This post was updated at 11:10 a.m.
After only putting 14 points on the board in the first half, coach Jim Mora challenged the offense to respond.
They responded and the defense continued their smothering play as UCLA (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) stormed to a 45-24 win over Arizona (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12) Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
But the biggest change wasn’t in X’s and O’s. It was their mentality.
“We just weren’t winning our one-on-one battles,” said sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen. “It’s more a point of just will and pride. … We pulled it together and sharpened up. Mistakes were made, but I feel like I moved on from them pretty well and went to the next play and I feel really good about that.”
The Bruins opened the second half by steadily marching down the field. Junior running back Nate Starks had 39 rushing yards on the drive before an Arizona penalty put the UCLA in scoring position at the 19-yard line. Freshman Theo Howard converted Rosen’s pass into a 19-yard touchdown, the first of his career, to give UCLA a double-digit lead.
“Once in a life time experience,” Howard said. “Definitely stuff I’ve needed to work on – blocking, studying plays – but I just had to stay patient. (After halftime) we just wanted to go out there and make the plays.”
The offense scored on all five possessions in the second half – four touchdowns and one field goal – to put Arizona out of striking distance.
The Wildcats’ three quarterbacks couldn’t keep pace and the offense struggled moving down the field in the second half. Zach Werlinger subbed in for starter Brandon Dawkins in the third, but senior defensive lineman Takk McKinley chased down the redshirt sophomore for the first sack of the night.
Arizona burned dual-threat quarterback Khalil Tate’s redshirt looking for a spark, but the inexperienced freshman couldn’t consistently break through the Bruin defense. Tate put two touchdowns on the board and extended plays with his run ability, but McKinley rushed him multiple times and tackled him in the fourth, one of his five solo tackles.
Fellow defensive lineman Kenny Young had the other sack of the night for UCLA, taking down Dawkins and leading the defense with 12 tackles. The junior, who had six tackles in the loss against Stanford, continued his strong play, backed by his growing confidence and maturity.
“I’ve seen a level of confidence out of Kenny,” Mora said. “He really understands now how to play his position in this defense. When you do that, you play with certainty and when you can play with certainty, you can play fast and that is what I see.”
Players from both sides of the ball chipped in for momentum-swinging plays. Redshirt seniors defensive back Randall Goforth and wide receiver Ishmael Adams both had big kick returns on special teams, running the ball 50 yards and 52 yards respectively to set the Bruins up in their own territory.
The running backs, who struggled against the physical Stanford defensive line, put together big plays to keep the Bruins’ drives alive.
Starks led UCLA with 16 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown. The junior earned the starting nod because of “his experience, power and speed,” but sophomore Soso Jamabo earned playing time as well.
Jamabo caught a 33-yard pass moments before Darren Andrews ran for 26 more yards into the endzone for the third rushing touchdown of the night.
The Bruins finished with 125 yards on 32 carries, averaging just 3.9 yards against the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12.
Last week against Washington, Arizona gave up 352 yards on 51 carries– 6.9 yards a play.
“We need to do a better job of running the football,” Mora said. “I don’t care what kind of unscouted looks that we are getting up front.”
The Bruins, now with their first Pac-12 victory of the year under their belt, travel to Tempe, Arizona, next weekend to take on Arizona State. The Sun Devils are coming off a 41-20 loss to the USC Trojans.