PASADENA, Calif. — Marcus Mariota’s final performance here was as majestic as the stunning backdrop.
Braxton Burmeister limped out of the historic stadium battered, bruised and bloodied after Oregon’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since drubbing Florida State in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinal.
The Ducks’ painful fall continued during Saturday’s 31-14 Pac-12 loss to UCLA on the same field that was covered in green and yellow confetti on Jan. 1, 2015.
Burmeister ran for two touchdowns and passed for 74 yards, an improvement from the true freshman’s statistical pratfall at Stanford, but turned the ball over with an interception and again on downs in the second half.
The Ducks (4-4, 1-4) have now lost three consecutive games since starting quarterback Justin Herbert suffered a fractured collarbone on Sept. 30.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of his mistakes got to happen in front of 60,000 people every week,” coach Willie Taggart said. “There’s some things we’ve got to deal with right now, and continue to try to get him better. But we’ve got to be better around him as well.”
Burmeister’s day was summed up when defensive end Jaelan Phillips sprinted around left tackle Tyrell Crosby and delivered a whiplash hit to the crossed-up signal-caller from the blind side.
“It wasn’t Crosby’s fault,” Taggart pointed out. “That was the youngster’s fault. That was Braxton trying to do a little more than what we needed him to do. It’s a mistake that we can’t make. We were moving the ball there and that was a big loss for us.”
The drive-killing sack should never have happened because the call was for a running play, which is something Burmeister and the Ducks can execute.
“Those are the little headaches that you get right now,” Taggart said. “But you understand it’s going to get better. I believe in these guys. They’re working their tails off. They’re not trying to lose.”
Royce Freeman had 29 carries for 160 yards rushing to pass LaMichael James for as the school’s career rushing leader. The senior star also stiff-armed any notion that the Ducks can’t win until Herbert returns to the lineup.
“I’m really proud of him,” Freeman said of Burmeister. “A lot of things we can still work on as a team, but as far as his progress goes, I really like to see what he’s doing out there on the field.”
While UCLA’s defense could focus on the lethal simplicity of Oregon’s one-dimensional offense, Jim Leavitt’s patchwork unit was dealing with the more balanced Bruins.
Josh Rosen, a potential NFL franchise quarterback, picked the wilting Ducks apart for 266 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Bo Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo were is difficult to tackle as there names are to spell, combining for 142 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
“We’ve got to study (the game film) because we are tired of losses,” linebacker Lamar Winston Jr. said after leading the Ducks with 11 tackles. “That is the attitude in the locker room.”
Rosen threw the ball with surgical precision over the middle all afternoon.
When veteran safety Tyree Robinson exited the game due to an injury, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior deftly dropped the ball between Ugochukwu Amadi and Nick Pickett and into Christian Pabico’s hands for a 49-yard completion.
Amadi was playing safety for the first time in his career. Pickett is one of the many true freshman Leavitt is leaning on.
Olorunfunmi soared violently over safety Matrell McGraw and into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown run on the next snap to give the Bruins a 24-14 cushion.
“I coached Mike Vick,” UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. said when asked if he had ever witnessed such a vault over the goal-line. “So yes.”
Burmeister tried to answer with a deep pass to Dillon Mitchell, who ran the wrong route, but was intercepted by Colin Samuel. On a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Burmeister recovered his own fumble but lost four yards to give UCLA possession.
After the drives sputtered and died, Rosen shoveled dirt on Oregon’s casket with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Darren Andrews to cap a 17-0 UCLA run in the second half.
The Ducks were in a 14-0 hole after true freshman running back Darrian Felix’s lost a fumble led to a UCLA touchdown run and Rosen threaded a 31-yard touchdown pass to Pabico, who was blanketed by true freshman cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.
Oregon went four consecutive quarters without a point until Burmeister finished 15-play drives with touchdown runs of 7 and 4 yards in the second quarter.
So at least the Ducks weren’t half bad.
“Obviously the plane ride back is going to suck and (Sunday) is going to suck at practice,” center Jake Hanson said. “You just gotta flush it out of your system and go into next week hanging your head high.”