Picking and Screaming — With a quick kick, slick trick, wicked kick, and six picks, UCLA licks Utah 34-27, despite the Ute’s game-tying Pick Six in the 4th Quarter
On Thursday night in Utah, UCLA took a licking, but kept on picking and ticking. During the game, UCLA’s star Running Back Jordon James sprained his ankle, starting Lineman Torian White BROKE his ankle, star Wide Receiver Shaq Evan injured a knee, and star Quarterback Brett Hundley took a hit to his eyes, losing a contact lens, giving him blurred vision for the rest of the game. Add to that 13 Bruin penalties for 100 yards, a lost fumble on an Onside Kick, and a Center that kept hitting Hundley in the ankles with about 20 bad snaps, not to mention frigid temperatures and late-night rain, and it’s a miracle that the Bruins escaped Salt Lake City with a 34-27 victory, and their first 4-0 record since 2005.
For once, UCLA got off to a fast start, taking the opening kickoff and driving down the field for a short James TD run and a 7-0 lead. But then the usually slow-starting Bruins reverted to their habitually bad 1st Quarters, by giving up two straight Utah TD’s to fall behind 14-7. It could have been worse — At one point when it was 7-7, the Bruins lined up to attempt a 4th Down play, but instead Hundley quickly punted the ball, and it was downed inside the Utes’ 10-yard line.
After falling down by a TD, UCLA needed a spark, and the Coaches gave it to them with a trick play, with the ball at the Utah 7-yard line. Before the snap, Hundley left the pocket, and walked down the Offensive Line, like he was trying to tell his OL some blocking patterns. But before he finished and could come back to snap-receiving position, the Center hiked the ball to Running Back Jordon James, who flipped it to Wide Receiver Devin Fuller. Fuller, a Quarterback when he came to UCLA, passed the ball to Hundley, who crossed the goal line for a creative and sneaky 6 points.
With the score tied at 14, the Bruins’ Interception barrage began. Randall Goforth got the first one, and it led to a Hundley 17-yard TD pass to Jordan Payton, who just muscled away from his defender to cruise into the end zone. Utah countered with a Field Goal, making it 21-17, which remained the score at Halftime.
The 3rd Quarter has belonged to UCLA’s Offense this year, but not so much on Thursday night, when the Bruins managed only a Ka’imi Fairbairn 33-yard Field Goal. On this night, it was the Bruin DEFENSE that took over in the Second Half. In the 3rd Quarter, Utah QB Travis Wilson was intercepted 3 times, by Ishmael Adams (on an amazing pass break-up and fingertip save of a ball that fell to one inch from the ground), Anthony Jefferson (after the ball was tipped in Wilson’s hand by Myles Jack, on Wilson’s very next pass after Adams’ Pick), and Eric Kendricks (after the ball deflected right off the Receiver’s hands). The Bruins shut Utah out for the Quarter via those three Turnovers (none of which were the QB’s fault).
So it was still 24-17 going into the final Quarter. That’s when the blurry-eyed Hundley made his big mistake. Under severe pressure, he tried to hit his Receiver across the field, but a Ute defender snagged the low throw from just above the grass, and scampered 19 yards for the game-tying TD. Fortunately, the Bruins didn’t sulk. They came right back, and marched down the field behind the hard, nifty running of Tailback Paul Perkins, who gained 92 yards on the night. Hundley scrambled on a long 3rd down to get the Bruins into Field Goal range, barely, as Fairbairn nailed his season-long 47-yarder, making it 27-24.
The UCLA Defense continued to keep the Utes out of the end zone, as a diving Anthony Jefferson snagged his second INT of the night. That led to a drive culminated by a Hundley Quarterback Draw for a 36-yard TD. That gave UCLA a 10-point lead with 3 and a half minutes to go, and Bruins fans were celebrating as if the game was over. Many Utah fans hit the exit tunnels, too, but soon they were hurrying back in.
Utah came right back and got a quick Field Goal to make it a one-possession game, and then the unthinkable happened: Shaq Evans couldn’t secure the Onside Kick, and Utah took over with still over 2 minutes to go. They were able to drive inside the 30, but on 4th and 10 from the Bruin 23, Myles Jack snatched an errant pass out of the air, and ran out of bounds to clinch the game.
Besides the fantastic pass coverage by Jack, Kendricks, and the whole Bruin Secondary, the Bruins cause was helped by several dropped passes by Utah Receivers. Maybe that’s because they weren’t used to being open and actually getting the ball. Regardless, the young Secondary had their best game yet. And they didn’t do it alone — Anthony Barr had his usual monster game, Kendricks and Jack were menaces all over the field, and Cassius Marsh disrupted the Utah Offense time and time again. On a night where UCLA’s Offense — which coming into the game led the Nation in 3rd Down Conversion percentage — converted only 7 of 19 3rd Down attempts, that stellar Defense was truly needed to save the Bruins from getting saddled with their first loss of the season.
By all accounts, this was a gutty, hard-fought ROAD win in hostile territory under harsh conditions, as the Bruins overcame several crucial injuries. But it is also being criticized as an ugly win, mainly because of 13 penalties for 100 yards, and because of all the bad snaps by Center Jake Brendel. I have no idea what was wrong with him, but for three hours, he kept on practically rolling the ball back to Hundley. Brett CONSTANTLY had to bend all the way down and scoop the ball up from his ankles. These repeated screw-ups by Brendel (not to mention one Holding penalty in the critical 4th Quarter) totally killed the timing and rhythm of the Offense. Hundley was always playing catch-up, and didn’t have enough time to scan his progressions or size up the rush. Hundley’s best facet is feeling and evading the rush, but when the bad snaps cost him a full second of concentration every time, he was much less elusive. I am very surprised that Brendel wasn’t replaced, or COACHED up during the game. How could they just let him continually flounder and jeopardize the game for 60 minutes? When Hundley went out with the contact lens problem, Brendel snapped one completely past Jerry Neuheisel, who had to retreat back and fall on the ball. If Brendel performs like this next week against Cal, the big underdog Bears will be able to upset UCLA at the Rose Bowl… and FORGET about what would happen at Stanford and Oregon. Hopefully, Brendel will get his sh*t together in the 9 days before the Bruins’ next game. If not, it will be mandatory to bring in a second-stringer, which would be costly, since the Bruins have already lost one starter on the O-Line, with White’s broken ankle.
But bad snaps and penalties aside, this was still a huge win for #12 UCLA, who may crack the Top Ten this week, if an upset or two occur on Saturday, as they usually do. It was a game that previous Bruin teams would never have survived. The State of Utah has been a house of horrors for UCLA in the recent past, but this is not your father’s UCLA.