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UCLA ends up in upright position at end of roller-coaster ride

Bruins haven't been known for fun, but win over Arizona State is quite entertaining, from drama over the coin toss to the game-ending field goal. The rousing win now positions UCLA to turn the corner.

October 27, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • UCLA players celebrate after defeating Arizona State, 45-43, on a last-second field goal Saturday afternoon.
UCLA players celebrate after defeating Arizona State, 45-43, on a last-second… (Matt York / Associated Press )

TEMPE, Ariz. -- I don't think it was too much to ask.

If one has only so many days in a lifetime, and some of them must be spent watching UCLA football, then how about making them more entertaining?

I brought it up following the Bruins' last game, helpful as I often am with our local coaches, reminding Jim Mora folks still weren't going to the Rose Bowl because UCLA football hasn't been much fun.

Well, I had no idea he would take advice so well, as Mora made even the coin toss entertaining on what would be just a humdinger of an afternoon.

A fun, fun day, 88 points, 11 touchdowns, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley showing the kind of nerve down the stretch that suggests he will play on Sundays later in life, and a game-ending field goal to make the Bruins 45-43 winners over Arizona State.

"It wasn't boring," said Mora.

It was so good, in fact, the game ended just in time for UCLA fans to sit down and enjoy something almost as good as a UCLA win — a USC loss.

Mora was so "amped" — and I can't imagine Lane Kiffin ever saying such a thing — before the game and before learning USC lost. Mora wasn't going to let his team come out flat, so he was chewing on them in the locker room. "It got a little out of control," he said.

As a result, the team's captains were tardy for the coin toss, which resulted in some miscommunication with the referee and somehow UCLA kicking off to start the game as well as to begin the second half.

"It would have been terrible if we had lost the game because of that," said Mora. Unless, of course, you're a columnist and looking for a way to start a story about a game gone wrong.

Nonetheless, it was entertaining to watch Mora carry on the coin-toss argument with the referee after going down 7-0. He was probably suggesting a do-over.

The game looked as if it had clunker written all over it, with UCLA trailing, 14-0, early and Mora asking himself on the sideline whether he had done something wrong to prepare his team during its off week.

But all that did was make for great theater, a little adversity necessary to stoke everyone's emotions.

It may even explain why UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero was bouncing from player to player at midfield in celebration after the game, a little out of my range but undoubtedly shouting something like, "Now maybe I won't be fired! Now maybe I won't be fired!"

As disheartening a wreck as UCLA football has been on Guerrero's watch, this rousing win now positions the Bruins to turn the corner.

A missed field goal, and it's just more Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel, but the 33-yard kick at the end was good and so there will be an important game played in the Rose Bowl next Saturday against Arizona.

Now that's progress, but not very meaningful unless the Bruins go on to complete the sweep of Arizona schools.

And shouldn't we expect a letdown from Arizona after its signature win over USC? And what if Arizona's starting quarterback can't play because of the concussion he suffered against USC?

That's why winning is so much fun; it allows folks to dream.

Dorrell and Neuheisel had their opportunities to dream and turn that elusive corner, but they lacked a quarterback or Mora's rabbit ears.

The Bruins began the game throwing the ball, while the sportswriters in the press box were wondering out loud what had happened to UCLA's Heisman hopeful, Johnathan Franklin?

After the game I asked Mora whether he had heard us, or if someone from UCLA had told him the writers wanted Franklin.

"I feel the same way you feel with regards to that," said Mora. "I think in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line, and I told [the team's offensive coordinator] this: I want Jonathan Franklin to have the football."

I've often said teams would be so much better off letting the sportswriters in the press box call plays, but that's probably a column for a later day.

Although it should be pointed out, as I did to Mora, "We were calling for Franklin in the first quarter."

"I can understand that," said Mora. "But it's really important we don't wear him out early in a game. We've got to manage him so that when we need the big plays in the fourth quarter, he can make them like he did today."

Franklin ran 26 times for 164 yards and two touchdowns, just as the sportswriters thought he would.

But Hundley was just as impressive, his stretch drive to set up the game-winning field goal the handiwork of someone poised beyond their redshirt freshman status.

Now it would be easy to diminish this win, knowing how hard Arizona State's coaching staff worked to give the Bruins the game. I have never seen a worse job of coaching than that turned in by Arizona State, and I've been around UCLA's coaches for more than a decade.

Up 17-14 with 1:19 remaining in the half, the ball on its own four-yard line, Arizona State's coaching staff asked its quarterback to retreat into his own zone and throw the ball. Under pressure, he threw a pass that was intercepted and one play later, UCLA had a 21-17 lead.

But Arizona State's long-range problems are UCLA's short-term gains. As his team prepares to do so, Mora has already turned the corner by apologizing recently to the sports information assistant he had earlier berated.

What a winning formula: good karma and exciting football.

And along with that, sportswriters willing to help when they can and a coach willing to make winning adjustments.

I'm almost getting goose bumps thinking about the possibilities.

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