It felt like so much of what had come before it under Chip Kelly.
A week after posting a riveting victory, UCLA sustained the sort of loss that made one question the whole operation.
Long, hard reflection was practically all that remained after the latest lurching left the Bruins with their most deflating defeat of the season Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
Only seven days after pummeling its cross-town rival, UCLA fell flat during a 33-7 loss to California that left Kelly to answer for six seasons of one-step-forward, one-step-back results that put his record at an even .500 while serving as a sad senior night sendoff.
Was Kelly concerned about his job status? How would he evaluate his performance? Why didn’t he switch quarterbacks after Dante Moore committed three turnovers in relief of Ethan Garbers?
Did his team’s third loss in four games — and second at home in that stretch to a heavy underdog — make him worry school officials might rethink their recent support?
“I don’t worry about that,” Kelly said after his team finished the regular season 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12, leaving his record at the school at 34-34. “I don’t worry about that dynamic. I know this team’s 24-13 in the last three years, and they compete every single day, and I’m proud of every single kid in that locker room.
“I think they represent the school the right way. So we understand where we are and we understand that we have to win games, and I get that. That’s part of the deal. But I don’t think about those things. I don’t worry about those things. That’s never been my M.O.”
Kelly wasn’t in the mood for much self-reflection after his team fell into a tie with Cal (6-6, 4-5) for seventh place in the Pac-12 standings, possibly sending the Bruins to the Independence Bowl based on conference tiebreakers.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do, and it’s disappointing because in phases I think we’ve played really, really well,” Kelly said when asked to evaluate the job he did this season. “But we got to put it together. And in five games we didn’t put it together.”
UCLA’s final Pac-12 game started promising enough thanks to the hero of its victory over rival USC. Garbers completed seven of nine passes on the opening drive, leading the Bruins to Cal’s 20-yard line, before appearing to hurt his arm and departing the game.
Enter Moore, whose first pass into heavy coverage was tipped by one Golden Bears defender to another in the end zone for an interception. It was a theme for the true freshman who struggled, having two passes intercepted and losing a fumble.
“Something I stand on is that God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. I know as of right now I’m going through a storm,” said Moore, who completed 23 of 38 passes for 266 yards with one touchdown in addition to the turnovers. “Right now I’m going through a tough battle. I know my faith and believe in the man upstairs and God and really my faith. A storm is going on, but at the end of the day I’m going to get through it. Things aren’t going my way.
“It kind of reminds me of my freshman year of high school. I had a lot of mistakes. I had a lot of picks, actually. My picks went down, lower and lower and lower, because I just learned the speed coming from Little League to high school, and of course going through the same thing in college. I just have to adapt and adjust to things.”
Kelly said he contemplated a change at quarterback but didn’t make one, believing in the true freshman who was sacked six times even with liberal substitutions on the offensive line in an attempt to bolster the protection.
“I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” Kelly said.
Quarterback play wasn’t the only thing worth questioning. After Moore’s five-yard touchdown pass to Logan Loya in the front of the end zone momentarily gave UCLA a 7-6 lead in the second quarter, Cal’s Jaydn Ott returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
The Bruins also missed another field goal, making them eight for 17 on the season, and helped the Golden Bears convert a fourth down when they were called for a “disconcerting signals” penalty.
“It just kind of snowballed on you, you know what I mean?” Kelly said.
Not even interceptions by Kamari Ramsey and Laiatu Latu could save the Bruins from another limp offensive showing two weeks after they had also managed just seven points during a home loss to Arizona State. UCLA’s defense that was the best in the Pac-12 against the run appeared to wear down and gave up 124 yards rushing.
For the Bruins, it was a grim farewell to the Pac-12 and “Pac-12 After Dark,” not to mention an unhappy birthday for Kelly on the day he turned 60.
The last question Kelly took was about whether he felt any sense of melancholy given the end of the conference he had known for so long.
“Melancholy’s not what I’m thinking about right now,” Kelly said. “I’d like to wax eloquent about the demise of the Pac-12, but that’s not on my mind right now.”