THE DEFENSE RESTS; UCLA UNABLE TO STOP MIAMI; TITLE HOPES FADE : MIAMI 49, UCLA 45.
UCLA's locker room was so quiet, you could hear a Fiesta Bowl drop. Some players closed their eyes and some gazed into nothingness, their heads covered in towels, tears rolling down their cheeks.
Outside, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti tried to explain the unexplainable.
``This was by far - and this is an understatement - the most horrendous performance by a defensive team I've ever been involved with or watched on TV,'' Aliotti said after a devastating 49-45 loss to Miami on Saturday, before 46,819 in the Orange Bowl.
``There was so much riding on this game, it's hard to imagine how we could play so poorly. This is as tough as it gets, because we were so close to something special. To experience this is pretty devastating.''
Devastating is gaining 670 yards and scoring 45 points, and losing.
Devastating is blowing a 38-21 lead with 16 minutes left.
Devastating is wasting a career performance by quarterback Cade McNown, who threw for a school-record 513 yards and five touchdowns.
Devastating, and ironic.
All season the Bruins (10-1) dismissed the means (close calls, sloppy defense and fabulous finishes) and focused on the ends: winning.
Saturday, the means fought back.
Their weaknesses were exposed on national television, on the biggest day of the college season, with the Fiesta Bowl and potential national title at stake - not to mention $6 million for the Pacific-10, a Rose Bowl for Arizona and a chance for the Bruins to erase their reputation for being soft in front of an East Coast audience.
But there was no debate: the defense rested, and a 20-game winning streak died hard.
``When a team is weak in one area and you're competing for a national championship, you're bound to get found out one day,'' Bruins guard Andy Meyers said. ``It's an absolute joke and a travesty. I apologize to all the Bruin fans. We gave them hope and let it fall.''
All season coach Bob Toledo clung to the theory that you win with offense and keep from losing with defense.
Saturday, the defense lost - yielding 689 yards to the Hurricanes and 299 yards to their punishing tailback, Edgerrin James. Both figures are UCLA opponent records.
The Bruins played without injured linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for all but two plays and had 10 men on the field for one Hurricanes touchdown. On another drive, the Hurricanes covered 80 yards in four plays - all runs.
``It's beyond words,'' said UCLA cornerback Marques Anderson, who missed countless tackles. ``These are the games national championship teams have to win.''
All season the Bruins came from behind to win.
Saturday, they came from ahead to lose, as Miami finished with a 28-7 surge and finished the Bruins the way they finished Arizona, Stanford and Oregon State.
Of course, there are no surprises in the storied Orange Bowl - where Miami has busted seven winning streaks of 10 games or more, where the Hurricanes upset Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, where Doug Flutie found Gerard Phelan for a Boston College miracle and a phantom penalty on Rocket Ismail's punt return against Colorado cost Notre Dame the 1990 national title.
On Saturday, as the Hurricanes rallied from a 45-35 deficit in the final minutes Saturday, the crowd of 46,819 sounded like 75,000 and ghosts of upsets past enveloped.
``It was David vs. Goliath, and God came through for David again,'' Miami defensive end Derrick Ham said.
All season the Bruins created game-changing turnovers. Saturday, fumbles by receivers Brian Poli-Dixon and Brad Melsby changed the game.
Melsby's came with 3:34 left and the Bruins driving for the clinching touchdown. On third-and-8 from his 44, McNown hit Melsby down the middle. He dodged one tackle, gained 30 yards and was hit by Miami's Edward Reed.
Melsby appeared to have one knee down when the ball popped loose, but the officials ruled it a fumble. Miami's Delvin Brown recovered, and eight plays later James - who else? - rumbled 1 yard for the go-ahead touchdown.
``I had the worst seat in the house, but I'd venture to say he was probably down,'' Toledo said.
McNown took possession with 50 seconds remaining and quickly moved the Bruins to Miami's 29. But the drive stalled and the Fiesta Bowl evaporated when his fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the back of the end zone.
``It's great for the fans to see a shootout all the time,'' McNown said. ``But you can't win football games giving up yardage like that.''
UCLA vs. MIAMI: A CLOSER LOOK
Miami tailback Edgerrin James, who rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns, leading a Hurricanes attack that gained 371 yards on the ground.
UCLA's defense, which yielded 49 points and 689 yards to Miami, failed to create turnovers and allowed the Hurricanes to convert 11 of 15 third-down opportunities.
STAT OF THE GAME
The teams combined for 94 points and 1,359 yards offense.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
``I'm disappointed, but it's not emotionally crushing. We just did not play good enough defense.''
