The 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl carries with it a bit of controversy, primarily surrounding the invitation of the UCLA Bruins to a Bowl Game despite the fact that they finished the year with a losing record. Indeed, though UCLA played in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference Championship Game—losing to the Oregon Ducks—the only reason they qualified to participate in that game was due to the postseason sanctions against the USC Trojans. Though the NCAA granted an exemption to get UCLA into the postseason, the berth is being looked upon by many as undeserved.
As for Illinois, a promising start to the season—which saw the Fighting Illini go 6-0—turned into a disaster as their schedule difficulty ramped up and they lost their final six games to finish the season 6-6. Though they were bowl-eligible on October 8th, taking a losing streak into this game is surely not how they hoped the year would go.
Illinois holds a slight ratings advantage in NCAA Football 12, so for today’s playthrough for STAT BOX STORIES I opted to play as UCLA and try to justify the Bruins’ presence in this Bowl Game.
Illinois won the coin toss and elected to kick the ball away to begin the game; just over a minute later, great blocking sprung UCLA’s HB #23 on a 51-yard touchdown scamper to give the Bruins an early 7-0 lead.
Defense seemed to be optional early on, however, as the Fighting Illini were able to put together a drive of their own, ending with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7. Just over a minute later, a 3rd-and-17 play for UCLA resulted in a 69-yard touchdown pass to give the lead back to the Bruins.
On Illinois’ next offensive drive, they converted a 4th-and-1 try at UCLA’s 20-yard-line to maintain possession. However, a third down pass later in the drive was caught out of bounds, forcing Illinois to settle for a 37-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
After 24 points were scored in the opening quarter, the second quarter was much more quiet to start. UCLA converted a 4th-and-1 try at midfield, but then had to punt the ball back to Illinois. On Illinois’ next possession, they threw an interception and the Bruins were able to return the ball to midfield. A few plays later—with 2:07 remaining in the first half—a play-action pass resulted in a 56-yard touchdown to put UCLA ahead 21-10.
With possession and an 11-point deficit, Illinois’ next drive was helped mightily by a bad UCLA pass interference call to help the Fighting Illini drive into Bruins territory. On the very next play after the penalty, a screen pass to the halfback turned into a 45-yard touchdown pass and the game was getting much closer at 21-17. However, with less than a minute remaining, UCLA took possession and took advantage of a blitzing Illinois defense to score on a 51-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 28-17 at the half.
Despite the 11-point lead, the second half started inauspiciously for the Bruins; UCLA’s 3rd Quarter kickoff went out of bounds, giving Illinois possession at their own 40-yard-line. The Fighting Illini were able to put together a solid drive, capping it off with a 6-yard touchdown run to again narrow the lead to 4 points. Momentum appeared to be swinging in favor of Illinois as UCLA went three-and-out on their next possession and had to punt. Illinois drove into UCLA territory once again, but faced 4th-and-1 at the Bruins’ 30-yard-line. Illinois’ quarterback had a tight end open past the first down marker, but the pass was broken up and the ball was turned over on downs.
A few plays later, UCLA once again took advantage of a blitz-happy Fighting Illini defensive squad, connecting on a 66-yard touchdown pass to go up 35-24 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.
On Illinois’ next possession, they were able to drive the field and get even closer to a touchdown and the chance to get back into the game. However, facing 4th-and-4 at the UCLA 8-yard-line, Illinois halfback was stopped for a loss and the Bruins took over possession once again.
The Bruins chewed clock—calling simple running plays—and went three-and-out, with Illinois beginning the drive with the ball at the UCLA 49. On the second play of the drive, however, the quarterback scrambled and was stripped of the ball, which was recovered by the Bruins. This time, UCLA was able to chew the rest of the time off the clock, taking a 40-yard field goal with only seconds remaining to arrive at the game’s final score of 38-24 in favor of the designated home team.
The most amazing statistic from this game has to be the number of First Downs converted by each side; Illinois ended up with 20, while UCLA managed only 7. However, UCLA had multiple touchdowns on long plays, which means they needed fewer First Downs to put points on the board on their way to victory. In a rare occurrence, the CPU thoroughly outgained me on the ground 184-122; in an even rarer occurrence, I outgained the CPU through the air, 308-263. Illinois’ chances for a win certainly weren’t helped by their two turnovers, however—not including the two failed Fourth Down Conversion attempts—since UCLA was able to keep the ball and go turnover-free on offense.
The Player of the Game honor went to UCLA’s QB #12, who amassed an incredible 362.0 Rating after going 8-for-13 and 308 yards with 4 touchdown passes for the game. The Bruins HB #23 also had a solid game with 129 yards on 24 carries, but the game was won through the air for sure. Also of note in individual statistics was WR #7 for UCLA, who caught two passes for 69 yards and a touchdown while also fielding five kick returns for 144 yards; a total of 213 all-purpose yards for the receiver by himself!
While a playthrough of NCAA Football 12 for STAT BOX STORIES and a convincing UCLA win probably won’t be enough to convince any of the Bruins’ naysayers, it was certainly an entertaining game and a good showing for my typically-suspect passing game. Be sure to check out the other BOWL BLITZ INVITATIONAL stories on the site today, and be sure to come back on Monday, January 2nd for another slate of entries and the beginning of the BCS BOWL GAMES!