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UCLA wins, nothing makes sense any more

Josh Rosen literally defied the odds and led UCLA on a 34 point second half as the Bruins stunned Texas A&M 45-44 on Sunday night.

Texas A&M v UCLA
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

On that probability chart, I can show you exactly where I left the Rose Bowl.

It was during the third quarter, just after Texas A&M kicked a field goal to go up 44-10 in the 99.5% line hovering at top. I thought about leaving at halftime but I wanted to see if A&M could get to 50. For all of the hope and promise of a new football season, coupled with shiny new Under Armour jerseys, my excitement for UCLA football dissipated pretty quickly in the first half. The sticky humidity, which turned into rain that I was ill-prepared for, made my choice to leave pretty clear at the time, too.

Noel Mazzone’s spread offense haunted his old employer yet again, as the Aggies steamrolled UCLA’s squishy interior run defense with perfectly run counters and inside zones. Trayveon Williams ran fast and Keith Ford ran angry, and the Aggie running backs lit up the Bruins for 40 carries and 317 yards. Great running football is beautiful to watch, especially in person. UCLA didn’t help its own cause by playing five defensive backs and leaving its best run-stopping linebacker, Lokeni Toailoa, on the bench to watch his front 6 mates get barreled over.

For Texas A&M and its quarterback uncertainty, being able to rely on converting long third downs with runs instead of forcing Nick Starkel to throw must have been pretty refreshing. It’s a shame Starkel left the game with an injury and may miss significant time.

On offense, UCLA’s offensive line continued to struggle in the first half like it did last season. The run blocking was nonexistent, and Josh Rosen continued to get battered. Throughout the first half, especially as A&M’s defense forced two UCLA turnovers and cranked up the pressure, Rosen looked shaky and often held the ball way too long. While he had minimal help, Rosen did nothing to help his own cause in the first half. He finished a dismal 9/23 and fumbled twice, leading to 10 Aggie points.

In short, as the Aggies rolled up 286 rushing yards on 7 yards a carry by halftime, it was a (pimp) caning.

The first half of the third quarter proved no different. UCLA fumbled the ball away a third time with its first possession of the half, and after A&M’s two field goals made it 44-10, I left. As I walked to my car, I heard a distant cheering behind me. I figured that A&M scored again since the 30,000 or so Aggie fans that traveled were loud all game. It was actually Soso Jamabo scoring on a 6 yard run after being inserted as featured running back for the second half.

As I drove home, I put on Jason Isbell, fitting for the mood.

And it never did occur to me to leave 'til tonight.”

At one point, my friend who checked the score said, “touchdown, 44-31.” I laughed in disbelief after having missed Darren Andrews catch two touchdowns, including one that somehow wasn’t an interception that literally went right through the hands of the Aggie cornerback.

I declared then that as soon as we turn on the radio, A&M will score to put the game at 51-31 and out of reach. Sure enough, one play later, it sounded like new A&M quarterback Kellen Mond scrambled for a touchdown on another third down conversion.

Back to Isbell. “When I get out of this hole I’m going to Tupelo.”

“Hang on, something’s weird,” my friend said. His game update still said third down. We later learned that Mond stepped out of bounds before scoring and soon after, we heard Adarius Pickett’s block of a Texas A&M field goal to keep it at 44-31 halfway through the fourth quarter.

We kept listening as UCLA drove down the field behind Rosen and Caleb Wilson. We heard Josh Lewin’s call as Theo Howard’s touchdown catch made it 44-38. Rosen’s throw looked less like a throw and more like a prayer to the Lord above answered after he shorted a throwaway attempt by about 5 yards, giving Howard enough time to readjust and fall underneath it.

I pulled into my driveway just as UCLA started the game winning drive with 2:34 left. I almost passed out after Jordan Lasley dropped a sure first down on third down and after Soso Jamabo had to adjust to catch a floating swing pass on fourth down.

I stood in shock as Lasley caught the game winner on a fake spike in the corner. I did a victory lap down my block after Rosen kneeled to win the game.

Never in doubt, right?

