It was a tale of two halves, but yet when added together, it comes up to one UCLA victory and the dawning of the Jim Mora era at UCLA.
The game started spectacularly for the Bruins (minus one player.) Brett Hundley, on his first play from scrimmage as a Bruin started his UCLA career in spectacular fashion, as he peeled off a 72 yard run for a touchdown. After an interception by Sheldon Price, Hundley has a nice throw to Joseph Fauria and a second nice throw to Jerry Johnson for a touchdown. On our third offensive series, we hand the ball off to Johnathan Franklin, and he peels off a long run for a touchdown as he begins his assault on the UCLA record books.
That's right. 3 offensive series. Four plays. Three touchdowns. We're in Texas, and we're messing with you.
Now, let's get to the bad part of those first three series - point after attempts. Ka'imi Fairbairn missed two of his three PATs, all three of them low. In all, he missed three out of four attempts, all low, which is a major point of concern. The other part of our kicking game - Jeff Locke - is perfectly fine.
UCLA is up 19-0, and Rice comes screaming back. On the next drive, helped by a late hit penalty by Jordan Zumwalt, Rice comes up with a big run and marches down the field for a touchdown. On the kickoff, Steven Manfro decides to run the punt out of the end zone when he should have taken a knee and is promptly stripped. Thankfully Franklin was there to recover the fumble and save the White Mamba's behind. We manage to do nothing on the drive, and Locke punts again.
The first half, part two, plus the second half, after the jump:
On the Rice drive, Sheldon Price interferes with the Rice receiver in every single way possible, and they STILL catch the ball. The secondary was not impressive in the first half and Rice kept marching right down the field, scoring a field goal and a touchdown, helped along by an absolutely ridiculous play by Dalton Hilliard who ran into Manfro on a punt return, causing a turnover, Damien Holmes with a personal foul penalty on a punt, and an absolutely BS PI call on Aaron Hester. 17 unanswered points by Rice.
Thankfully Rice is there to help us out with their own dumb penalty, and Franklin and Damien Thigpen move the team down the field for a 27 yard field goal by Fairbairn.
After a missed Rice field goal, Franklin promptly rips off another 78 yard run for another touchdown. UCLA is moving along in the first half, even if our defense is a bit shaky. Right around this point I muse aloud I'd like to see Hundley throw it downfield. He does, and is promptly picked off. Sorry guys, that's all me.
It's all good though, as Anthony Barr knocks the Rice QB out of the game. Rice turns to the Wildcat but tries throwing out of the Wildcat and winds up fumbling. Damien Holmes comes along to clean up the fumble and rumble down field for his touchdown. Unfortunately Fairbairn is blocked on his third PAT. Not a good half for our new kicker.
As wild and crazy the first half was, the offense was nice to watch - it actually MOVED. In the second half the defense finally picked it up, made the adjustments they needed, and pitched a shut out. We also need to recognize the sacks by Damien Holmes and by our new favorite big guy Ellis McCarthy, whose 13% body fat must all be in his gut. EDIT: I also must recognize Anthony Barr, who played extremely well tonight in his first game as a Linebacker. He was everywhere and I was impressed by his performance.
Brett Hundley kept moving along, with nice passes to Manfro, to Shaq Evans, to Jordan James. Everyone was involved in the offense, and I credit Coach Mazzone with this new offense that looked GOOD. Franklin scores a THIRD touchdown, and he declares the end zone his new home. He definitely likes going home. David Allen scores the two point conversion.
While we are lauding Franklin, we must also laud those who opened up the holes from him - our new, retooled, offensive line which showcased THREE freshmen tonight - Jake Brendel, Simon Goines, and Torian White. XSF and Jeff Baca returned to shore up the line, which protected Brett Hundley pretty well tonight, as I don't recall any pretty vicious sacks.
I do however recall Hundley holding on to the ball a few seconds too long at times, putting himself in situations where he had to scramble needlessly, or being flushed out of the pocket when he could have gotten rid of the ball. In time, he'll figure out how to find his receivers and when and how to get rid of the ball, and when to take off. It is game one for him, after all.
There were still two many penalties, including at least three personal fouls. The most ridiculous one was by Devin Lucien, wiping a late touchdown off the board.
The biggest concern, however, was UCLA's conversion rate on third down - converting (I believe) only one third down the entire night (but converted two fourth downs. Explain that.) If we want to reach the pre-set goal of 9 wins this year, we have to improve our third down conversion rate. I do like how we were eating up yardage as we marched down field, which should make third downs easier if it's short yardage. Chunks are good, everyone.
Today, Rice is good for you. UCLA wins are good for you.