Josh Rosen responded to UCLA’s losing streak with possibly the best game of his short career, and more could be on the way against a perennial Pac-12 bottom-feeder.
The 24th-ranked Bruins welcome Colorado to the Rose Bowl on Saturday, and the Buffaloes will need a substantial upset to win consecutive conference games in the same season for the first time since leaving the Big 12.
Prior to their 40-24 home win over then-No. 20 California on Oct. 22, the Bruins (5-2, 2-2) suffered a 21-point loss at then-No. 15 Stanford and a 15-point defeat at home to unranked Arizona State separated with a bye.
Their freshman quarterback completed 53.7 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and three interceptions in the losses, then recovered with 399 yards and three scores without a turnover on 34-of-47 passing against the Golden Bears.
"Every time you win, it’s a step forward," said Rosen, who broke UCLA’s completions record set by Richard Brehaut and Brett Hundley. "Especially with our bye week, that was three weeks without a win, so it felt great to come out here and put it to them."
Rosen has thrown for 300-plus yards in his last two games, putting him in position to match Hundley’s school-record streak from 2012, and another with at least 350 will match Cade McNown’s school record of three in a season from 1998.
Against Cal, he had four receivers with at least five catches, led by Thomas Duarte’s 10 for 141 yards and a TD. Devin Fuller caught seven balls for 100 yards and two scores, and leading receiver Jordan Payton had six catches for 60 yards. Payton has at least six catches in four straight games, while Duarte has five TDs in that time.
"The morale of the team is how it used to be again, so I’m happy," Duarte said. "It was definitely a turning point for this team, but we’re fighters for sure."
The next step might be an impressive showing on the other side of the ball, and a home game against Colorado (4-4, 1-3) seems as opportune a time as any.
UCLA is giving up an average of 449.8 yards of total offense in Pac-12 play, which ranks seventh in the conference. The 37.0 points per game it’s conceding is ninth. The Buffaloes, meanwhile, rank 10th in scoring offense (23.8) and yardage (388.3).
Those marks shouldn’t be surpassed if UCLA can continue to get to the quarterback. The Bruins recorded five sacks against Cal after managing eight in their first six games and just two in their other three Pac-12 contests. Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau has been sacked 16 times in conference play, tied with Cal’s Jared Goff for second most.
"The key was getting that quarterback on the ground," coach Jim Mora said. "We struggle with that, and we got it done against a really good player."
UCLA has won all four meetings since Colorado entered the Pac-12 in 2011 to give it an 8-2 advantage in the all-time series.
Colorado has dropped 19 straight games to ranked opponents by an average of 29.4 points, though its 40-37 home overtime loss to then-No. 25 UCLA on Oct. 25, 2014, is tied for the closest of the bunch.
The Buffaloes still could be entering with slightly renewed confidence after ending a 14-game Pac-12 losing streak with last Saturday’s 17-13 win at Oregon State. It was their first road win in the conference since Sept. 22, 2012, snapping a 13-game slide.
Still, the reality is Colorado is 5-35 in conference games since entering the league and has never won back-to-back Pac-12 contests in the same season.
"This is just one," coach Mike MacIntyre told the school’s official website. "We have to build on this and get some more."
The key was finally at least limiting a conference opponent offensively, and it came against a duo of freshmen quarterbacks – albeit not quite on Rosen’s level. The 13 points allowed is Colorado’s lowest mark ever in the Pac-12, while the 401 yards it surrendered is its lowest in 13 league games since the start of last year.
The Buffaloes are yet to face a ranked foe this year, but three of their next five opponents are in this week’s poll.