With 47 seconds left in the first quarter of the game against Oregon State last night in the Rose Bowl, the Beavers were lined up to punt the ball on a fourth-and-four play from their own 31-yard line. As the ball was snapped to Nick Porebski, the Beavers’ punter, the Bruins went for the block. I counted about four blue uniforms closing in on Porebski untouched—the guy had no chance to get the kick off.
Jordan Lasley picked the loose ball out of the air and ran into the endzone to put the Bruins up two touchdowns, and log the 2016 UCLA football team's first non-offensive touchdown of the season—nine games and a quarter into the tenth, or after almost 37 full quarters of football.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Beavers were down only a score and driving. Gary Andersen’s team had moved the ball through the air at 6.0 yards per attempt, a surprisingly productive night for the Pac-12’s worst passing offense against the Pac-12’s best passing defense. Marcus McMaryion, on a third-and-six play from the Beaver 32-yard line, threw the ball to the left side of the field almost directly to UCLA defensive back Randall Goforth, who had a clear shot to the house, and put the Beavers away for the night with a two touchdown lead—the second non-offensive touchdown of the night, and year.
The touchdown each scored by the special teams and the defense for UCLA on Saturday night accounted for the 14-point difference it took to knock down a stingy Oregon State team when the productive but sloppy Bruin offense needed the extra help.
Mike Fafaul Gets His Win (and Rudy Sucks)
When I was a boy, I liked the movie Rudy a lot. Mostly because it was about football, and the score was sugary sweet. As an adult, I’ve realized how pretty unremarkable the story is. An Irish Catholic kid from a working class background dreams of playing football for Notre Dame (big deal). He’s too small so plays at a junior college and then gets to walk on. Ara Parseghian says he’ll put him on the field, but then Dan Devine tells him he’ll never suit up for the Irish. Then Devine lets him dress for the final game, and he gets one lousy special teams play and stays on the field in garbage time.
College football is full of walk-ons who get to play on special teams, and full of walk-ons with better stories than Rudy Ruettiger’s.
Mike Fafaul walked on to UCLA after a year of post-graduate prep football at a military academy in Virginia. He only started on his high school team his senior year.
He stayed at UCLA after four years of scout team work, buried deep in the depth chart behind two future NFL talents, 4-stars who left to try to start elsewhere, and a backup who already got his Hollywood ending. Winning the award for best scout team player seemed to be the height of what he could accomplish. But years of hard work, belief, and a lot of things that happened beyond his control resulted in the former walk-on from Maryland became the starting quarterback at UCLA.
Not only did he get to be the starting quarterback, but he won a damn game. I like that story better.
Jim Mora awarded Mike Fafaul the game ball after the game last night, the second time in five years the head coach has given away a game ball—the only other time in 2014, when cornerback Marcos Rios, who battled a rare, life-threatening fungal infection, made a game-saving interception at California (also a better story than Rudy’s).
Fafaul’s offense on Saturday night was productive against the Beavers, rushing for 5.6 yards per carry—the Bruins' best game by that metric this season. Fafaul completed 25 out of 47 passes for 281 yards with one interception. But the Bruins fumbled the ball twice, Fafaul threw a bad interception on the half-yard line (on a truly unusual play call), and the receiving corps had one of its worst cases of the drops this season. But for their endemic sloppiness, the offense might not have needed the scoring help from the special teams and the defense.
Youngsters on the Field
Saturday saw the most playing time to date for Theo Howard, and freshman backs Jalen Starks and Brandon Stephens both got meaningful game reps, with Starks carrying the ball ten times, the most of any back, and scoring two touchdowns for the Bruins. Stephens looked like the touted recruit he’s supposed to be, evading the entire Oregon State defense on a would-be touchdown run that was called back for a holding penalty.
Howard caught the ball five times for 30 yards, but also forced the Beaver defense into committing a couple of penalties and commanded their attention when he was on the field.
With the season’s goals all but shot, it’s nice to see these freshman skill players get the experience of meaningful playing time, along with the supposed re-commitment to freshman scholarship kickers—Austin Kent struggled punting the ball, prompting a couple of appearances by Stefan Flintoft, but J.J. Molson made his only field goal attempt from 49 yards.
Offense and Special Teams Gives Up More Points than Defense—Again
The UCLA defense for the second game in a row only allowed three points on an honest Oregon State drive that started inside their own territory, finishing a 71-yard drive with a field goal in the third quarter. The other 21 points for the Beavers, again, were mostly the responsibility of poor special teams play and turnovers by the offense, with one of those turnovers a scoop-and-score to make the game precariously close in the second half.
Takkarist McKinley again led the defense with six total tackles, two for a loss, and one sack. If the offense could score as easily against the opposing defenses as it can against its own defense, this could have been a special year, indeed.
Beat SC Week Begins
Now if Mike Fafaul can lead the Bruins to his second career win as a starter next week in the Rose Bowl, then they should make a movie about him too.