During the halftime of the UCLA Bruins’ season opener, a thought came to my mind that I should have known going in…
I realized that Nevada, the Bruins’ opponent, would bring it, as this Wolfpack from Reno is a pretty good football team in their conference, the Mountain West, being perennial contenders and once scoring a major upset over top-ten and undefeated Boise State, dashing their hopes for an at-large BCS berth.
That was certainly the case at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, particularly in the first half; UCLA was having trouble containing Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo and the Pistol offense that he ran as he accounted for 270 of the Wolfpack’s 353 total yards, 106 of them being on the ground.
Fajardo also scored both of Nevada’s touchdowns, including one that brought his team to within four points just before the half.
I frankly felt that Jim Mora’s team was lucky to have that 17-13 lead, the team doing a less-than-stellar job in pressuring Fajardo and – once again – helping the Wolfpack with costly penalties. I also felt that the Bruins needed to make some adjustments as I was sure that Nevada was thinking upset.
Then the second half began…
Whatever adjustments that Mora made in the locker room, whatever he said, worked big time as 21st-ranked UCLA proceeded to make like Mike Tyson in his prime, outscoring the Wolfpack by a score of 41-7 during the game’s last 30 minutes and turning the contest into a beatdown, whipping Nevada 58-20 before 60, 562 at the Rose Bowl.
Which wasn’t a bad-sized crowd considering it was the first game and the students were still on summer break.
“I was happy with the way we came out of the huddle in the second half, both offensively and defensively,” commented Mora, who began his second year as head coach, after the game.
“…when you can win and win convincingly and make some corrections in the second half, I think that’s a good sign for us,” Mora continued.
The Bruins certainly had some trouble with Fajardo and Nevada’s offense in the first half, and much like last year, penalties remain a frustrating problem as 12 yellow flags were thrown against UCLA for a total of 93 yards, including a few 15-yarders that undoubtedly helped the Wolfpack, but…
As far as the Bruin offense, they picked up right where they left off and then some as UCLA rolled up 647 yards, including 345 yards on the ground, with Jordon James solidifying his claim as Johnathan Franklin’s successor at running back with his 155 yards on 21 carries, plus a 27-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
And speaking of the third quarter, that was when the Bruins began the rout as three touchdowns were scored in those 15 minutes.
Brett Hundley? Like the rest of UCLA’s offense, the sophomore quarterback picked up where he left off in 2012 as he was his usual double-threat self, completing 22 of his 33 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns while adding another two rushing scores among his 63 yards on the ground.
His 317 total yards accounted for half of the Bruins’ 647.
Shaq Evans had a good day at receiver with his six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter, with Devin Fuller adding four catches of his own.
One important thing I noticed about the Bruins’ performance was their converting nine of their 12 third down conversions, as it seemed that Hundley and the offense would get clutch first downs on third and long to continue drives almost every time.
But the biggest moment of the game happened during that third quarter, in the form of a play that ultimately demoralized Nevada and would eventually trigger the rout:
After UCLA’s defense forced a fourth down, Kenny Orjioke blocked a punt deep in Wolfpack territory, causing the Bruin fans to go nuts.
The craziness only grew when Phillip Ruhl recovered the punt and scored a touchdown, Bruin Nation becoming ecstatic as the lead became 31-13.
It was academic after that as UCLA scored three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with Malcolm Jones accounting for two of those scores with a 25-yard catch and a run while the defense forced Nevada into four straight punts.
Justin Combs, the son of music mogul Diddy, even got into the act as the defensive back made his first tackle near the end of the game while Jerry Neuheisel, son of former Bruin player and head coach Rick, did a good job as the backup QB, completing both of his passes.
Overall, it was an impressive opening win for UCLA, especially in that second half, but these Bruins have much to do if they want the 2013 season to be a successful one.
Especially considering they have to hit the road to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in two weeks.
However, the fact that UCLA has that two weeks to prepare – they have a bye – is good news, as that will help the team.
#18 Nebraska Cornhuskers
PLACE: Lincoln, NE
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 14th, 9:00 a.m. PDT
TV: Channel 7 or ESPN