PULLMAN, Wash. “”mdash; Nearly half of the 28,110 fans that attended UCLA’s 44-36 win over Washington State on Saturday left at halftime.
Some decided to regain feeling in their digits and ditch the sub-30 degree temperatures. Others didn’t care to see their Cougars suffer through the second half of a game that they already trailed by 30 points.
UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) hung on to win 44-36, but had those fans stuck around, they would have seen quite a show.
“It was not the prettiest thing in the world but I hope we kept people tuned in,” coach Jim Mora said.
Mora’s Bruins were outscored 29-7 in a second half that had them looking like they were trying harder not to lose than to win.
UCLA’s last score came with just over four minutes to play in the third quarter. The Cougars rattled off three unanswered touchdowns before the Bruins recovered an onside kick with less than two minutes remaining to seal the victory.
“We let up and it was pretty obvious in the way that we were playing,” said junior defensive end Cassius Marsh.
The Cougars scored the final 22 points of the game, including a touchdown and two point conversion with 1:31 to go that made it a one-score game.
“Give credit to Washington State because they kept fighting and kept coming at us,” said senior cornerback Sheldon Price.
There was plenty of blame to go around for UCLA letting its foot off the gas. Several starters left the game with minor injuries and the Bruins were penalized 12 times for 126 yards.
“With the tempo we run, penalties hurt a lot,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley.
Washington State held UCLA’s rushing attack to just 73 yards on the ground. Redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin, who recently became the school’s all-time rushing yards leader, had just 66 yards.
“When you can’t run the football, your quarterback has to make throws for you,” said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
Hundley did just that, only missing three passes and throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
On the game’s opening drive, the Cougars marched into Bruin territory and were ready to settle for a field goal and an early three-point lead.
Luckily for UCLA, its special teams unit had something to say about that. Redshirt senior defensive end Datone Jones blazed through the line to block the field goal attempt, which found its way to Price who promptly returned it 68 yards for a touchdown.
UCLA blocked another field goal and a punt on its way to building their 30-point first half advantage.
“Special teams is just as big as offense and defense,” said Marsh, who blocked the second field goal attempt. “Our coaches are always preaching that to us. We had a great special teams game this week.”
Despite the sloppy performance, UCLA finds itself at 8-2 overall and in command of its destiny in the Pac-12 conference title hunt.
“As long as you win and you take the mindset going forward that you’re going to learn from it and you’re going to apply the things you learned, sometimes these can be good for you,” Mora said.
A win against USC on Saturday assures UCLA a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second straight season, this time as the South champions.