This post was updated Sept. 3 at 10 p.m.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A dismal second quarter turned into a horrible second half for the No. 16 UCLA (0-1) football team.
Nothing was going right for them – the running backs were sprinting past them and dodging tackles for extra yards, punters were pinning them to the five-yard line and the raucous 100,443 fans were preemptively celebrating mocking sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen with cheers of “50,000.”
But the Bruins almost pulled off the furious comeback before miscues on both sides of the ball sealed the eventual 31-24 overtime win for the unranked Texas A&M Aggies (1-0).
Rosen engineered two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a successful two-point conversion thrown to redshirt sophomore tight end Austin Roberts, to tie the game with 2:39 left on the clock.
The UCLA defense struggled in the third quarter after a groin injury took out senior defensive lineman Takk McKinley and knocked the Bruins back on their heels, letting the Aggies settle into a rhythm against the now-smaller defensive line. The home team put up two touchdowns and 186 yards to take a 24-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
But junior Kenny Young – the linebacker who recovered a fumble in the first quarter – and McKinley, who gutted out two more plays before limping out of the game, held the Aggies and Trevor Knight into a three-and-out drive late in the fourth to give Rosen the ball with a chance to take the win.
1:18 left on the clock, and UCLA needed one field goal to take their first lead since the second quarter.
Rosen couldn’t deliver. Rushed and harassed by junior Nick Harvey and an aggressive Texas A&M defense all afternoon, the sophomore threw another interception – his third of the day – to Justin Evans that put the Aggies back in the control of the Pac-12/Southeastern Conference matchup.
Six drives later, senior Tahaan Goodman broke up a pass intended for reigning SEC Freshman of the Year Christian Kirk to stop A&M on the fourth down. The Bruins ran out the clock in front of a stunned and silent Kyle Field crowd.
Redshirt junior Eddie Vanderdoes, in his first game since tearing his ACL against Virginia last season, stopped the Aggies twice at the one-yard line in overtime. But on fourth down and one, former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone called a play Vanderdoes said he saw frequently run for dozens of times for another UCLA quarterback.
Knight scampered around the outside and into the endzone for the go-ahead touchdown. A converted extra point attempt put the pressure onto the Bruin offense.
“We should have known what (Mazzone) would have pulled,” Vanderdoes said. “A couple years ago, he would do that with Brett (Hundley), put the game in his hands, have a running back, pull and go.”
After the game, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley lamented his play calling and the missed opportunities in the game, saying “there were a few he’d like to take back,” but that he was proud of his team for “clawing like the dickens to get back into the fourth quarter.”
“They had 200 yards today,” Bradley said.” You look at missed tackles, you look at big plays – if you’re going to be really good on defense, you’ve got to be able to prevent those.”
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line gave up five sacks to Texas A&M for a total loss of 39 yards and struggled to protect Rosen, who ended the game with two incomplete passes at the five-yard line.
The sophomore quarterback struggled to convert on third downs, finishing five of 18. Two trips to the red zone in the first half yielded two field goals from JJ Molson, a freshman who coach Jim Mora lauded along with fellow specialists freshman punter Austin Kent and freshman long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker as a few of the bright spots in the game.
Despite the tough game, the first season opener loss in the Jim Mora era, the head coach praised the resolve of his players, particularly in the fourth quarter when they were down 15 points.
“It’s horrible to lose, it always is,” Mora said in a post-game press conference. “We play to win. We work to win and we came here to win and we expect to win and we demand that we win, but I don’t want to lose track of some of the great things that did happen here for our football team, and some of the steps that we took in the right direction.”
Rosen, visibly emotional after the fourth loss in his last five games dating back to last season, promised reporters that the first half against the Aggies would be the worst half of football he plays all year.
In next week’s home opener, he’ll face UNLV, a team who ran by Jackson State on Thursday 63-13. The Running Rebels’ defense tested him in just his second game as a freshman last year, before Rosen seized control of the game, coming away with a 37-3 win.