UCLA football proves itself a resilient force in 20-17 victory v. Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas — Through the season’s first two games, it was hard to figure out what type of team UCLA was.

The offensive struggles of week one were followed by defensive missteps in week two. There was no consistency, nothing to go on to determine the team’s identity.

When redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley left the game in the first quarter of UCLA’s 20-17 win over Texas Saturday with a left elbow injury, it appeared the Bruins would end another week shrouded in mystery.

Instead, they finally learned who they are.

“A bunch of fighters,” said junior wide receiver Jordan Payton. “I think that in the last three games we showed that we’re resilient. We don’t give up. This is what we’re bred to do. We get put in all these different situations throughout the year that make us better, and, as you see, we don’t blink in situations like this.”

UCLA proved Saturday that it can get past just about any obstacle it’s faced with, and Hundley’s absence was just the beginning.

With redshirt sophomore quarterback Jerry Neuheisel replacing Hundley, the big play threat just wasn’t there. Texas’ defense adjusted accordingly, playing stingy run defense and limiting UCLA to just 28 second-quarter yards.

The offense, and the Bruins, looked dead in the water, unable to do anything.

Then UCLA exploded out of halftime with an 75-yard touchdown drive and finished with 168 yards in the third quarter, including 119 rushing yards. Suddenly, the Texas run defense that looked impenetrable in the first half couldn’t figure out how to stop a newly reenergized UCLA rushing attack.

“We just committed ourselves to the run, because we knew we had to run the ball to open up the pass game,” said redshirt sophomore running back Paul Perkins.

But even after the offensive improvement bought UCLA a lead, it was a brief one. Texas reclaimed the lead with 5:13 remaining, and a UCLA fumble by redshirt senior running back Jordon James with 4:17 to go seemed to seal the Bruins’ fate.

With a few first downs, Texas could run enough time off the clock to make things near-impossible for UCLA. The Bruins needed a miracle. So they went out and created one.

A stringent defensive stand forced a three-and-out, allowing just 71 seconds to elapse off the game clock.

A 45-yard punt return by junior cornerback Ishmael Adams gave the Bruins a chance.

A perfect 33-yard touchdown throw from Neuheisel to Payton gave them the win.

“We faced a lot of adversity, especially in these first three games – more than probably we would have liked – but we can handle anything and as soon as that fumble happened, we knew we would get the ball back right away and we knew we were gonna go down and score,” Neuheisel said. “There was never a doubt in any of our guys’ minds.”

Playing at a neutral site that felt like a war zone given the massive sea of orange in the stands, the Bruins were in hostile territory and easily could have been rattled. Instead, they quieted the crowd with a comeback win.

Playing without its two starting safeties, the Bruins looked exploitable. Instead, freshman safety Jaleel Wadood was second on the team in tackles with nine and was solid in pass coverage.

Playing without their star player, the Bruins looked hopeless. Instead, a new hero made his mark.

It’s been a tumultuous start to the season for UCLA, but the Bruins believe that’s been good for them. They’ve learned they can win despite the problems and challenges.

“I felt like it was going to be a little bit of a defining moment for us, at least early in the season,” said coach Jim Mora of Saturday’s win.

“We just felt like this was an opportunity for us to put all the work that we’ve done over the course of the last year or three years on display and really prove it to ourselves, beyond anyone else, what this team was made of.”

Read more here: http://dailybruin.com/2014/09/14/ucla-football-proves-itself-a-resilient-force-in-20-17-victory-v-texas/
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