The announced attendance of 42,685 at the Rose Bowl Saturday night was among the smallest crowd ever to watch a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl, so clearly near car wrecks don't draw quite the amount of interest as the real thing.
UCLA scraped out a 27-17 victory over San Jose State, a victory over a three-touchdown underdog that left many in the sparse crowd feeling as though they wanted more.
This same San Jose State team had lost it's last five games against current Pac-12 teams by a combined score of 235-40. They lost 57-3 at Stanford last week, their 11th consecutive loss dating back to last season, but marched into the Rose Bowl Saturday night and had UCLA backed into a 17-17 tie after three quarters before UCLA's running game kicked into high gear and the defense began to show glimpses of its potential.
UCLA ground out 134 yards rushing in the fourth quarter and held San Jose State to 20 total yards to finally put away the pesky Spartans, but the close nature of the game against a team considered the lone sure-thing on UCLA's schedule made the victory feel a little ugly and left questions burning about this Bruins team.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I’m certain that many of you are going to say [we took a step backward]. My take on this is that we had a chance to blink and didn’t. We found a way to play well when we had to. We can take from that and learn how to play that way in ball games."
UCLA will, of course, take the victory and be happy with it. UCLA fans--most of whom appear to want to stay as far away as possible from this team--won't be so happy.
And can you blame them? San Jose State, which ranked 119th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing last season, racked up 202 yards on the ground against UCLA. The last time San Jose State had 200 yards rushing came in 2009 against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo--a Football Championship Subdivision team.
The UCLA defense again struggled in key situations, allowing the Spartans to convert a third and 10, a third and seven and fourth and three and another third and seven during a scoring drive that tied the game at 7-7. The Bruins gave up a 65-yard touchdown run on a third and one that tied the score at 17-17 late in the third quarter.
And UCLA's offense, which showed lot of promise last week against Houston, could get little going with the passing game even though San Jose State stacked the box in an effort to stop the run. The Bruins again filled their plays with mistakes such as penalties and two turnovers at crucial moments and if not for Derrick Coleman pounding and bruising his way to 135 yards in the second half, it would have been quite a car wreck that UCLA fans would have missed.
"It just matters what this team thinks," defensive lineman Datone Jones said. "San Jose State they are humans and they are football players, too. They came out and had momentum and we just fought as good teams do. It doesn't matter how you win, as long as you get the W."
Sure, nobody is going to throw the win back, but sometimes, it does matter how you win. When you are playing a team that has been on the skids for at least two seasons and is 2-34 against teams from BCS conference since 1996, you're supposed to roll.
Especially when you need to prove something to a fan base that is wary of a team that's been mired in the clutches of mediocrity for the better part of the last decade. A close call over one of the NCAA's bottom feeders isn't exactly going to fill those empty seats.