This post was updated Sept. 3 at 10:59 p.m.
Jedd Fisch calls himself a Patriots fan, but when the first-year offensive coordinator looked up at the scoreboard that showed UCLA football trailing Texas A&M by 34 points, he couldn’t even dream of a Super Bowl-like comeback – not when the Bruins were down by almost twice as much as New England was against the Atlanta Falcons.
And up until the waning moments of the third quarter there was no reason to believe in a comeback.
The run game was barely there, the defense was porous and the quarterback play was shaky.
Yet, it didn’t matter.
UCLA football (1-0) strung together just enough plays in a fourth-quarter comeback to stun Texas A&M (0-1) 45-44.
Up until the third quarter, the Aggies dominated the game in nearly every single way – 413 to 248 in total yards, 344 to 49 in rushing yards and 17 to 13 in first downs.
But there was no panic – not from Fisch, coach Jim Mora, the staff nor the players.
There was just a renewed focus on the sideline to do their jobs.
“I told the guys, ‘Hey, I don’t really care what the scoreboard says. Your job is to score. That’s your job on offense,’” Fisch said. “On defense, their job is to stop them. But our job is to score and we were able to work together to get that down.
Each unit and player did his part.
Out of halftime, the Bruins switched to their base defense, which defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said they hadn’t practiced in about a week and a half.
With sophomore linebacker Lokeni Toailoa stepping up, the defense shut down backup quarterback Kellen Mond, who finished the game after an injury knocked out freshman starter Nick Starkel.
The Aggies blasted the Bruins in the first half with 38 points and 342 yards. However, that same offense, led by sophomore Trayveon Williams, junior Christian Kirk and senior Keith Ford, had zero points and just 58 yards in the fourth quarter despite an almost two-minute edge in time of possession.
Less time with the ball didn’t affect the UCLA offense. It made each moment and each play count.
A year after tearing up at Kyle Field and shouldering the blame for UCLA’s double overtime loss to Texas A&M, Rosen had the game of his career – he was the Tom Brady of this historic comeback.
Rosen, who was playing his first game 11 months after suffering a shoulder injury that knocked him out for the season, powered the offense and willed it to the end zone four times in the fourth quarter and five times in the half.
The Heisman hopeful struggled in the first half, completing just nine of his 23 attempts and fumbling the ball on his second drive of the game. He turned it around in the last 15 minutes to finish the season opener 35-of-59 for 491 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Good quarter,” Fisch said about Rosen’s play at the end of the game.
It wasn’t just a good quarter for the Bruins, who had the first 34-point comeback since Michigan State came back against Northwestern in 2006. There was some luck, too.
The breaks began to fall for UCLA – just enough to help them claw their way back into the game.
“Sometimes you just need luck,” Rosen said. “I mean, the things that had to go right for us to win this game were incredible.”
One of Rosen’s passes late in the game just sailed through the hands of Aggie junior defensive back DeShawn Capers-Smith. What was nearly an interception ended up landing in the arms of redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews for a wide open touchdown, cutting the score to 44-31 after the extra point attempt.
Then there was the defense and the field goal blocked by redshirt junior defensive back Adarius Pickett that held the Aggies to just six points in the second half. It stopped any hopes of shifting momentum back to the visitors.
Or, perhaps the highlight of the game, Rosen’s fake spike to lull the A&M defense to sleep before redshirt junior wide receiver Jordan Lasley caught the game-winning pass on one foot in the back corner of the end zone with 48 seconds left on the clock.
“I faked it and put it up, but the defensive back (freshman Myles Jones) looked like he realized at the last second that the play was actually a play. Lasley made an incredible catch and the chips fell in our favor,” Rosen said. “We were an inch away from losing this game probably about 10 times.”
But the team didn’t.
Even though Texas A&M had a chance with the ball and 43 seconds to work with, down just one point, the UCLA defense made its stand.
It stopped Mond one yard short on fourth and 10th and, with the ball in Rosen’s hands, the Bruins and the fans who stayed began celebrating.
“When we took the knee, I looked at the clock and looked at how much time it took off,” Rosen said. “I saw it stopped at nine seconds and then they didn’t call timeout and I just said, ‘Wow, we did it.’”
There will be plenty of film to look at tomorrow and things to work on before Saturday’s game against Hawai’i – a run game that averaged just 2.5 yards a carry, stopping the run and getting off to a quicker start.
But the Bruins will head into that game against the Rainbow Warriors (2-0) with a historic, albeit ugly, win.
“We’ll take it,” Mora said.