Expectations were extremely high on the Westwood campus following UCLA’s 9-5 season in 2012 that included a dramatic win over crosstown rival USC.
When the Bruins began this season with five consecutive victories the excitement grew even greater. That is until UCLA suffered road losses to highly-ranked Stanford and Oregon, so the team was happy to be back in the Rose Bowl to face Colorado in a Pacific 12 Conference meeting last Saturday.
With a crowd of 80,377 stirring for much of the first quarter, the Bruins found their stride over the final three quarters and the result was a 45-23 thrashing.
“We played better in the second half,’’ said second-year UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora Jr., whose team netted 412 total yards. “Every win is important and they’re not easy to get. The day I can’t enjoy a win, then it’s time for me to get out of coaching.”
Front and center in UCLA’s offense is redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, who now has 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions and 1,998 yards along with six rushing scores.
Not coincidentally UCLA’s offense began to click when Hundley threw the ball on first down. “Even though we lost two straight games we never lost confidence in ourselves,’’ said Hundley, who finished with 273 yards on 19 of 24 attempts and no picks. “We’re a good team and we’re trying to get better each game.”
Before Hundley found his rhythm the Bruins punted on their first two series, but Hundley, who had 72 of UCLA’s 139 rushing yards on 11 carries, located wide receiver Devin Fuller (game-best 99 yards on three receptions) with a 76-yard toss and 19 seconds left in the first quarter for a 7-3 lead that erased Will Oliver’s 23-yard field goal less than a minute earlier.
When Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau (25 of 36 for 247 yards) hit wide receiver Paul Richardson (team-best 70 yards on seven catches) with a seven-yard strike the Buffaloes (381 total yards) took control 10-7, but Hundley marched No. 17 UCLA 61 yards on eight plays and capped the drive with an 11-yard sprint that put the Bruins in front 14-10 and 7:49 left in the second quarter.
Hundley’s six-yard bullet to Fuller made it 21-10 slightly more than a minute later and came after Colorado (3-5 and 0-5 in conference) fumbled the kickoff which gave the Bruins (6-2 and 3-2 in conference) the ball at the Buffaloes’ 14-yard line.
Oliver’s kick from 47 yards reduced the lead to 21-13 and 1:16 left before the half, but Hundley’s one-yard stroll capped a 70-yard, 12-play trek that made it 28-13 and 10:53 left in the third quarter.
A five-yard trot by running back Damien Thigpen (38 yards on four carries) gave the Bruins a 35-13 lead and 1:24 left before heading into the final quarter, however when running back Tony Jones scored on a two-yard dash it pulled Colorado within 15 points and 12:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
UCLA scored 10 points in the final stanza on Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 45-yard field goal and 9:12 left and Fuller’s eight-yard run with 3:36 showing after a lateral from Hundley.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.