PASADENA, Calif. — There was no statement made, no comeback to be had and the only celebration was in the stands of the Rose Bowl Saturday night as No. 20 UCLA trounced Colorado 45-23.
The victory itself was uninspired.
But it was important nonetheless, as it eased the pressure on the Bruins and was somewhat of a relief after two dismal, uncharacteristic weeks. UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) could finally get back to being itself again, breathe a collective sigh of relief and finally move on from the lowest point of the season.
“I hate to admit this, but I thought there was a little hangover,” said coach Jim Mora. “I tried to unburden them a little bit and I felt like the juice was back and they responded.”
The Bruins entered Saturday’s game needing to repair key elements of their game: the running game, the passing game and penalties. The offense that used to light up the field with flash and speed had fallen flat. Everything else had suffered as a result.
But is it that easy — can something that has fallen so far be fixed with just one game?
The answer is no.
“Effort was good,” Mora said. “Execution, no. I think it’s important to separate execution and effort. Our guys play hard, they’re hungry, they try. We have to execute better.”
The Bruins gave the sellout homecoming crowd of 80,377 some highlights. With star running backs Jordon James and Damien Thigpen back from injuries, the Bruins rushed for 139 yards combined and quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 273 yards on 19-of-24 passing and accounted for four touchdowns.
But there were no fireworks out of the gate. It took the Buffaloes (3-5, 0-5) scoring first for the team to finally break out of its funk.
UCLA scored after Colorado’s first-quarter field goal when Hundley went deep to Devin Fuller down the field and Fuller easily shook off his defender and turned on the jets for a 76-yard touchdown.
Hundley badly needed a connection on a deep ball, having not thrown for anything longer than 26 yards since playing California nearly a month ago. It looked as though it did boost his confidence momentarily as he led UCLA on two-straight scoring drives after that touchdown, giving UCLA a 21-13 lead over the Buffs at the half.
“There was no better recipe for him than that 76-yard play,” Mora said. “The kid has looked burdened in the last two weeks. He didn’t look burdened tonight…
“The two failures we had as a team and, specifically for Brett, there was so much hype around Brett. He did not necessarily create it with his words, he but with his play. Sometimes you have to be humbled a little bit. He can handle it.”
But Hundley shook off the notion that he was feeling any sort of pressure.
“Maybe people think I feel it, but I don’t really feel like a burden or a loss of confidence with these last two weeks,” Hundley said. “Two weeks isn’t going to kill somebody or really diminish anything.”
Fuller made Hundley’s job easier. A nightmare out of the slot for the Buffs’ defense, Fuller made plays every time the ball was put in his hands. He caught three passes for a career-high 99 yards and two touchdowns, finally having the breakout game he’s been due for all season.
But there were still several questionable decisions made – throwing to a heavily-covered Jordan Payton in the end zone, poor zone-reads – and enough penalties to cost the Bruins 122 yards.
It’s been a difficult two weeks and the Bruins are still reeling. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a start to their road back to the top.