 carries. Brittain Brown got two touchdowns to go along with his 45 yards, while Zach Charbonnet rushed for 35.
Thompson-Robinson threw for 220 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 22-for-41 passing. Although neither managed to catch half of their targets, the two Bruin quarterbacks looked towards receiver Kyle Philips and tight end Greg Dulcich on 27 of the 44 attempts.
UCLA is now winless at home since beating LSU in Week 1, and their hopes at winning the Pac-12 South seem to have largely faded away.