A year ago during rivalry week, UCLA’s seniors and graduate transfers ascended a stage on campus and introduced themselves as part of a treasured ritual.
Punter Wade Lees made an off-color joke and running back Josh Kelley flashed his radiant smile before leading the throng of students packed into Wilson Plaza in an eight clap. Confetti streamed into the nighttime sky, the UCLA marching band blared, the Beat SC Rally in full, glorious swing.
A similar scene will not play out in the coming days, another loss chalked up to COVID-19. The Blood Bowl flag football game between the UCLA and USC student newspapers is also off and no fans will be permitted to attend the game between the Bruins (3-2) and No. 15 Trojans (4-0) on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl, disappointing all involved.
“All the energy and the stuff from the crowd, it means a lot, you know?” UCLA safety Quentin Lake said. “Especially on defense. You know, you get a loud atmosphere, it can help, it’s like a 12th man, so it’s unfortunate that we don’t have fans.”
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson compiled one of his most efficient performances against Arizona State in his return from quarantine.
About the only nod to rivalry week on UCLA’s campus in recent days was the boarding up of the Bruin statue to protect it from vandalism.
Organizers of the Beat SC Rally, one of the largest yearly outdoor gatherings on campus, decided not to hold it this year because of restrictions on crowds and concerns about the virus. A spokesperson for the Bruin Spirit Committee said there would be no virtual rally because of the unpredictability of a football season that has seen scores of games canceled.
“It’s very unfortunate because there’s so much that goes into this rivalry and competing against that team across town,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said of all the pageantry that has been put on hold until 2021. “For the student-athletes, not being able to experience all the energy and the support that they would feel being on campus and having everything that goes along with this rivalry week, that’s what I feel bad about.
“But at the same time, knock on wood, we’re going to have the ability to compete, and that’s what you want to have a chance to do.”
Lake said having no fans might allow the Bruins to lock in more on securing what would be a second consecutive victory over their rival at the Rose Bowl.
“You know, it will help us really focus on what we need to do and what we need to do to get the win,” Lake said, “so regardless of what happens if we have fans or not, we’ll come back to Westwood with a victory.”
Hurting for a chance
UCLA coach Chip Kelly called it “a heck of a catch.” Receiver Kyle Philips said he was “really shocked.”
The player who made what might go down as the play of the Bruins’ season? He described it as “just like a small part of the play, honestly.”
That’s just the humble nature of junior receiver Delon Hurt, who went from bit player to starring role against Arizona State last weekend when he snatched what appeared to be a sure interception on a post route away from a Sun Devils defensive back for a 38-yard gain.
“I saw the ball in the air and just did the best I can to come down with it,” Hurt said. “That’s a drill we rep a lot in practice, so that’s just kudos to my coaches and the drills that we do to have me prepared for that.”
USC coach Clay Helton is not worried about the offensive line’s slowdown in the second half against Washington State on Sunday.
Hurt finished the game with four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, a career night for someone who had one catch entering the game. Kelly said Hurt’s bigger role was a function of the Sun Devils’ coverages, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s patience with his progressions and Hurt’s ability to get open.
It was a handsome payoff for years of drudgery while waiting for a chance.
“The past three years, my mind-set has really just been growth and development and consistency, really,” Hurt said. “I feel like if I was able to improve on those things each and every day, each and every time I got an opportunity, I could get my shot in a game sooner or later.”
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a longtime friend of Kelly, spoke to the Bruins at practice Tuesday. The Patriots have used UCLA’s practice facility as part of their preparations for consecutive games against the Chargers and Rams at SoFi Stadium.