When the Washington Huskies got to within three points of UCLA early in the third quarter, nearly erasing the Bruins’ 20-point lead, many were saying that Jim Mora’s team had lost the momentum.
And that it was just a matter of time before the Bruins choked and lost.
That may have been the case in years past, but this was a new team and a new era.
And considering the talent on that Husky team, I was honestly expecting that purple and gold-clad squad to make a move; I would have been shocked if UCLA had blown them out.
That was particularly the case when Washington’s backup quarterback, Cyler Miles – who took over when Keith Price was knocked out of the game just before halftime before a shoulder injury - commenced in throwing for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, keeping his team in the game.
It was only Randal Goforth’s and Jordan Zumwalt’s interceptions late in the fourth quarter that sealed the game for the Bruins, securing a tough 41-31 victory that kept them in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title.
It would be criminal of me to not mention how Myles Jack was,for lack of a better term, the MVP of the game as not only did the freshman linebacker spend some time at running back again, he did something that no other Bruin had done since 2004:
Score four rushing touchdowns, including three in the first half, the last UCLA player to do that being Maurice Jones-Drew.
The 68,106 fans who mostly dressed in black – UCLA had a “Black-Out” night with the players dressed in sharp-looking black uniforms and helmets – saw a the Bruins get off to a fantastic start as they scored touchdowns in their first four posessions.
Jack accounted for three of those scores with an eight-yard run and two one-yard runs, with Brett Hundley, who had a good night in throwing for 159 yards, fired the first of his two touchdowns to none other than defensive lineman Cassius Marsh for the second trip to the end zone.
While Washington, in turn, was the one making the mistakes and committing the costly penalties rather than the Bruins, as in the first half alone they had an interception and a 38-yard scoring pass nullified due to yellow flags, plus they failed to recover two UCLA fumbles.
It was generally agreed, I’m sure, that the game really began after that Bruin onslaught as Price, a senior who’s on top or near the top of many Husky career passing lists, completed several bombs to put Washington (6-4, 3-4 in the Pac-12) in the game, coming to within ten points of UCLA at the half.
The worst thing that could have happened to the Bruins happened on the second half kickoff, when a fumble led directly to a Husky touchdown, making the score 27-24 and inducing Bruin Nation to much worry and sweat in the cool Rose Bowl air.
The heavens were thanked after Jack followed up with his fourth TD and reestablished the UCLA lead to ten, but the nerves returned when Washington punter Travis Coons fooled the Bruins with a fake punt – the second time it has happened to this team this year – getting a first down and exciting the large Husky contingent who made the trip from Seattle.
That’s when now 14th-ranked UCLA started to step up big, exacting revenge on Coons by blocking his 48-yard field goal try.
The dagger was essentially stuck in the Huskies when after the now 8-2 (5-2 in the Pac-12) Bruins stopped Washington on fourth down, Hundley threw a short completion to Devin Lucien, who then zigged, zagged, and juked the Husky defenders on the way to a 40-yard score.
U-Dub did answer back with a 13-yard TD strike, but that was it for them as Goforth and Zumwalt then proceeded with their picks.
The four sacks that the Bruin defense had didn’t hurt, either.
Jack, who ended with 59 yards on 13 carries, was sorely needed as UCLA lost another running back, Malcolm Jones, to injury, leaving Paul Perkins as the only regular at that position.
He ran for 86 of UCLA’s 222 hard-earned yards, but if guys like Jordon James and Damien Thigpen are too injured to play next week, Perkins will be counted on to not play like he is – a true freshman.
A return by James and/or Thigpen will greatly boost the Bruins; in the meantime, Jack will continue to be needed in the offensive backfield.
Meanwhile, as was said before, at this point of the season style points don’t count, the mission being to survive and advance, just like in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
And assuming that first-place Arizona State does what is expected, this win sets up what very much could be the Pac-12 South Championship game next Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
Mora had this to say afterwards, which I think was poignant:
“The beauty of going through those hard-fought contests is the huge payoff…Those are moments when the team actually grows. They develop trust and mental toughness. You start believing that, when you are in a tough game, you are going to win it.”
Who knows? Perhaps on top of (hopefully, if they continue to step up) a Bruin win over ASU, another player will make a marriage proposal, like Stan McKay did to his girlfriend after the game on the 50-yard line in front of the whole team.
#17 Arizona State Sun Devils (7-2, 5-1 in the Pac-12 South)
PLACE: Rose Bowl
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 23, 4: 30 p.m.
TV: Fox Channel 11
LAST MEETING: UCLA won, 45-43
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 18-10-1
A complete preview of this game will be posted on this site later this week.