UCLA’s “miracle” comeback victory over Texas A&M on Sunday (behind 41-10 with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter, statisticians state that UCLA’s chance of victory was one third of one percent, or 0.33 percent) was due to three things:
- Horrific coaching by A&M
- Rosen’s passing
Let’s start out with number two. The Aggies’ offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone was UCLA’s offensive coordinator for four years and it was clear to anyone with a football IQ above 50 that he didn’t have a clue about what he was doing. As one glaring example in the fourth quarter of close games when UCLA was protecting a lead he would have the ball snapped with 10 to 15 seconds on the clock. He never understood that when you have a lead you have two weapons: points and the clock. In Sunday’s game his quarterbacks constantly snapped the ball with 10 to 15 seconds left on the clock, even when they were faltering in the fourth quarter.
When UCLA scored its second TD with 17 minutes left to go in the game, A&M had at least four possessions. Assuming they snapped the ball with 10 seconds left on the play clock (it was probably closer to 15 seconds on average), they could have burned an additional 160 seconds off the clock (16 downs X 10 seconds=160 seconds or 2:40 of game time. UCLA got the ball back for its final winning drive with a little over two minutes to go. Had Mazzone trained his quarterbacks to not to call for the ball until there was only one second left on the clock each time they had possession, the game would have been over before UCLA got its final possession.
But worse than that was his play calling. During the first quarter, the Aggies were running against UCLA’s porous defense at will. I couldn’t understand why the Aggies were throwing any passes, except to set up the run. But after starting quarterback Nick Starkel went out of the game in the third quarter, his replacement, Kellen Mond, is clearly a mediocre to poor passer. They should have never thrown the ball once after Starkel left. If Mazzone (whose favorite play call at UCLA was the silly bubble screen which he ran repeatedly) had limited their offense to runs, the clock would have run and the Aggies running offense would certainly have gained more than Mond’s horrific passing (3 for 17 for 24 yards). 17 passes and each incompletion stopped the clock.
Number 1. Luck: with 3:21 to play and the score 44-24, Rosen was chased out of the pocket to the left and panicked, throwing a horrible ill-advised off balance pass towards the end zone. There were two UCLA receivers there and three Aggie defenders. The pass was basically up for grabs and could easily have been intercepted. Instead, Theo Howard saved Rosen’s day by darting in front of two of the Aggie defenders to make a miracle TD catch. Just before that with 8:12 to play, Rosen completely underthrew wide open receiver Darren Andrews. The ball was right in the hands of an Aggie defender, but it went through them and directly into Andrews’ hands for a 42 yard touchdown.
Of course the luckiest thing for UCLA was when Aggie quarterback Nick Starkel was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with an injury and the Aggies leading 38-10. If he stayed in the game there’s little chance that UCLA would have held the Aggies to six points in the second half. Then there was another instance of Aggie stupidity. On the winning touchdown the clock was stopped. But Rosen faked a spike. There was no reason for a spike. The clock was stopped; UCLA had huddled and had called their play. Nobody would spike the ball in that situation. But the Aggies fell for it and Rosen threw through a fade to the corner of the end zone to a receiver who was open due to the fake.
The final lucky thing was that the Aggies did not request a review of the winning touchdown. I played it back in slow motion several times and it seemed to me that UCLA receiver Jordan Lasley was juggling the ball while one foot was in the end zone but that foot came up and when he finally got possession his other foot came down out of bounds. I think that had the Aggies asked for a replay there would have been at least a 50 percent chance that it would have been ruled an incomplete pass. Of course UCLA still had more downs and could have still scored the winning touchdown because there were still 43 seconds left. Still, UCLA was lucky that poor Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t ask for a review.
Tony Medley is the author of three books including “UCLA Basketball: The Real Story,” the first book written on UCLA basketball. Visit TonyMedley.com.