Earlier this week, Washington State coach Mike Leach said UCLA was going to have a breakthrough one day soon. He had no way of knowing it would be against his Cougars in Pullman, in one of the craziest football games ever. The Bruins were down 49-17 in the third quarter, and came back to win 67-63 in the closing minute of the game.
UCLA Leaves Reality In 67-63 Win
The game brought a lot of “this;” as in “this” is the third rewrite of the game article as we thought we had it figured out so much earlier. Or, as any UCLA fan must be asking, where was “this” offense the last three weeks? A legitimate question would be, will “this” be the game that gives the faithful the Dorian Thompson-Robinson they have been waiting for? Or, sure the defense came up huge at the end, but you cannot play defense like “this” every week and expect to win. Maybe, (it is too soon to tell), but just maybe, “this” is the win that turns the Chip Kelly era around at UCLA.
“This” is also a hard game to even begin to recount.
The Bruins are now 1-3 on the season and Washington State drops to 3-1. That “1” on both sides of the ledger is a towering figure.
UCLA came into the game as a 19.5 point underdog. Based on their porous defense the first three weeks, that number seemed soft. Based on being in Pullman to face the nation’s leading passer, it seemed like an insurmountable goal.
Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon came into the game averaging 441 yards passing per game. UCLA wasn’t even getting that in total yardage in any game this year. Gordon would far surpass anything he had done all season, set a school record for touchdowns in a game and still lose, because it was “this” type of game.
On the third play of the game UCLA linebacker Josh Woods picked off a Gordon pass at the WAZZU 29-yard line. Three pass plays later, Thompson-Robinson would turn that into a 14-yard touchdown pass to running back Joshua Kelley. The pass was over the wrong shoulder, but Kelley did an amazing job of twisting while in stride. UCLA had a 7-0 lead and a moment or two of glee.
Washington State would answer with a 75-yard scoring drive that included 60 yards passing from Gordon. He would sidearm a four-yard touchdown pass to Easop Winston to tie the game at 7-7.
The erratic side of Thompson-Robinson that has been so prevalent this season made his appearance. He had a wide-open Devin Asiasi in the end zone but badly over-threw him. The Bruins would settle for a 31-yard JJ Molson field goal to take a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. In a night of weirdness, even the placekicking stats chipped in. That was Molson’s first successful field goal all season…in week 4!
That was when Gordon started getting warmed up. Early in the second quarter, he led the Cougars 78 yards downfield in just five plays. He had back-to-back 22-yard passes to Brandon Arcanado, and then a 28-yard touchdown pass to Winston, when Elisha Guidry was late covering the underneath space. WSU was up 14-10.
Thompson-Robinson would be intercepted by Skyler Thomas who returned it 11 yds to the UCLA 14. Gordon would get his third touchdown pass of the night with a 10-yard completion to Travell Harris. The Cougars had a 21-10 lead and you could see the steamroller coming.
UCLA put a momentary hold on the steam and the rolling, when Demetric Felton returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, shrinking the lead to 21-17. Even a UCLA “staffer” got in on the action, by being so excited, he got in the way of an official along the sideline and was flagged for 15 yards.
But “this” was just a momentary delay. Gordon would complete two more touchdown passes in the first half; one for three yards to Winston, and another for 7 yards to Davontavean Martin.
Thompson-Robinson had a stunning 61-yard Hail Mary throw on the last play of the half, but receiver Chase Cota fell one yard short of the goal line after the reception.
Not only was Washington State up 35-17 at the half. They were abusing the UCLA pass defense, which has been shredded every week. Now they were playing the most pass-happy team on the schedule and Gordon ripped them for 306 yards and five touchdowns on 23 of 35 passing. And “this” was only halftime. UCLA had 231 total yards, compared to Gordon’s 306 passing.
UCLA went three-and-out to open the second half. Gordon meanwhile found a wide-open Renard Bell after he blew past two safeties and they had a 35-yard touchdown and 42-14 lead. The Bruins anguish was recognizable and palpable.
The Bruins would be forced to another punt and Winston had a 45-yard return. Gordon found Dezmon Patmon in the front corner of the end zone for a six-yard touchdown pass. That tied Gardner Minshew’s school record of seven touchdown passes in one game, as they went up 49-17.
