When Datone Jones broke through the Nebraska line unblocked and pummeled Taylor Martinez into the blue-and-gold turf in the Rose Bowl’s end zone, he created much more than a safety for UCLA.
In that one rip-roaring moment, Jones and his teammates all felt they had demonstrated that the revamped Bruins just won’t get pushed around anymore – not even by a perennial college football power.
Brett Hundley passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns in an outstanding Rose Bowl debut, Jones sacked Martinez for the tiebreaking two points with 8:44 to play, and UCLA surprised the No. 17 Cornhuskers 36-30 Saturday night.
Johnathan Franklin rushed for 217 yards and caught an 8-yard TD pass with 2:13 to play for the Bruins, who improved to 2-0 under new coach Jim Mora with an impressive offensive performance against the Huskers (1-1).
But the Bruins couldn’t stay ahead until Jones read a pass play in Martinez’s eyes and closed on the quarterback with ferocious speed.
”We all made a promise to each other that we weren’t going to bow down this year,” Jones said. ”We came into this year with another chance to play for our team and our family, and we want it to be a good season.”
After a largely mediocre past decade, the Bruins might be ready for something great, thanks to their new quarterback and new coach.
Joseph Fauria caught two TD passes and Steven Manfro grabbed another from Hundley, the redshirt freshman who went 21 for 31 and coolly led the Bruins to 653 total yards.
Even after every big play in his precocious debut, nothing made Hundley light up like his memory of Jones’ ferocious sack.
”We were sitting in the sideline, just chilling, and then Datone sacks him, and it’s an explosion in the Rose Bowl,” Hundley said. ”That’s just what we needed.”
After Jones put the Bruins ahead in a defense-dominated second half, Andrew Abbott intercepted a long pass by Martinez and returned it to the Nebraska 16, setting up Franklin’s TD catch.
Brett Maher’s third field goal pulled the Huskers within 36-30 with 1:38 left, but UCLA recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock on just its second win over Nebraska in eight meetings since 1973.
”We just have a different mentality this year,” Hundley said. ”We come out and learn from our mistakes, and we play our game. Coach Mora has done an amazing job with this team.”
The Bruins were undeniably impressive in the home debut of Mora, the veteran NFL coach who took over for Rick Neuheisel last winter after four mostly dismal seasons. Mora arrived with no significant college experience, but the former Falcons and Seahawks coach immediately energized UCLA by hiring a strong staff and landing an impressive recruiting class.
With this effort against mighty Nebraska, the excitement in Westwood will only grow.
UCLA has topped 640 yards of offense in each of its first two games under new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the former Arizona State coordinator. Hundley, who rushed for a 72-yard TD on his first collegiate snap last week, repeatedly targeted Fauria, his 6-foot-7 tight end, and freshman receiver Devin Lucien.
”That’s a pretty good defense we were going against,” Mora said. ”That’s the Blackshirts out there. For us to step up and run the ball like that, and to see Brett throwing like that, it’s great.”
Martinez passed for 179 yards and made a 92-yard TD run in his return to his native Southern California. Ameer Abdullah rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns for the Huskers, who struggled on both sides of the ball in the second half and failed to go 2-0 for the first time since 2004.
Martinez went 17 for 31, but just 4 for 14 after halftime on the field where the Corona, Calif., native always imagined playing for the Bruins, who only recruited him as a safety and never offered him a scholarship.
”You’ve got to give them credit, (but) we didn’t come to play tonight, and it showed,” Nebraska linebacker Will Compton said. ”We definitely didn’t plan on this happening, but I definitely feel we’re going to come back strong.”
Blue-clad Bruins fans might have barely outnumbered an enormous contingent of red-wearing Huskers supporters who filled the Rose Bowl parking lots hours before kickoff and raised chants of ”Go Big Red!” in the stadium.
Nebraska made its first visit to the Rose Bowl since losing the 2002 BCS title game to Miami, and the Huskers came into Pasadena hoping to return on New Year’s Day as the Big Ten’s representative.
”We didn’t execute well at all in the first half,” Compton said. ”We did a little better (in the second half), but we just didn’t play well.”
Both teams made significant mistakes in the third quarter, with Nebraska fumbling on its first play and UCLA later failing on a fake field goal from 37 yards. When Hundley left the game for a few plays to get his right ankle re-taped, the Bruins had to settle for a field goal inside the Nebraska 5.
The Huskers didn’t convert a third down until the first play of the fourth quarter, but Maher barely missed a go-ahead, 37-yard field goal with 12:12 to play.