Josh Rosen came to the sideline and took off his helmet. Blood was smeared all over his face.
A face mask penalty during the fourth quarter against Arizona State on Saturday was one of the few major hits on Rosen as the junior returned from a one-game absence and led the Bruins to a 44-37 win over the Sun Devils. ASU, the No. 8 team in the country in sacks, didn’t record a sack against UCLA as Rosen completed 25 of 45 passes for 381 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Bruins (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) notched a critical victory, sustaining their bowl hopes with two regular-season games left. By improving to 5-0 at home this year, UCLA needs only one win out of next week’s rivalry game at USC and Nov. 24’s regular-season finale at the Rose Bowl against California to secure bowl eligibility.
Links to wrap up the game:
- The Bruins rediscover the fun of football in win over Arizona State
- Notebook: Jim Mora on the pregame banners flying around the Rose Bowl that were calling for his job and Mossi Johnson‘s first official start at safety
- Photo gallery from staff photographer Keith Birmingham
- Game GIFs: Fan reaction to UCLA’s fifth straight win at home this season
- Video interviews
- UCLA and USC get a prime-time slot for next week’s rivalry game
- The Arizona Republic on Arizona State: The Sun Devils left disappointed after losing a game they should have won
An in-depth review of the game:
- Mental fortitude: Last week, I wrote about UCLA’s seemingly weak mental state after its loss to Utah. Against Washington and Utah, the Bruins started well on defense to only crumble after one long, bad drive. They were presented with several similar opportunities to fold against Arizona State and they answered the call each time. They got down 14-0 and grabbed a pick-6 off a tipped pass. After UCLA tied the game at 14-14, Arizona State ground the UCLA defense into the Rose Bowl field on a 10-play touchdown drive in which the Sun Devils ran the ball on every play. It definitely seemed that it would be the drive to break the Bruins. Yet on the next defensive drive, UCLA held the ASU to a three-and-out. In the third quarter when Arizona State blocked the punt and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game, UCLA responded with a surgical seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. More mental toughness alone likely won’t be enough to get a rivalry win this next weekend, but it is a positive step for the Bruins who are still in contention for a bowl game.
- The coaching staff and players talked after the game about the team’s renewed focus on sideline energy and how that helped deal with the game’s many momentum swings. It looked like the Bruins were committed to sideline unity early. Usually injured/inactive players sit in the stands behind the bench. Saturday, they were on the sideline, mingling with teammates and poking their heads into huddles for inspiration and motivation. On the final on-side kick, Angus McClure went over to the bench where many of the defensive linemen had just sat down after a long ASU drive and implored all of his players to stand up and cheer for their teammates during a critical play.
- Play calling: UCLA has never been able to figure out the ASU defense. Until now. Jedd Fisch was at his most creative Saturday as he and Josh Rosen expertly handled an aggressive ASU defense. The Sun Devils averaged 3.33 sacks per game before Saturday and didn’t get a single one on Rosen. He wasn’t even pressured all that much. (He almost got sacked on third-and-10 in the second quarter, but slipped the tackle and dumped the ball off to Brandon Stephens.) While first-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett does not blitz as much as his ASU predecessors, UCLA was prepared for the blitzes he did bring. Fisch said the team practiced against those looks all week and had special plays built into the offense for them. Rosen was able to counter ASU’s pressure by dumping off short passes to his running backs, like a 56-yarder to Bolu Olorunfunmi on which the running back got a good block from Jordan Lasley.
- Fisch mixed in unique plays, like Eldridge Massington faking the reverse on a jet sweep in the first quarter and the inverse of that play with a fake jet sweep that ended in a reverse from Christian Pabico. Pabico picked up 30 yards on the carry with a good block from Scott Quessenberry for 30 yards. Pabico was later involved in another jet sweep play in which he stopped and passed it back to Rosen, who then threw it down field to Lasley.