At that point, “this” column looked something like an obituary on the entire UCLA football program and coaching staff. UCLA was not ready for last rites, however.
Thompson-Robinson capped a 75-yard drive with a one-yard sprint to the edge of the end zone and the deficit was still a huge 49-24.
On the very next WSU play from scrimmage, receiver Rodrick Fisher fumbled after a 12-yard reception and Elijah Gates had the recovery for UCLA. Thompson-Robinson converted into a 37-yard to completion to Cota who dove into the end zone for the touchdown. Washington State was still up 49-31, but “this” started to feel like it could be a game.
On its next possession, Thompson-Robinson found Felton in the flat out of the backfield at the six-yard line and Felton turned it into a 94-yard sprint down the middle of the field for a touchdown. The Bruins were now down 49-38, and “this” column was being rewritten again to talk about how UCLA showed intestinal fortitude in a loss.
If only we knew what “this” was going to turn into. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Thompson-Robinson ran a flawless misdirection pass play and found Asiasi all alone in the end zone. He connected with Cota for the two-point conversion and the Bruins were now down by an unimaginable three points at 49-46. They had scored 29 unanswered points.
Gordon, however, was the nation’s leading passer for a reason. He led a 75-yard, nine play scoring drive with a picture perfect over the shoulder pass to Winston for 33 yards and the touchdown. The lead was 10 points again, and Gordon now had the WSU record with his eighth touchdown pass of the game (to five different receivers). We were sticking with the “UCLA gave it a heck of a try” theme.
UCLA had its own theme. Thompson-Robinson would hit Cota for 27 yards to the Cougars three-yard line. The Bruins quarterback was clearly battered. He had been getting his shoulder worked on, on the sidelines, and now had a pronounced limp. But he managed to have enough in him to get to the left side and run it in for a three-yard touchdown. The Bruins were within three points at 56-53.
Washington State would have to punt and Philips returned it 69 yards for a score. The Bruins had an unimaginable 60-56 lead with 7:30 left in the game.
But again, there was that Gordon guy. He hit running back Max Borghi in the flat. Borghi would blow through a bevy of missed UCLA tackles for 65 yards and a touchdown that put Washington State back up 63-60.
Former UCLA defensive lineman and current NFL star Takk McKinley could not believe what he was seeing.
Win or lose this is embarrassing
— Takkarist McKinley (@Takk) September 22, 2019
Washington State had a chance to put the game away. Gordon completed a pass to Winston for 14 yards. But the ball was punched out by UCLA linebacker Krys Barnes and recovered by Woods. Winston was ruled down, but the replay overturned the call.
On third and goal, with a 1:07 to play in the game and the play clock at one, Thompson-Robinson took the snap and hit Felton for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
The Bruins had scored 50 points in the second half and had a 67-63 lead. Washington State had enough time for a miracle effort. But Keisean Lucier-South, playing his first game of the season, sacked Gordon and the Cougars quarterback fumbled. Woods recovered it and the game became a UCLA win for the ages.
At the end of the day what was “this?” UCLA’s defense got shredded for 720 yards of Washington State offense. They gave up 570 yards and nine touchdowns in the air. But they made three to four big plays in the second half that were momentum changers. Thompson-Robinson, who has been booed by UCLA faithful in recent weeks, set a school record for 564 total yards, (507 passing and 57 rushing). He played in pain, and through some of his own mistakes. Yet he showed more resolve than at any point in his UCLA career. Stop asking for the back-up for now. Thompson-Robinson, who admitted that he cried after the game, is the guy going forward. “This” was the highly ranked recruit UCLA fans have been waiting for.
“This”: defense is still dreadful in giving up underneath plays. They put pressure on Gordon maybe four times all game. There is a long legacy of bad UCLA defensive units and coordinators over the last 15 years. “This” unit is going to be in that discussion until changes are made.
“This” was a game where Kelly and offensive coordinator Justin Frye went beyond page eight of the offensive playbook.
After everyone has slept for a few hours, they will realize “this” was only one game. It is to be seen what it means going forward. But what a game “this” was.