PASADENA “”mdash; On the day the UCLA football team gutted out its most emotional win of the year, few Bruins could forget the emotions after their worst loss of the year.

Since it came just two weeks ago, it’s not easy to release from memory. The 48-12 loss to Arizona was the unquestionable low point of the season, one that will be talked about regardless of how UCLA’s final three games transpire.

To respond with two straight wins ““ both fueled by the defense that was exposed in Tucson, Ariz. ““ only served as more vindication to the Bruins’ belief that they’re not the team that showed up to play the Wildcats.

“We enjoyed playing with each other today,” said redshirt freshman safety Tevin McDonald, who had a team-high 11 tackles in UCLA’s win over Arizona State. “That’s something we didn’t have two weeks ago. You could tell ““ guys weren’t making enough plays, guys weren’t rallying together. But today, it seemed like 11 hats went to the ball every time. Every time someone made a play, he had three or four guys right there next to him.”

The fact that Saturday’s 29-28 win came against the Sun Devils was even more proof that the Bruin defense has changed.

A year ago, quarterback Brock Osweiler helped Arizona State effortlessly put up 55 points. While the Sun Devils still went on to score four touchdowns Saturday, their spread attack ““ an unpredictable mix of short and long plays led by the athletic Osweiler ““ was held in check when it mattered.

“We were going back and forth,” senior linebacker Sean Westgate said. “It was a chess match ““ between the run and the bubble (screen passes) ““ the whole game. It was intense.”

Arizona State finished with just one point fewer than UCLA but had plenty of chances to avoid its losing fate. Twice, the Sun Devils picked up fumbles the Bruins left on the turf, but the UCLA defense wouldn’t let the momentum fully swing and gave up no points after the giveaways.

Three promising Arizona State drives were stalled, and each one ended in a missed field goal ““ all thanks to a UCLA defense making plays two weeks after it resembled a sieve.

If one of those kicks went in, maybe the Sun Devils would be the ones celebrating sitting atop the Pac-12 South. They didn’t, and were left with the emotional low UCLA was at not long ago.

“It’s a hard loss,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. “They don’t get any harder than that.”

From covered to coverage
A No. 1 once again roamed the UCLA defensive backfield Saturday. It wasn’t sophomore safety Dietrich Riley, out with a neck injury, but rather junior wide receiver Randall Carroll.

Carroll made his season debut on defense a few weeks after beginning to practice on the other side of the ball. The speedy wideout entered the game as part of UCLA’s five- and six-defensive back packages.

“They say I’m pretty natural at corner and I have speed,” Carroll said. “I can cover pretty well, I found that out today. I did pretty well and I can tackle.”

Carroll finished with a solo tackle, and even hurried Osweiler on one play that resulted in an incompletion.

Quick hits
Sophomore linebacker Jordan Zumwalt was the lone Bruin hurt on the evening, suffering a right hip pointer that kept him out after halftime. … Senior wide receiver Nelson Rosario’s 76-yard touchdown in the third quarter was his first of the season, and just the fourth of his UCLA career. … UCLA is now 10-3 under coach Rick Neuheisel when rushing for over 100 yards.