TEMPE, ARIZ. — Before UCLA took the field to play Arizona State on Saturday night, junior defensive end Bruce Davis talked to his teammates about dedicating their play to former cornerback Marcus Cassel and freshman wide receiver Jeremy McGee.
"I just let them know that we were out here to play for a purpose," Davis said about the Bruins, who had to deal with the memory of Cassel, who died in an automobile accident, and McGee's mother, who died from a heart attack, both Friday.
"We had to know that there was something greater at work here and that life is too precious to not give everything you have."
The motivation worked as UCLA gained its biggest victory of the season with a 24-12 win over Arizona State before an announced crowd of 54,459 at Sun Devil Stadium.
The Bruins' bend-but-don't break defense dominated, quarterback Patrick Cowan completed two deep touchdown passes to wide receiver Brandon Breazell and Chane Moline ran for a touchdown.
"This was a great win for our team, overcoming the circumstances we were dealing with on Friday," UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell said. "Our team rallied around each other. We had a lot to prove. We wanted to prove to everyone that we're getting better and we still have a lot of character."
In winning their second consecutive game, the Bruins (6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Pacific 10 Conference) became bowl eligible and moved into a tie for fourth place with Arizona in the Pac-10.
With one regular-season game remaining against USC on Dec. 2, UCLA now finds itself in position to receive an invite to a variety of bowl games, from the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Cowan, starting his sixth consecutive game since Ben Olson suffered a knee injury against Arizona on Oct. 7, did not have a great game passing but he made big plays when they counted. He completed 14 of 24 for 187 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bruins, who have had issues with making consistent plays in the passing game all season, struck first when Cowan hooked up with Breazell on a second-and-three play from their 44-yard line midway into the first quarter.
Locked in single coverage, Breazell beat cornerback Justin Tryon on a deep post and then lost the Arizona State defender with a nifty move to reach the end zone untouched to complete a 56-yard play. It was Cowan's longest completion of his career.
UCLA then turned to its defense, which was determined to stop Arizona State's ground game. The Sun Devils entered with the No. 2 rushing attack in the Pac-10 but were held to 70 yards rushing in the first half.
Arizona State's best drive ended with a 45-yard field goal by Jesse Ainsworth that cut UCLA's lead to 7-3 in the first quarter. But on the Sun Devils' next possession, the Bruins picked up the game's first turnover when cornerback Trey Brown intercepted a pass by Rudy Carpenter and returned the ball to the Arizona State one.
Moline scored on the next play to make it 14-3 one play into the second quarter.
But UCLA let Arizona State off the hook on the ensuing kickoff when Tryon returned it 67 yards to the Bruins' 33. Six plays later, Ainsworth made his second field goal of the game when he connected from 35 yards to bring the Sun Devils within 14-6.
Later in the quarter, Arizona State had a chance to score when Kyle Williams got behind Trey Brown and caught a 55-yard pass to the Bruins' four. That's when UCLA's goal-line defense took over.
The Sun Devils had four opportunities to score a touchdown but were stopped, including a key fourth-down tackle by safety Chris Horton on Ryan Torain less than a foot from the goal line.
"That was a very big play because we were able to get a stop on fourth down that close to the end zone," said Horton, who finished with a career-high 11 tackles. "That helped carry us the rest of the game."
UCLA, however, could not build off its defensive success and punted. Arizona State again drove inside the Bruins' five but settled for a 20-yard field goal by Ainsworth to cut the Bruins' lead to 14-9 at intermission.
The Sun Devils took the second-half kickoff and got close again, but the Bruins got tough and forced Ainsworth to kick his fourth field goal of the game, from 20 yards.
UCLA had a 14-12 lead, but its offense was struggling in the third quarter until Dorrell gambled with a fake punt on fourth and six from the Bruins' 27. Reserve fullback Danny Nelson took a short snap and ran 27 yards to help set up a 24-yard field goal by Justin Medlock.
In the fourth quarter, the Bruins put the game away when Cowan and Breazell hooked up again. With Arizona State expecting a running play, Cowan found Breazell behind safety Josh Barrett and the junior wide receiver made a highlight one-hand catch to put UCLA ahead by two scores with 6:41 remaining.
The Bruins' defense did the rest to secure the team's first road win of the season.
"This was just a great victory for us," Davis said. "Our defense showed that you might get something on us, but we're going to take it right back.
"I know Marcus is up there smiling at us right now."
email@example.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times