All of the hype you’ve ever heard about UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen was justified on Sunday night.
Rosen’s Bruins were nearly run out of the building against Texas A&M in the first half. UCLA trailed 38-10 at halftime and were thoroughly outplayed in all facets of the game. That deficit grew to 44-10 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
And then something remarkable happened.
Rosen led his Bruins all the way back — yes, all the way back — to a ridiculous, dramatic 45-44 victory at the Rose Bowl.
And to top off all of the ridiculousness, Rosen threw the winning touchdown by channeling his inner Dan Marino with a fake spike.
The Bruins had first and goal from the 10-yard line with 48 seconds to go and no timeouts, so Rosen would just spike the ball to allow his team to catch its collective breath, right? Nope.
Rosen faked the spike, looked left and lobbed a perfect pass to the back left corner of the end zone to Jordan Lasley, who corralled it for the game-tying score. Kicker J.J. Molson then capped off the miraculous comeback by drilling the extra point.
A&M, with true freshman Kellen Mond in at quarterback for the injured Nick Starkel, took over with under 40 seconds to play and went nowhere. The Bruins defense that gave up an embarrassing 286 rushing yards in the first half held strong, sealing the victory for the Bruins.
For a team that had a horrendous 4-8 record — much of it without Rosen due to a shoulder injury — in 2016 that left coach Jim Mora firmly on the hot seat (calls for Mora’s job were all over Twitter during the first three quarters), the comeback was a triumphant way to begin the 2017 campaign.
After completing only 9-of-23 passes for 114 yards in the first half, Rosen finished the game 35-of-58 for 491 yards and four touchdowns — all in the fourth quarter. Most of the Bruins’ comeback took place in that final quarter.
A&M’s lead grew to its largest figure — 34 points — at the 4:08 mark of the third quarter. On the previous drive, Starkel led the Aggies deep into UCLA territory, but suffered a lower leg injury on a third down sack.
Starkel’s injury put Mond in the game full-time, not just as a change-of-pace rushing threat at quarterback. UCLA had already made adjustments to key in on A&M’s rushing attack, but with Mond presenting virtually no threat through the air, the A&M offense sputtered.
After the field goal at the 4:08 mark, A&M punted twice. In the interim, Rosen led touchdown drives of 75, 85 and 96 yards. The latter two drives ended with touchdown passes from Rosen to Darren Andrews, who had 12 catches for 142 yards in the game.
The second TD pass to Andrews, which cut the lead to 44-31 with 8:12 left, involved a whole lot of luck. Rosen threw the ball right into the hands of A&M’s Deshawn Capers-Smith, but he somehow missed it and the ball bounced right to Andrews for a 42-yard touchdown.
On its next drive, A&M was finally able to move the ball some. Mond, who finished 3-of-17 for 27 yards throwing, finally was able to complete a pass to Christian Kirk for a 15-yard gain before breaking off a few nice runs. One of his runs nearly resulted in a touchdown.
Mond ran right and got around the corner, tip-toeing the sideline into the end zone. However, he was correctly ruled out of bounds at the 22. A few plays later, A&M had to settle for a 43-yard Braden Mann field goal attempt. Mann was in the game for an injured Daniel LaCamera, who was 3-for-3 on field goals on the night, and his field goal was partially blocked and fell short.
Six plays and just 1:31 later, the Bruins were back in the end zone. This one was on a wacky play where Rosen scrambled left and threw off his back foot, somehow finding Theo Howard for a 16-yard score, cutting the lead to 44-38.
At this point, the momentum was overwhelmingly with UCLA. The crowd was roaring and the defense quickly forced A&M to go three-and-out, putting the ball back in Rosen’s hands with 2:32 to play.
UCLA moved deep into A&M territory without much resistance, until the Bruins were faced with a fourth-and-six at the 20-yard-line with 48 seconds to go. This time, with the blitz coming, Rosen calmly dumped the ball off to running back Soso Jamabo for a 10-yard gain and a crucial first down.
That set up for the Rosen-to-Lasley heroics on the very next play, capping off one of the most improbable comebacks in college football history.
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