The storybook return of junior quarterback Josh Rosen started with a nightmare first quarter.
UCLA football started the game offensively with a missed field goal and an interception sandwiched between two punts, leading to a 14-0 Arizona State lead just over 10 minutes into the game.
But junior cornerback Nate Meadors sparked UCLA’s offense by intercepting a tipped Manny Wilkins pass and returning it 27 yards for the Bruins’ first touchdown of the game late in the first quarter.
From there, the floodgates opened – UCLA football (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) scored on seven of its next nine possessions and defeated Arizona State (5-5, 4-3) 44-37 Saturday night.
“It was a long time coming. I haven’t had a pick all year,” Meadors said. “We came into the game knowing that we needed a lot of energy and that brought a ton of energy.”
Rosen only completed 4-of-12 passes in the first quarter for 23 yards and an interception on a tipped pass, but went 21-of-33 for 358 yards over the rest of the game and a 22-yard touchdown toss to redshirt junior receiver Jordan Lasley.
After serving a three-game suspension for disciplinary issues, Lasley was UCLA’s offensive star Saturday – he caught seven passes for a season-high 162 yards and a touchdown. He was Rosen’s de facto top passing option after redshirt senior receiver Darren Andrews tore his ACL last week against Utah.
“Coach Mora just gave me some time to reflect on myself and reflect on my actions, and see how they affect the team and see how they affect even myself,” Lasley said.
The redshirt junior also impacted the game when the ball wasn’t in his hands. In the third quarter, junior running back Bolu Olorunfunmi caught a swing pass in the left flat and followed Lasley’s downfield blocking 56 yards to the Arizona State nine-yard line.
“A lot of it was first off to (Rosen), knowing the read and throwing the ball to his hot route,” Olorunfunmi said. “The only thing going through my mind was I have to run really fast. I just started thinking of my track days, I have to see if I can take this all the way. Shoutout to (Lasley) for blocking his butt off.”
Olorunfunmi additionally helped the Bruins finish with their best single-game rushing yardage total this year.
UCLA finished with 192 running yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Rosen picked up his sixth career rushing touchdown with a one-yard quarterback keeper early in the second quarter, while Olorunfunmi and fellow junior running back Soso Jamabo each added one.
On the other side, Arizona State continued the trend of UCLA opponents pounding the ball on the ground. The Sun Devils ran the ball 61 times compared to 37 Wilkins passes, with running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage each toting the rock 21 times. The visitors finished the game with 294 rushing yards – 10 less than the Bruins’ defense allows on average per game – and two touchdowns.
Despite giving up 584 yards, the much-maligned UCLA defense stood strong in the last three quarters. Arizona State didn’t score a touchdown after its first drive of the second quarter, and the Bruins held their opponents to three field goals with the ball inside the 10-yard line.
“I thought our guys played really well in the red zone,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. “I always say that it takes three field goals to beat a touchdown … which in the end was obviously the turning point of this game.”