Josh Rosen really did the damn thing, and for as much as I have loved Rosen, I seriously doubted if he had been Hackenberg’d at halftime - a prodigious talent broken by incessant pressure from both defensive linemen and fans who expected UCLA football’s messiah.

For now, he’s sure as heck proven me and a lot others wrong after Sunday.

Rosen was downright sensational. Finishing with 491 yards, he threw for 292 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 4th quarter alone. A subtle but brilliant adjustment by offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch allowed Rosen to slice A&M apart, and a little bit (okay, a metric ton) of luck along the way didn’t hurt either.

In the meantime, he found a new favorite target in Wilson. Wilson’s 15 catches are a new school record and 208 yards are now third in UCLA history for a single game, and he shook off early drops to become unguardable. With A&M doubling Wilson, Darren Andrews took advantage of the single coverage and shredded the Aggies from the slot, finishing with 12 catches and 142 yards of his own.

While it’s frustrating that the run game struggled again, UCLA has a potent passing attack and two legitimate weapons in Wilson and Andrews and two more complementary pieces in Howard and Lasley. I’d be shocked if Jedd Fisch doesn’t flip things around and pass to set up the run instead of vice versa.

Meanwhile, the defense stiffened in the second half after switching to its 4-3 base away from nickel. A defensive line that got run over in the first half came to life in the second, stuffing Aggie runs and pressuring Kellen Mond into throws he couldn’t make. Jaelan Phillips shook off a rough first half to come up with big time pressure on the outside, and Rick Wade and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner were also stellar, among many others.

Mond finished a dismal 3/17 passing, which is shocking mostly because A&M attempted 17 second-half passes. Why Noel Mazzone decided to pass twice as much as he ran in the first half with a new quarterback is beyond me, but comebacks take two to tango.

There will obviously be a ton to improve for Hawaii and beyond this season. Spotting opponents 34 points leads, getting bum rushed for 7 yards a clip, rushing for less than 3 yards of your own, all of it is unsustainable.

The defense can’t get by like it’s done before with stopping the run with just six in the box in nickel. It will have to trust its defensive backs more on islands to win battles while seven are in the box. Luckily, UCLA has two good corners in Nate Meadors and Darnay Holmes, and it helps Christian Kirk won’t be lining up across them any time soon. The running game will have to figure out ways to churn yards from under center. Bolu Olurunfunmi looked okay yesterday but also fumbled.

But honestly? Forget that right now.

UCLA just pulled off a one in a million shot and scored 35 points in 17 minutes of game time. UCLA fans are always mad about something, but can we let ourselves enjoy this?

Following UCLA football can be and is a very dumb venture sometimes. A program situated in west Los Angeles, near tons of high school talent, with sparkling facilities, and on one of the world’s prettiest campuses should not struggle to win as much as UCLA does. It has been 18 since UCLA last won the conference and appeared in the Rose Bowl game this season.

I have seen a lot of dumb things happen against UCLA, and I’ve watched UCLA play a lot of dumb football, particularly on national television when everyone is watching.

But for once, the inherent stupidity of college football, America’s favorite tax dodge masquerading as an amateur sport played by unpaid labor, went UCLA’s way.

UCLA did the impossible after having been embarrassed on nationally televised games far too many times in my 24 years on earth. They were aided by an Aggie offense that seemed hellbent on giving UCLA the ball back just to see if they could pull off the comeback.

Josh Rosen, who’s become a sports pariah based on his being human and not a football robot, silenced every hater for the time being in his first game back after almost a year.

He took hit after hit after hit after hit after hit. He got up again and again and again and again and again. Rosen never wavered. His teammates followed suit, and together they engineered one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history.

Josh Rosen still has questions to answer about his quarterbacking prowess. He’s by no means perfect. But he proved on a national stage to everyone, fans and critics included, that no one can question how much his teammates love him and no one can question his love of football or his will to win.

And after Sunday, no one can tell him he can’t pull off the impossible either.

Holy Toledo it’s only week 1, 11 more weeks of this insanity to go.