I’m going to make a very strong pronouncement:
What the UCLA football team accomplished on Saturday in front of what I’m sure was a very hostile environment at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe was huge and significant.
As well as a statement on par with their win over Nebraska in September, as after the Arizona State Sun Devils scored ten late fourth quarter points to take a one-point lead with a little over a minute left, Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a 33-yard field goal on the last play of the game to lift the Bruins to a stunning 45-43 win in front of 55,672 devastated fans.
Fairbairn’s game-winning kick was his first as a Bruin, and it made UCLA, now at 6-2 (3-2 in the Pac-12 Conference), bowl eligible at its earliest point of a season since 2005.
One factor in this win that made it so significant – besides the fact that it was on the road against a tough ASU team – was that the Bruins showed an infinite amount of heart after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter.
Past UCLA teams, particularly those in the past few years, would have likely folded and possibly let themselves be routed after giving up two early touchdowns.
Not these Bruins.
Not under Jim Mora.
One can now safely say that the team’s culture has come a long way in changing in Westwood, at least as far as playing with a purpose, showing accountability by playing hard for 60 minutes, not caving under adversity and showing some guts and fight when challenged.
This win against a solid Sun Devil team has illustrated how the UCLA football culture has progressed for the better.
Before this game, I had predicted that the Bruins’ fate would depend on which UCLA team showed up in the desert; the one that committted six turnovers and 12 penalties against Cal or the one that stood toe-to-toe with Nebraska and beat them.
The Verdict: Both teams showed up against Arizona State.
On one hand, the Bruins committed 77 yards in penalties, including a pass interference call on Stan McKay that helped ASU erase a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Steven Manfro muffed a punt for the third game in a row, which directly led to a touchdown pass by Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly, who shredded the Bruin secondary in throwing for 315 yards and four TDs, to open the scoring.
My advice to Mora: Don’t ever let Manfro return punts again. Ever.
Along with giving up those oodles of yards in the air, UCLA’s run defense was also a sieve as they gave up 220 yards on the ground, with 29 first downs, for a total of 535 yards.
And due to a miscommunication at the opening coin toss, the Bruins had to start both halves by kicking off.
On the other hand, Jim Mora’s team came through on offense – big time – in rolling up 486 yards of total offense and matching ASU point for point.
Brett Hundley matched Kelly’s four touchdown throws with four of his own, two of them to Damien Thigpen, with one of them being a 65-yarder in the third quarter. Devin Fuller and Joseph Fauria likewise found the end zone courtesy of Hundley passes, as the redshirt freshman ended up with 274 yards on 19-of-29 passing.
Johnathan Franklin continued having his best season as a Bruin, the senior gaining 164 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. He is only 21 yards away from Gaston Green’s all-time school record of 3,731 yards.
And of course, you can’t forget Fairbairn’s heroics as he broke the Sun Devils’ hearts with his foot; I wouldn’t have surprised in the least if some of the Arizona State fans were crying after that ball sailed through the uprights.
This win was one that “…gives players a sense of belief in themselves,” Mora said after the game. “But only if you don’t gloss over the negatives.”
“There are always things to clean up,” continued the Bruin head coach, whose team has re-entered the AP Top 25 at number 25 with the triumph. “Our offense and field goal team bailed us out.”
Whic they may need to do again in their next match up, when ASU’s rival, the Arizona Wildcats, comes to the Rose Bowl this Saturday night – unless the defense performs much better than they did in Tempe.
The reasons? Oh, not very many, merely that these red and navy blue-clad Wildcats from Tucson, who are ranked above the Bruins at number 24 in the AP and number 22 in the BCS, have the top-ranked offense in the Pac-12 and scored a wickedly humongous upset over then-#9 USC this past Saturday.
A preview of UCLA’s upcoming showdown with Arizona will appear on this site on Wednesday.