- Jordan Lasley: The timing of Lasley’s return could not have been better for the Bruins as they lost Darren Andrews last weekend. Mora said he didn’t bring Lasley back just to replace Andrews, though, as the coach said he made the decision before the Utah game. Either way, Lasley came up big with seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. He was a much-needed vertical threat for the Bruins and blocked well down field, a vital skill with Saturday’s game plan that seemed to rely on hot routes.
- Honorable mention goods: Open-field tackling from UCLA’s defensive backs (Nate Meadors, Colin Samuel, Will Lockett and Octavius Spencer) and UCLA’s running game averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 7.3 yards per first-down carry.
- Drops: Besides the yardage that the Bruins lose with Andrews and Caleb Wilson, the team also lost its two most consistent receivers. That was evident Saturday as UCLA had at least five drops in the first half. Austin Roberts and Jordan Wilson, Caleb Wilson’s tight end replacements, struggled especially in the first half. Massington dropped a would-be touchdown on UCLA’s first drive that eventually ended in a missed field goal and later got bailed out on a long throw with a pass interference. Lasley dropped a pass right after he caught one for 18 yards. The Bruins were better in the second half (evidenced by Rosen completing 15 of his 20 second-half passes) but they’re running out of time to find consistency.
- Rosen was also a little bit off in the first half. His passes weren’t as crisp as they normally are and that could have led to some of the drops. His interception that went off the hand of Jordan Wilson was not the best throw.
- Interior rushing defense: The Bruins did well to set the edge and string running plays out. They’re undersized up front, so when opposing offenses try to run sideline-to-sideline on them, that’s usually a win when UCLA can secure open-field tackles like they were able to do (mostly) Saturday. But when Arizona State was physical with runs between the tackles, those seemed to give the UCLA front seven trouble, especially when the Sun Devils motioned a receiver or running back to clear a linebacker out of the box and open up big running lanes.
- UCLA gave up 203 rushing yards in the first half on 39 carries as the Sun Devils seemed set on exploiting UCLA’s biggest weakness (a smart game plan, of course). But ASU went away from it in the second half with only 22 rushing attempts. UCLA gave up 294 rushing yards on 61 carries (4.8 yards per rush).
- Special teams: The punting game has been extremely solid for the Bruins this year, but a complete breakdown in communication led to ASU blocking a punt in the third quarter and scoring the game-tying touchdown. It was the first time a team has scored on a blocked punt against UCLA since 2006. There was also the mishandled snap from Stefan Flintoft on UCLA’s first field goal that J.J. Molson ended up pushing wide. Those types of struggles have not been a trend this season, but it would be a bad time for them to start becoming one.
- 1st home win against Arizona State in the Mora era.
- 3 penalties in the first quarter (two penalties on the same punt return and an offsides call on Marcus Moore that negated a third-down stop)
- 2 penalties in the final three quarters. One was an intentional delay of game. The other was a dumb taunting penalty after the blocked punt, but it didn’t end up hurting the Bruins because the ensuing kickoff went for a touchback.
- 98 plays run by Arizona State, a season-high for a UCLA opponent
- 9.1 yards gained, on average, by UCLA on first down
- 3 red zone trips that each ended in touchdowns for ASU in the first half
- 0 offensive touchdowns allowed by UCLA in the second half as the Bruins held the Sun Devils to three field goals in three red zone attempts.
- 3 double-digit tacklers for UCLA (Krys Barnes, 12, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 10, Adarius Pickett, 10)
- Tuitoti-Mariner also had both of UCLA’s sacks
“It’s disrespectful, it’s disgusting. If you don’t think Coach Mora should be our coach, go talk to our AD yourself. Don’t publicly do something stupid that costs an unnecessary amount of money. That’s ridiculous. We love our coach. We all would do anything for him and know he would do anything for us.”
~Quarterback Josh Rosen on the pregame banners flying around the Rose Bowl calling for Mora’s job
- Jaelan Phillips did not play, likely after he re-aggravated his ankle injury from earlier this season.
- Jaleel Wadood did not play with a sore neck. Johnson started in his place.
- Rick Wade (knee) and Barnes (fluid in the lungs) both played.