This article was updated Oct. 1 at 1:40 a.m.
The defense finally showed up.
UCLA football gave up a combined 106 points and 1,113 yards in its past two games – both losses – but only allowed 434 yards to Colorado as the Bruins (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) defeated the Buffaloes (3-2, 0-2) 27-23 Saturday night.
“We were good in the red zone and held them to field goals for the most part,” said coach Jim Mora. “I was proud of the way the defense played. They played fast, they tackled better, they had a good energy about them and they hung in there.”
On five trips inside the 20-yard line, Colorado only came away with three field goals and a touchdown.
The only time the Buffaloes didn’t score came with less than a minute left before halftime. For the second time this year, UCLA’s opponent attempted a red zone fake field goal. Colorado holder T.J. Patterson attempted to throw to kicker James Stefanou, but redshirt junior safety Adarius Pickett broke up the pass.
Red zone efficiency wasn’t the only sign that the Bruin defense improved.
Stanford averaged 8 yards per offensive play and Memphis averaged 7.4, but UCLA held Colorado to 5.7 and to 4-of-16 on third down conversions.
“We did a great job on third down tonight, 4-for-16 is a good day,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. “There’s a lot of work to get done, and we have to get our tackling better. … We had some chances to get off the field on third down and we didn’t.”
But after the Cardinal rushed for 405 yards last Saturday, the Buffaloes only managed 191 yards on the ground over 38 carries. Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay entered the game averaging 111.5 yards per game on 22.5 rushes, but he only gained 83 yards on 19 carries.
UCLA also harassed Colorado quarterback Steven Montez to a stretch of seven straight incompletions in the fourth quarter. Although the Bruins didn’t record a single sack, the defensive line pressured the sophomore into only completing 17-of-36 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown. Montez averaged more yards per carry – running for 108 yards on 15 carries – than he did per pass attempt.
“They did a couple things different that we haven’t seen before,” Bradley said. “They got us a couple times in their formation where we got into a certain defense and our defensive end was setting an edge more.”
That all happened without freshman cornerback Darnay Holmes, who was ejected on a targeting penalty during the Buffaloes’ first drive. Holmes lowered his head as he tackled Lindsay but didn’t draw a flag. After an official review, he became the fourth Bruin disqualified for targeting in the past four games.
Unlike the previous four games this year, UCLA’s offense failed to break the 30-point mark but featured a much more even mix of play calls.
The Bruins ran the ball 35 times for 95 yards, and quarterback Josh Rosen only threw 45 passes, compared to 60 passes and 12 true run plays last weekend. The junior finished 28-of-45 for 372 yards with one touchdown and an interception, his seventh consecutive 300-plus yard passing game which is the longest active streak in the FBS.
“The biggest thing for us in this game offensively was to have a 6:46 drive when it was a one-point game,” said offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. “We were able to do that because of the running game on a big third-down conversion.”
Rosen’s leading receiver was redshirt junior wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who tallied seven catches for 146 yards. Redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews didn’t record a touchdown in a game for the first time this season, as Rosen’s score went to redshirt junior tight end Austin Roberts.
Junior running back Soso Jamabo – who recorded the first 100-yard game for a UCLA running back since 2015 last Saturday – rushed the ball 21 times for 70 yards and a touchdown, and he picked seven yards on a crucial 3rd-and-6 on the Bruins’ final drive to force Colorado to burn all of its timeouts.
“That was the biggest play of the season and we made it,” Jamabo said. “We need to keep finding ways to make bigger runs and bigger plays until we’re where we want to be, but we’ll take the improvement and we’ll take a win.”