UCLA’s emotional week ended with the Bruins making the biggest comeback by a visitor to Lincoln in nearly a century.
Brett Hundley threw three touchdown passes while No. 16 UCLA wiped out an 18-point deficit to defeat No. 23 Nebraska 41-21 and stun into silence a record crowd of 91,471 on Saturday.
The win came six days after UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale was killed when he was struck by a vehicle while he was walking in his hometown and a day before coaches and teammates travel to San Clemente, Calif., for his memorial service.
”You can’t believe how tough it was on them,” Bruins coach Jim Mora said. ”You never want to say you won one for somebody. We didn’t win one for Nick. What we tried to do today is go out and play with the type or energy, enthusiasm and passion for the game that would reflect what he meant to us.”
The Bruins wore No. 36 patches on their jerseys in memory of Pasquale. The Huskers wore No. 36 decals on their helmets, and there was a moment of silence for Pasquale before the game.
The Huskers (2-1), wearing alternate black jerseys instead of their traditional home red, looked to be in total control in the first half.
Then they had a flashback to last year at the Rose Bowl, when they couldn’t stop Hundley and an offense that had 653 yards in a 36-30 Bruins’ win.
”The first half there was so much emotion, I’m not going to lie,” Hundley said. ”I just had so much emotion going into the game. There were a lot of things that added up to it. After the first half, everything slowed down and we got back to playing football and came out with the win.”
The 18 points marked the biggest deficit overcome by a Nebraska opponent in Lincoln since Washington State, according to the university yearbook, erased a 20-0 halftime deficit to win 21-20 in 1920. Memorial Stadium opened in 1923.
The Bruins (2-0) scored 35 points in 16 minutes. The barrage started with Paul Perkins’ 10-yard touchdown run to cut Nebraska’s lead to 21-10 at the half.
Jordon James scored from 3 yards before Hundley threw TD passes of 28 yards to Shaquelle Evans, 12 yards to Phillip Ruhl and 3 yards to Nate Iese.
”We came in at halftime and there weren’t a lot of adjustments that needed to be made,” Mora said. ”It was more of an adjustment in our mindset.”
Mora told his players at halftime that they needed to relax and breathe.
”There were no mystical, magical X’s and O’s,” Mora said. ”It was just our players doing what they’re supposed to do and really just loving what they do, and that’s playing football.”
Nebraska’s defense, which has struggled in the biggest games in the past year, allowed 236 yards in the third quarter and 504 for the game.
”The second half was a lot like last year,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. ”We made the tackles in the first half. I don’t know how many tackles we missed in that second half but it is a lot. We missed tackle after tackle after tackle.”
Nebraska came into the game hoping to get even for last year’s embarrassing performance against UCLA.
Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr, who made 11 tackles and forced three fumbles, said he and his teammates also felt they had something to prove.
”A lot people said last year was a fluke,” Barr said. ”We were listening to that and had a chip on our shoulder coming in here. We didn’t play with enough controlled emotion in the first half.
”The emotion got the best of us and we wanted to do a little bit too much on offense and defense. When that kind of settled down a little bit, we took a deep breath and came out and made a statement.”
The Huskers still looked as if they had some life in them when, trailing 38-21, they moved from their 25 to the UCLA 12 early in the fourth quarter.
But Ameer Abdullah fumbled at the 6 after getting hit by Barr.
Nebraska generated more than 19 yards on just two of its last 10 possessions and had only 130 of its 326 yards after halftime.
”I felt at times I was looking at our guys on the sideline and it was like they saw a ghost,” Pelini said. ”Someone has to step up and make a play. We needed to get the momentum turned back the other way, and it didn’t happen.”
Hundley completed 16 of 25 passes for 294 yards, with one interception that set up Nebraska’s first touchdown. James ran 22 times for 105 yards and a TD.
Taylor Martinez was 21 of 35 for 203 yards and three touchdowns for the Huskers, and Abdullah had 98 yards on 23 carries.
Hundley kept alive the Bruins’ lone touchdown drive of the first half when he scrambled for 13 yards on a third-and-12.
”That might be the play of the game,” Mora said. ”I don’t like to point to a single play. But right there, we needed that.”
Hundley passed for 32 yards to Devin Fuller on the next play, and Perkins went 10 yards up the middle to make it an 11-point game.