Heavy Mettle Thunder — After Steppen softly and falling behind 21-3 while grieving the loss of their departed teammate, the Bruins get their motor running and fired all their guns at once, scoring 38 straight points to rock Nebraska 41-21
College Football is an emotional game. The players are 18 to 22 years old, and they are not unfeeling machines. Many of them have never experienced death, and some have never even been to a funeral. So when they suddenly are confronted with a death, in the family, of someone THEIR OWN AGE, it can be severely traumatic, and it can have long-lasting effects.
When Bruin Football player Nick Pasquale died last week after getting struck by a vehicle, UCLA brought in grief counselors to help the players deal with this senseless tragedy. But no psychological professional can truly heal these young minds. The Bruins had to get on the field — and get knocked around — before they could get up, shake off the cobwebs, and get back into their groove.
The #16 Bruins looked distracted and unfocused for most of the 1st Half in Lincoln as the #22 Cornhuskers dominated play. While Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez capped three drives with Touchdown passes, the Bruins looked like soft, West Coast over-rated wannabes. Bruin QB Brett Hundley fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, then threw a bad Interception soon after. The Bruins also fumbled a Punt snap, which led to a Nebraska TD. UCLA had trouble blocking, trouble running, trouble covering Receivers, and trouble putting any pressure on Martinez. Nebraska went up 21-3, and UCLA responded by missing a Field Goal.
Despite the record crowd and the hostile environment, and the crushing emotional bereavement, Coach Mora would not let his players give up or sulk. Instead, he finally got them to start playing with confidence. The Bruins scored a Touchdown in the 2nd Quarter to cut the lead to 21-10, and the momentum shifted like you’ve never seen it shift. The Bruins called a Time Out late in the Half to get the ball back, and even got off a Field Goal attempt at the gun. The try failed, but the Bruins were back, realizing that they could stop Nebraska and gain some yards themselves.
After the break, the Bruins came out with continued vigor. They stopped the Huskers’ first drive, and went on to outscore Nebraska 28-0 in the 3rd Quarter alone. It was the worst Quarter EVER for Nebraska in their home stadium. The Bruins added 3 more Points, all while shutting down the potent Nebraska Offense, running the table with a 38-0 turnaround.
The Bruins scored on runs by Paul Perkins, and by Jordon James, who topped 100 yards Rushing for the second game in a row. UCLA also got into the end zone on Hundley passes to Shaquelle Evans, Phillip Ruhl, and Nate Iese. They added a short Field Goal late by Ka’imi Fairburn to make the final margin 20 points.
On Defense, which really toughened up as the game went along, it was Jordan Zumwalt who delivered the biggest blows, sending gasps through the crowd with one particular hit. He also caused a fumble, and broke up a lot of what Nebraska was trying to do. As always, Eric Kendricks was all over the field, forcing the Huskers to improvise, unsuccessfully. Anthony Barr had HIS best game of the year, bouncing back from an uneventful opening day, and a slow beginning to this game. Barr got some pressure on the pocket, and also destroyed a ballcarrier in the middle of the field, forcing a fumble that Anthony Jefferson recovered, and pretty much clinched the victory. Keenan Graham got another Sack (after getting 2 against Nevada), and Freshman Linebacker Myles Jack was a huge FORCE on D. He was wreaking havoc all day, including batting down a pass that could have gained big yards in a crucial juncture. The Defensive backfield looked vulnerable early, as Fabian Moreau and other youngsters’ inexperience was exposed. But in the 2nd Half, the open Receivers were nowhere to be found, so between Halftime adjustments, and the players just showing a lot of heart, something changed, and Nebraska was completely shut out.
After the game, every Bruin, including Coach Mora, credited the victory to the game MVP: Nick Pasquale. UCLA dedicated the game to him, and the resilience they showed honored Pasquale and his family. The Bruins looked dead in the 2nd Quarter, but they got inspiration from beyond the grave, that gave them life after death, and guided them to one of the biggest, toughest early-season victories that the Program has ever achieved.
Next week will be the ultimate trap game, as the Bruins will be heavy, heavy, heavy favorites over New Mexico State at the Rose Bowl. It will be up to Mora to motivate the Bruins, and keep them from having the letdown that logically follows an emotional win like the one today.