- UCLA coach Bob Toledo
Sep. 12 UCLA 49, Texas 31
Sep. 19 UCLA 42, Houston 24
Oct. 3 UCLA 49, Washington St. 17
Oct. 10 UCLA 52, Arizona 28
Oct. 17 UCLA 41, Oregon 38, OT
Oct. 24 UCLA 28, California 16
Oct. 31 UCLA 28, Stanford 24
Nov. 7 UCLA 41, Oregon St. 34
Nov. 14 UCLA 38, Washngton 28
Nov. 21 UCLA 34, USC 17
Dec. 5 Miami 49, UCLA 45
NOTEBOOK: Melsby not sure about call but takes blame
MIAMI - Brad Melsby wasn't too sure about the call, but he had no doubt about the impact.
``Basically, I lost the game,'' said the UCLA receiver, referring to his fumble at the Miami 26 with 3:24 left that the Hurricanes recovered and used to drive for the winning touchdown in their 49-45 victory at the Orange Bowl on Saturday that ended UCLA's hopes for a national championship.
``The feeling on the sidelines was we were going to make plays again and find a way to win. We were on the way to doing that when I fumbled.''
Melsby, with UCLA facing third-and-8 at its own 44 and clinging to a three-point lead, caught a ball over the middle from Cade McNown and slipped a defender before he was hit by a pair of Miami players, including strong safety Edward Reed.
Reed's hit popped the ball loose and the refs said it happened before Melsby hit the ground. However, TV replays appeared to indicate that Melsby's knee was down before the ball came loose.
Andy Myers, for one, didn't need to see the replay.
``It took all the self-control I had not to punch the official,'' Meyers said.
``I had the worst seat in the house,'' said UCLA coach Bob Toledo, ``But I'd venture to say he was down.''
``I really don't know,'' said Melsby, a junior from Los Alamitos High. ``I took a pretty good hit. The first thing I thought was that I was down, but I should have had better control of the ball. I should have had the ball and we should have run out the clock.''
One play and out: UCLA lost its all-conference linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, on Miami's first offensive play. Ayanbadejo sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and returned for one play.
He hopes to be back for the Rose Bowl.
``I got hurt on the ground when someone fell on me,'' Ayanbadejo said. ``It's strange. They say if you play full speed and know what you're doing, you won't get hurt. The play we practiced against was different from the way they ran it.''
Ayanbadejo and safety Larry Atkins are the only senior starters on defense. Ali Abdul Azziz replaced Ayanbadejo and had two tackles.
``Whenever you miss a good player in a big game, it hurts,'' defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
Drifting away: Several players, including captains Cade McNown and Andy Meyers, questioned the preparation techniques of the young defensive players.
``There were plenty of things going on, including a lack of focus,'' Meyers said. ``When you look over something, you're bound to trip on what's in front of you.''
Chaos reigns: The most humiliating moment of an embarrassing game for the UCLA defense came late in the first quarter, when Miami quarterback Scott Covington passed to uncovered receiver Aaron Moser for a 7-yard touchdown.
``We had 10 guys on the field,'' Bruins coach Bob Toledo said in disgust.
The numbers lie: Check the tackle statistics for UCLA's second-year defenders: Ryan Nece had 12, Jason Stephens had 11, Tony White had 10 and Marques Anderson had seven.
For every tackle they made, they seemed to miss two. The Bruins were well-positioned on most plays - for once, alignments and assignments weren't the problem - but they could not corral Edgerrin James.
``The defense played really well the last two games,'' Nece said. ``For this to happen and us to have breakdowns and not execute the fundamentals, it's very frustrating.''
- Billy Witz and Jon Wilner
1. Tennessee (12-0) 4.99
Beat to Miss. St.
2. UCLA (10-1) 5.03
Lost to Miami
3. Kansas State (11-1) 6.31
Lost to Texas A&M
4. Florida State (11-1) 8.20
Did not play
5. Ohio State (10-1) 12.33
Did not play
Records tied or broken Saturday by Miami running back Edgerrin James:
His 299 rushing yards broke Big East and Miami school marks.
His 299 yards also most by UCLA opponent.
His 39 attempts tied Ottis Anderson for school record.
His 13th 100-yard game broke Anderson's school record.
His three TDs gave him school record 17 this season.
4 Photos, 3 Boxes
PHOTO (1--Color) UCLA was utterly unable to contain Miami's offense, particularly running back Edgerrin James, who gained 299 yards rushing.
(2) Miami's Matt Sweeney (98) celebrates after the Hurricanes' 49-45 win over UCLA which dashed the Bruins' title hopes.
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
(3) no caption (Edgerrin James)
BOX: (1) UCLA vs. MIAMI: A CLOSER LOOK (see text)
(2) BCS MADNESS (see text)
(3) RUNNING WILD (see text)