UCLA too much as Huskers fall in 36-30 loss
PASADENA, Calif. - In a game filled with a season's worth of offensive highlights, it was UCLA who made the most plays on Saturday night, upsetting No. 16 Nebraska 36-30 at the Rose Bowl.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez had another impressive showing early on, putting up nearly 300 yards of total offense, but the Bruins' Brett Hundley was even better, going for 359 total yards and four touchdown passes.
UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin had a breakout night of his own, rushing 26 times for a game-high 217 yards and catching a touchdown pass. Overall, the Bruins racked up a staggering 653 yards on 94 plays, marking one of the worst statistical outs by a Bo Pelini coached defense.
"Obviously we didn't play the type of football game that we wanted to and we lost the game because of it," Pelini said. "I'm embarrassed by how we played today and I point the thumb at me first. We didn't play well in any phase of the game in my opinion. We were inconsistent, our fundamentals were lousy, and that leads to bad things happening. I give UCLA credit, but I'm disappointed."
The first half was an offensive showcase for both teams, and Nebraska and UCLA combined for more than 700 yards of offense and 48 points through the first two quarters.
The Bruins struck first on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Hundley to tight end Joseph Fauria along the left sideline six minutes into the game.
The Huskers answered immediately, as Martinez hit Kenny Bell on a 36-yard strike down to the UCLA 6-yard line, and sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah bounced it outside on the ensuing play for a touchdown run.
After a few failed drives by both teams, Martinez pulled off the highlight of the half with a 92-yard touchdown run up the middle to give the Huskers a 14-7 lead with 2:24 left in the first quarter. The play was the fifth-longest scoring run in school history and the longest since Eric Crouch went 95 yards against Missouri in 2001.
UCLA's offense wasn't fazed by the big play, however. Hundley engineered a 12-play, 58-yard drive that ended in a 35-yard field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn to cut it to 14-10. Hundley then connected with Fauria again on the Bruins' next possession, this time on a juggling 4-yard touchdown catch over safety Daimion Stafford to take a 17-14 lead.
Once again, Martinez and Co. answered right back, this time going 93 yards on a drive that featured four straight first-down plays and ended with a 17-yard scoring run by Abdullah, his second of the day.
Four plays later, though, Hundley struck again with a 49-yard touchdown bomb to Steven Manfro over the middle to put UCLA back up 24-21 with just four minutes left in the half.
Nebraska had one last chance to put some more points on the board before halftime, starting at its own 38 with just 40 seconds left. After driving the ball down to the Bruin 21, Martinez dodged a bullet when he fumbled a low snap and was then intercepted on a wild attempt at a throw away.
After further review, Martinez's knee was down before the throw, giving the Huskers the ball back with three seconds remaining at the UCLA 36. Bruin head coach Jim Mora called consecutive timeouts to try and ice senior kicker Brett Maher, but the former All-Big Ten kicker nailed a 54-yarder to send the Huskers into halftime tied at 24-24.
Martinez ended the half with 250 yards of total offense - 149 passing and 101 receiving - and a rushing touchdown, while Hundley did him one better with 242 total yards and two scoring passes.
"We just need to keep on moving forward," Martinez said. "I thought we did a great job of executing in the first half. We just have to keep on moving on."
The second half started with a thud for Nebraska, as Abdullah fumbled on the first play to give UCLA the ball at the Husker 27-yard line. The defense was able to hold the Bruins to a 22-yard field goal by Fairbairn, making it 27-24.
Maher tied it back up on a 44-yarder on the following NU possession, which was extended on a facemask penalty on cornerback Aaron Hester that came on what would have been a drive-ending incomplete pass on third and long.
Nebraska had a chance to take its first lead of the second half on a 36-yard field goal attempt by Maher, but he shanked the kick wide left, leaving the game locked at 27-27 with 12:12 to play.
A nice punt by Locke pinned the Huskers at their own 5 to start their drive with just under nine minutes left, and it would prove to be even more important on the next play. A missed block up the middle allowed UCLA's Datone Jones to break through and drop Martinez in the end zone for a go-ahead safety.
On the Bruins' ensuing possession, Franklin took a swing toss 54 yards around the left side on the first play of the drive down to the NU 21. However, because defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler chased Franklin down and Stafford broke up a third-down pass to Fauria, UCLA came up empty after Fairbairn missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.
"We could coach better, we can execute better and we can tackle better," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "It wasn't one thing that you looked at that was out breakdown. We missed a lot of tackles. We didn't execute great, and we didn't coach great. That's a bad combination."
Nebraska stalled out on its next drive and couldn't capitalize, going three and out. Hundley hit Devin Lucien on a long pass down the sideline and then Franklin on another 19-yard toss, but was sacked by Will Compton and Andrew Green on a third-and-long.
Martinez had dodged a few close calls on turnovers throughout the game, but finally got bit when he overthrew Abdullah and was intercepted and returned to the Nebraska 16.
This time around, Hundley made the Huskers pay, finding Franklin on another swing pass on the right side for a 9-yard touchdown to take a 36-27 lead with just 2:13 remaining.
The Huskers had one last glimmer of hope when Bell returned the following kickoff 47 yards and then tacked on another 15 yards after a late hit penalty on UCLA, putting the ball at the Bruin 36.
After failing to convert on third down, Nebraska opted for a 40-yard field goal by Maher to cut it to 36-30 with 1:36 on the clock.
Nebraska failed to convert on an onside kick attempt, and UCLA was able to run out the clock and hold on for the upset win.
"No one likes to lose," senior linebacker Alonzo Whaley said. "You can say it's UCLA, it's no big deal. But I wanted to be perfect my senior year, so I feel like I lost the national championship. It's tough."