Josh Rosen shook off the cob webs from his concussion. UCLA shook off a poor start and a defense that gave up country miles again. Jim Mora shook off insulting messages aimed at him. In the end, the Bruins shook off two consecutive blow out losses and beat Arizona State 44-34 before the second smallest home crowd of the season.
No one is going to mistake this for a thing of beauty. The Bruins gave up 584 yards of total offense to the Sun Devils. They yielded 294 yards rushing. That is a “whopping” 10 yards per game below their season average. That means they will still be statistically one of the worst rush defenses in the country. Yet, strangely enough, UCLA got what they needed, when they needed it and from some unlikely sources.
UCLA Bruins Shake It Off
The Bruins were down two touchdowns halfway through the first quarter. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was flipping deep into the playbook to find things like end around passes and throwbacks to the quarterback to try to liven up an offense that kept stalling. They couldn’t even get the hold correct on a routine 37-yard field goal attempt. But it was the defense, that has routinely given up big plays all season that changed the momentum. Marcus Moore tipped a Manny Wilkins pass, Nate Meadors was there for the catch and returned it 27 yards for a pick-6 late in the first quarter. The deficit was cut to 14-7, but the energy switch was much bigger.
Early in the second quarter, UCLA drove 73 yards in just six plays for another touchdown. It was a two-yard read-option run by Rosen, but what set it up was the key. On first and ten, wide receiver Christian Pabico had a 30-yard run on an end around. Two plays later, Rosen finally used running back Bolu Olorunfunmi as a receiver out of the backfield. The wheel route play went for another 23-yards to eventually set up Rosen’s touchdown run.
Wilkins took the Sun Devils back downfield on a 10-play touchdown that was all running plays. ASU was back up 21-14. But UCLA responded again with the help of a player absent the last three weeks. Wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who had been suspended for unspecified reasons since October 15th, caught a 59-yard pass from Rosen and the Bruins managed a J.J. Molson field goal to cut the lead to 21-17. One more field goal before the half and it was a one-point ASU lead and a Bruin team that showed signs of life for the first time in three weeks.
The second half had ASU only answering with field goals to UCLA’s touchdowns. The Bruins got a 21-yard touchdown run from Soso Jamabo, a three-yard touchdown from Olorunfunmi, and a 22-yard touchdown pass from Rosen to Lasley on the first play of the fourth quarter. Rosen finished the game 25-of-45 passing for 381 yards, one touchdown passing, one rushing, and one interception.
The Sun Devils lone touchdown of the second half was off a blocked UCLA punt by Malik Lawal that was returned nine-yards by Eno Benjamin. While the Sun Devils piled up a lot of yards, they were held to that special teams play and three field goals in the second half. When big plays were needed, it was actually the likes of defensive lineman Greg Rogers and defensive backs Meadors and Colin Samuel who came up large. Jaleel Wadood was out with a neck injury and Darnay Holmes was suspend in the first half for a targeting penalty in the Utah game last week. He also got burned on two big pass plays in the second half and rarely saw the field again.
Twenty-three Bruins have missed at least part of a game because of injury or suspension this season. The play of Meadors, Samuel and Rogers showed the depth was there. It just needed to be utilized. Head coach Jim Mora was particularly glad to see the turnaround in Lasley after his three-week hiatus. “Jordan came back with a different perspective and a different approach. I love what he did.” The red-shirt junior finished the game with seven receptions for 162-yards and one touchdown.
The Bruins also “overcame” the p.r. stunt of a group that raised $15,000 on a Go Fund Me page to finance the flying of two banners over the tailgate area before the game. One of the flying signs pointed out that Mora was 9-16 in his last 25 games, (before Saturday night’s win). The second banner highlighted that it has been 16 years with no Rose Bowls and no conference championships for UCLA. They want both Mora and athletic director Dan Guerrero replaced. The drought has actually been longer, but that is another topic for another day. Because the Rose Bowl is a FAA ‘no-fly” zone during the game, the banners were flown hours before kickoff.
The win made Mora a little more conciliatory about the stunt. “It’s great to have passionate fans,” was his response when asked if he had seen the banners. Rosen, who has never been shy about expressing his opinions was less restrained in his response. “I thought it was absurd. It’s disrespectful. It’s disgusting.”
The Bruin moved to 5-5 overall and 3-4 in Pac 12 play. They make the 13-mile journey down the 110 freeway to the Coliseum for the crosstown rivalry game against USC next weekend. The Trojans have already clinched the Pac 12 South title. UCLA closes out the season the following weekend at home against Cal. They need to split the last two games to get to 6-6 and be bowl eligible. As that would give them a losing conference record, they are not guaranteed a bowl game. They would simply be eligible for one. UCLA needs a sweep of the two games to guarantee an at-large bid to a bowl game. USC has opened as a 16 ½ point favorite over the Bruins.
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