The UCLA Bruins didn't waste any time in trying to prove this was a different team from the one Jim L Mora had to be hired to help salvage. The first step? They were scoring.
Brett Hundley took off for one touchdown. Then threw for another. Then Jonathan Franklin plowed off for another one. Suddenly, it was 19-0, and the Bruins were off to the races.
Unfortunately, there were 54 minutes left to play.
In many ways, those 54 minutes might end up being way more valuable to UCLA compared to their first six, because they had to learn how to struggle. They had to deal with a methodical Rice attack that balanced their offense with run and pass. Even though they weren't lighting up Rice Stadium with big plays, Rice managed to move the ball on the talented Bruins defense by eating up the clock and letting the humidity wear down on them.
Additionally, UCLA stumbled over themselves on special teams with uncharacteristic errors. Hundley threw an interception. Elements of the old Bruins rose up, and suddenly a three touchdown lead was down to two points. Uh-oh, groaned the Westwood faithful. Here they are again.
Except they weren't quite here again. Because this time they pushed back and through.
The defense settled down and shut out Rice in the second half. After allowing 24 points and 300+ yards in the first half, they gave up just over 100 yards and no points in the final 30 minutes. Franklin continued to be spectacular on the ground, needing the rock only 15 times to pile up 200+ rushing yards. And Hundley had a crucial late drive, delivering some big 4th down conversions. All these little elements of resilience haven't been present in UCLA in past years, and could make a huge difference for a Bruins team that has always struggled
Yeah, it was Rice. In the grand scheme this game means far less than the next one (the big one) against Nebraska. But last year this is the type of game the Bruins would have botched. Decisive (if not perfect) victories like this one against the bad teams lay the groundwork for bigger and better things.
More importantly, these Bruins may be a bit messy, but they aren't a mess, which makes them a lot more fun to watch than whatever nonsense we've seen from them the past few years. That has to be a net-positive as they hit the meat of their schedule.
Reactions from UCLA fans and video highlights below.
SB Nation snippets
freesia39 with the instant recap from Bruins Nation addressing certain concerns from UCLA's performance:
There were still two many penalties, including at least three personal fouls. The most ridiculous one was by Devin Lucien, wiping a late touchdown off the board.
The biggest concern, however, was UCLA's conversion rate on third down - converting (I believe) only one third down the entire night (but converted two fourth downs. Explain that.) If we want to reach the pre-set goal of 9 wins this year, we have to improve our third down conversion rate. I do like how we were eating up yardage as we marched down field, which should make third downs easier if it's short yardage. Chunks are good, everyone.
gbruin with the morning reaction focuses on how important a healthy UCLA football program is by examining the fall of Rice:
Look at the picture of JetSki at the top of the page. See those empty seats behind him? Those empty seats at the home team's opening game? Rice's average attendance was 17,329 in 2011.
With last night's game, we got a glimpse of what happens to a program that doesn't keep pace with its peers and neighbors. And U.C.L.A. needs to be careful that it doesn't follow that same pathway. Because one of the consequences of going down that path is that while you may produce some really great people from your school, those people aren't the same kind of loyal diehard supporters in the way that the Longhorns and the Aggies and other grads of noted football schools are. Attendance goes down. Donations get smaller. Loyalty and allegiance wane. The gap to the neighbors gets bigger and bigger, and finally becomes insurmountable.
UCLA official highlights
Hundley's 72 yard touchdown
Franklin's career night