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Sunday Morning Quarterback Monday Edition: UCLA Football’s Comeback Win Is the Second Biggest in NCAA History

Only Michigan State overcame a bigger deficit when the Spartans were down 38-3 and came back to beat Northwestern in 2006, 41-38.

Texas A&M v UCLA
Josh Rosen jumps for joy after throwing a TD pass to Jordan Lasley in the second half.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Update (3:00 pm, 9/4/17): The fourth down data has been corrected. While the official stats only show two fourth down attempts while there was another successful attempt with 4:05 to go in the game which was resulted in a 26-yard pass to Caleb Wilson and which was followed by a penalty. Because the play was not nullified, it should have been counted as a fourth down attempt and conversion. As such, our data now reflects that. - BN Ed.


Last night’s game reminds me of Jack Buck’s call of Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series. Buck said, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

It’s also reminiscent of Al Michaels call of the 1980 Miracle on Ice. “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

Now, we have Gus Johnson with “Rosen fakes the the end zone...TOUCHDOWN! Jordan Lasley! Whoa! The legend of Josh Rosen! In full bloom! Dan Marino would be proud!”

If I weren’t there are the game I might not believe it. In fact, I was there and I’m still not sure I believe what happened last night.

It was the most improbable comeback in UCLA football history. Tyus Edney, Mr. 4.8 Seconds, please meet Josh Rosen, Mr. 43 Seconds!

At the same time, it was the most non-UCLA UCLA Football game I have ever seen. As Bruin fans, we have been conditioned to the fact that whenever something could go wrong, it usually does. We’ve seen it over and over and over.

After the game, Josh Rosen said, “We were an inch from losing this game ten times.” And, he’s right.

If Josh Rosen’s 42-yard pass to Darren Andrews doesn’t go through the hands of the Aggies’ Deshawn Capers-Smith and instead goes into his hands, the comeback was probably over.

On the last drive, there were a few penalties which threatened the Bruins’ chances. There was a delay of game that made it 2nd down and 15, but on the next play, Rosen found Andrews for 14 yards, making it 3rd and 1. But a false start made it 3rd and 6.

Of course, the next play was a dropped pass by Jordan Lasley which made it 4th down and six putting the Bruins’ backs to the wall again.

I have to admit I didn’t believe it was possible.

After all, in the first half, the team looked so much like last year’s team that I was wondering if the offense was still being run by Kennedy Polamalu and the line was still being coached by Adrian Klemm.

It was so bad that I tweeted this from the BN Twitter account:

So, what changed?

Well, for starters, our defense did. After playing pretty much the entire first half in the nickel in an attempt to stop Noel Mazzone’s passing offense, the Bruins went back to the base 4-3 defense in the second half. That slowed down the A&M offense substantially.

Of course, Noel Mazzone was being Noel Mazzone, which meant that he abandoned what was working for the team in the first half and saw his offense get held to just two field goals in the second half.

At the same time, UCLA stopped giving the ball away and started moving the ball through the air.

It was the second biggest comeback in NCAA FBS history behind Michigan State’s 2006 comeback against Northwestern.

Jim Mora, his coaches and his players all deserve a ton of credit for winning last night’s game. They did what they needed to do to win the game.

That said, all of the usual elements of the Mora era were still present and we shouldn’t want to accept in a win what we wouldn’t accept in a loss. The Bruins had their fair share of stupid penalties, like Adarius Pickett being called for taunting while the team was losing. The offensive line play was awful in the first half. There were dropped passes at key times as I mentioned above.

In his postgame comments, even Jim Mora admitted that the team’s play left a lot to be desired. Mora said:

We're not gonna let the euphoria of this big win overshadow all of the things that we need to fix. We have to be able to run the ball better than we did tonight. I thought we'd be able to run it better. We didn't run it well enough. We have to be able to stop the run. I thought we'd be able to stop the run better but they got two for 133 yards in the first half out the gate and...and that can't happen. So, while we're excited about the win, you realize there's a lot of things that you have to improve on. So, we're going to celebrate the win give it a little bit and then we're gonna go watch the film and we’re going to critique it hard.

Here’s the full video of Jim Mora’s postgame press conference from UCLA Athletics.

The Bruins on Fourth Down

Last week, I wrote that, if Mora wants to keep his job, he needs to keep the punter off the field. Of course, three first half fumbles kept Stefan Flintoff off the field more than he might have been if Josh Rosen and Bolu Olorunfunmi hadn’t lost three fumbles.

But, the real intention was that executing on offense would keep the Bruins out of fourth down situations knowing that Mora’s general tendency is to punt more than 60% of the time. So, how did the Bruins do on fourth down yesterday? Let’s look....

UCLA on Fourth Down vs. Texas A&M

Opponent 4th Downs FG Attempts FGA % Punts Punt % 4th Down Attempts Never Kick % 4th Down Conversions Conversion %
Opponent 4th Downs FG Attempts FGA % Punts Punt % 4th Down Attempts Never Kick % 4th Down Conversions Conversion %
Texas A&M 9 1 11.11% 5 55.56% 3 33.33% 2 66.67%
Total 9 1 11.11% 5 55.56% 3 33.33% 2 66.67%

The Bruins went for it twice yesterday on fourth down and succeeded once. The first time was with 2:40 left in the first half on 4th and 10 from the Texas A&M 37-yard line. The result on the play was a sack and loss of 17 yards, but this demonstrated a break in the usual Jim Mora pattern. Typically, this is a situation in which Mora would historically punt. Of course, he followed that risky move by allowing time to expire on A&M ensuing drive even though the Aggies had lost 7 yards on second down with a minute to go.

The second fourth down attempt came on the winning drive. The Bruins went for it on 4th and 6 on the Aggies’ 20 with less than minute to play. UCLA needed a touchdown to win and they went for it with a swing pass to Soso Jamabo who picked up 10 yards.

Now, it’s obviously impossible to say what the team would have done in a similar situation, say, in the middle of the second quarter. But, if we’re going to criticize Jim for his game management, we have to look at the situation at hand and, while the situation basically required the team to go for it, Mora still gets props for doing so.

As a result of going for it twice on fourth down, UCLA’s 2017 Never Kick % stands at 25%. We will keep tracking this as the season progresses.

And, while the team punted 4 times in the first half, they only punted once in the second half. This demonstrates how well the offense was moving the ball in the second half. I’m not going to give out a grade for game management. I’ll leave that for the Eye Test. But I will say that I wrote that the Bruins need to punt no more than five times in order to win. They didn’t punt more than five times and we won. ‘Nuff said.

Even if I’m still in disbelief. Somebody pinch me.

Go Bruins!!!