BYU, the luckiest team in America, the team you could bound, gag, lock in a trunk and throw in the ocean and it would still find a way to finish with a W and set of dry clothes, found out Saturday night that there is a law of averages.
Everything that could turn out unlucky, did, in a 68-14 Rose Bowl disaster against a UCLA team that, ironically, had exactly the opposite reputation as the Cougars. Coming into the game, it was the Bruins who were the unfortunate ones. They had opened the season by dropping a two-pointer to California, and encored that by dropping a one-pointer to Nebraska - and those games were at home in the Rose Bowl. Nobody was comparing the Bruins to a rabbit's foot. Nobody was asking them to pick their numbers in the California lottery.Meanwhile the Cougars were opening the season by beating New Mexico and Hawaii because the field goal kickers for both those schools flinched like George McFly when the game was on the line. BYU became the favorite team of the Optimists Club. Everybody wanted to touch the Cougars.
So what happened when the lucky team met the unlucky team? The stars crossed, that's what. The tables turned. Topsy went turvy. BYU couldn't buy a break and UCLA wasn't selling anyway.
How lopsided did it get? So lopsided that they started playing the "Thank you for supporting UCLA football and please drive carefully as you leave the Rose Bowl" announcements with two minutes still to play . . . in the first half.
At halftime, the UCLA band performed, appropriately enough, "Do the Hustle."
They went ahead and played the second half but they didn't need to. The tone had been set in the game's first 11 minutes, during which time BYU ran 16 plays from scrimmage. Included in that number were two fumbles, five quarterback sacks and one interception.
UCLA already led 20-0.
It was all over but filling out the thank you cards.
Momentum being the force that it is, UCLA did not stop once the field started tilting sharply in its favor. Before time ran out - and long after the game was over - the Bruins would score the most points ever against a BYU team and would administer the most-ever sacks - 11 in all - against BYU quarterbacks in a single game.
Oddly, it took BYU's defense a while to clue into the fact that this was not the Cougars' night. For at least a quarter and a half, the defense played as if the score was tied, at least. UCLA's offense had a rough time moving the football in the beginning, actually looking human. The basic cadence was this: UCLA offense stalls, UCLA punts, BYU gives the ball back, UCLA scores.
Not even the most optimistic coach in his fondest pregame fantasy would make that his game plan. But that's how things worked out for the Bruins, and they did not resist.
For BYU, it was more of the same in California road games. A kind of Golden State shutout has been in effect for the past five seasons. Since 1989 the Cougars have played seven games in either Los Angeles, Anaheim or San Diego - and not won any of them. They've tied two and lost the other five.
Going back even further, to the 1985 season, the Cougars are 2-9-2 in California - a record in sharp contrast to the first 13 years of the LaVell Edwards era, during which time BYU went 12-3 in games played on California turf. That mark included the 24-17 win over Michigan in the 1984 Holiday Bowl that clinched that year's national championship.
No one's sure just why this California whammy has developed over the past nine years, or if there's any connection between the national title and the ensuing jinx. The only thing obvious last night was that whatever it is is alive and well and when it collided head-on with BYU's good fortune earlier this season, it was no contest.
The Cougars have had better nights. They have had better years. They have gone whole months not giving up as many points, yards, sacks and turnovers as they did in 60 Golden State minutes. They made the Buffalo Bills feel good about their recent Rose Bowl appearance.
If nothing else, BYU shook off all notions that it is a charmed team in 1993. This was not a charmed team or a charmed night either. Not for the Cougars. Whatever breaks they've gotten, they gave them back.