To say the Jedd Fisch era at UCLA started poorly would be an understatement.
Under the Bruins’ new offensive coordinator, their offense opened the game with a field goal but followed that with fumbles on back-to-back drives and four consecutive three-and-outs. More than 20 minutes of game time trickled down before they recorded another first down.
But with four minutes left in the third quarter, junior quarterback Josh Rosen and the offense started to gel and string together yards in chunks.
“At halftime, we said that when you have that ball, you’ve got to score. That’s our job, to drive down and score,” Fisch said. “We’re dealing with a really good defense, a really big defense, a fast defense that was playing press man coverage. They were up there on us, so we had to figure out the best way to move the ball.”
It took UCLA (1-0) almost three quarters to figure out the Texas A&M (0-1) defense, but the Bruins rallied from a 34-point deficit with a late third quarter touchdown and a 28-point fourth quarter for a 45-44 win Sunday night.
The score at halftime was 38-10 in favor of A&M, and after UCLA started the third quarter with a fumble and a three-and-out leading to two A&M field goals, Rosen led five consecutive touchdown drives. In the fourth quarter alone, he completed 19 of 26 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
Two of those touchdown passes could have ended up in the hands of the Aggies. Rosen underthrew his 42-yard bomb to redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews by 5 yards, but as A&M junior defensive back DeShawn Capers-Smith attempted to leap and snag the interception, the ball fell through his hands and landed perfectly in Andrews’ as he walked into the end zone.
Five minutes later, the Bruins were in the red zone and Rosen was rolling to his left to escape pressure. As he wound up to throw, a pass rusher hit his hand and the ball floated toward a group of Aggie defensive backs in the end zone. Sophomore wideout Theo Howard slid in front of them, however, and caught the ball for a touchdown to bring UCLA within one possession of the lead.
“From almost throwing a pick to a defensive lineman to two tipped balls. I fully was trying to throw that ball away – that touchdown to Theo. I was not throwing that to anyone. (The pass rusher) just hit my hand and I got lucky,” Rosen said.
The score forced the offense to be more aggressive through the air in the fourth quarter, and one of Rosen’s favorite targets was redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson. In the last period, the two connected for eight receptions on nine targets – including a 26-yard gain on fourth-and-3 – as Wilson finished the game with 15 catches for 203 yards.
“In the second half, we were on our toes more, leaning into it. Nowhere was it more evident than in Josh’s play,” said coach Jim Mora. “He found Caleb, a sure-handed guy who made plays over the middle. And as (Rosen) made plays, his confidence and our confidence grew.”