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Bruins taken to the Max

After a slow start, BYU quarterback Hall throws two touchdown passes in the second half and almost rallies Cougars to a victory.

September 09, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

It took a while for Brigham Young quarterback Max Hall to hone his inner Jim McMahon. Once he did, the redshirt sophomore turned UCLA's first test of the season into a difficult final examination.

In a forgettable first quarter at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, Hall missed on seven of 12 passes and connected with UCLA cornerback Trey Brown for a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"Things just weren't clicking," Hall said after UCLA's 27-17 victory. "We were miscommunicating a little bit."

After the half, when UCLA led, 20-3, he nearly shotgunned his way to a Cougars upset.

BYU opened the second set with two scoring drives that vaulted the Cougars back into the thick of the game.

Hall, an Arizona State transfer who served a two-year missionary stint in Iowa, started it by connecting on six consecutive passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns. The scoring throws, of five and 16 yards, were both to receiver Austin Collie.

He completed passes while being dragged down. He completed passes off the helmets of UCLA defenders.

"We came out and just said we had to execute and we did with those two quick touchdowns," Hall said. "Once we scored, things started to roll for us a little bit."

He credited the turnaround with the changing of personnel.

The Cougars employed a two-tight-end set in the second half, with Andrew George and Dennis Pitta often sliding just in front of UCLA's safeties to catch passes. Once UCLA focused on the tight ends, BYU's outside receiving game opened up.

Hall finished with 30 completions in 52 attempts for 391 yards. The passing yards mark the eighth highest ever by a Bruins opponent and the most since Washington State's Alex Brink put up 405 yards against UCLA last season.

Hall's showing comes a week after he guided the Cougars to a win over Arizona with 288 passing yards and two touchdown passes.

"I thought it was gutsy," BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "He made some plays down the stretch that were critical."

With the second-half momentum snowballing toward Provo, Hall nearly drove the Cougars to a third consecutive second-half score.

Inside the Bruins' red zone on BYU's first possession in the fourth quarter, he sought out receiver Collie on a corner route.

"It was there," Hall said.

But he held the ball for one count too many.

Bruins defensive end Bruce Davis snaked around the end and pulled Hall's arm as he prepared to release the ball, causing it to pop loose.

The officials immediately ruled the play a fumble and the ball was recovered by defensive end Tom Blake. The play stood after an official review.

"I just got hit in the back," Hall said. "I thought I was throwing it, but the umpire felt otherwise."

Davis had a different perspective.

"That's a fumble all day," he said. "I don't even know why they went to the replay."

For Davis, the fumble came as retribution. BYU's offensive line maintained throughout the game and even afterward that Arizona's defense was more aggressive than UCLA's.

"They were good, but I thought Arizona's D-line was better than theirs," BYU center Sete Aulai said. "They were OK."

Responded Davis: "If you go out and ask [Hall] how he's feeling, he knows we're not soft now."

Indeed, the Cougars' hopes for a victory came crashing down with Davis' outstretched arm, and Hall and Brigham Young never seriously threatened to score again.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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