SAN DIEGO-The 35th Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl was supposed to be a coronation of a successful season for the UCLA Bruins. Instead, the Bruins played as though they had mistakenly ran into the second version of Robert Griffin III. The dynamic Griffin set the college football world ablaze last season with his electrifying play and winning the Heisman Trophy. Griffin has since entered the NFL and has set the league on fire.
Griffin showed his mastery of the read-option and pistol offense last season. His understudy at the quarterback position evidently took some notes and has perfected it as well as his mentor. Quarterback Nick Florence, Griffin’s backup last season, did his best impersonation of the former Baylor star, leading the Bears to a 49-26 win in front of 55,507 at Qualcomm Stadium.
In the process of leading Baylor (8-5) to the unexpected bowl victory, Florence, who finished the game completing 10 of 13 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, swept by Griffin as the single-season passing leader in school history.
“For me, I have always wanted an opportunity to play,” Florence said. “I’ve been saying it all year, all you want in life is a chance and an opportunity and I just happened to follow a Heisman Trophy winner, so I had to go out and be me. I’m not 6?3, I can’t run a 4.3, you saw that tonight. Man if I could though! He’s done a heck of a job for this program, put us on the map and done a lot of things for us and, again, this team has done a lot of things.
“It’s not just him and not just one guy and I’m honor and had humbled to hold that record and he deserves it, and it’s humbling. Never would have thought that would happen this year, I just wanted to win games.”
Florence led Baylor on five first-half scoring drives, including throwing for two touchdown passes to stake the Bears to a 35-10 lead at intermission. That was pretty much the ballgame. UCLA (9-5) never recovered from the shock and awe of Baylor’s overall team speed, which seemed to overwhelm the Bruins most of the game.
Baylor perhaps showed off more speed than any of UCLA’s opponents during the regular season. And for most the night the Bruins looked as though they were running in suspended animation as Baylor players whiffed by them like a cool Sunday morning breeze. If running back Lache Seastrunk wasn’t blowing by Bruins’ defenders, Baylor wide receiver Terrence Williams, a consensus All-American, was accelerating by them on the outside.
This was a classic matchup of speed going up against power.
Baylor’s speed prevailed over UCLA’s physical prowess. And it wasn’t even close. That scenario played out on both side of the ball. Despite being the fifth best team in the Big 12, Baylor lead the nation in total offense per game with an output of 578 yards a contest. Williams and one of college football’s most exciting playmakers, is tops in the country in receiving yards, burning defensives for 147 yards a game.
For the Bruins the game was a debacle on all levels, which will overshadow the great season the team did have. The Bruins, after impressive wins this season against Nebraska, USC and Houston, came into the contest ranked 17th in the nation in the last BCS standings. This is a place the Bruins haven’t been since 2006 when they were ranked 25th-best team in the country.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, the orchestrator of a UCLA offense that averaged 35 points a game, was under duress and faced constant pressure most of the evening, resulting in a somewhat sub-par performance. Hundley completed just 26 of 50 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. But he was also sacked six times by an aggressive Baylor defense.
“It is what it is, I don’t feel the pressure,” Hundley said. “I got to play my game and make sure I’m on top of the offensive line and they’re trying their best and I got to help them out by making something happen or just throwing the ball where it needs to be.”
UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. and his team no doubt got a teaching moment on how to move forward with the program to take it to the heights they are aiming for. Despite the disheartening defeat, Mora feels his team is headed in the right direction.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and we knew that. But we’re on the right path,” Mora said. “We’re going to continue to work hard. We’re going to continue to add quality football players to this team. We’ve got some tremendous leaders leaving this program but we’ve got some great young leaders within this program, two of them right here, Eric and Brett and if you look at their faces you can see the determination that is prevalent in this program.
We’ve got a long ways to go to become the team that we want to be. The team that we want to be is a national champion. Tonight showed us how far we have to go but we’re determined to get there and we’re heading in the right direction but we’re a long ways off, we will fight our tails off to get there.”
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”