Don’t count us out.
Josh Rosen worked some dual magic late Saturday night, the star quarterback returning to lead his team on the field where it has not lost during an otherwise trying season.
Rosen nudged the Bruins to a 44-37 victory over Arizona State, persevering through a blow to the face late in the game that caused blood to gush, to help his team keep alive its bowl hopes.
Rosen zipped a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordan Lasley over the middle on a crossing route early in the fourth quarter that gave the Bruins a 41-34 lead. Rosen jogged through a scrum of players before he reached the goal line, where he stopped to pat Lasley on the helmet in celebration.
The teams then traded field goals before UCLA’s Christian Pabico recovered an onside kick and the Bruins (5-5 overall, 3-4 Pac-12 Conference) ran out the clock on their two-game losing streak. They are also now 5-0 at the Rose Bowl this season.
Rosen completed 25 of 45 passes for 381 yards and one touchdown with one interception after having sat out most of the previous two games because of a concussion, depriving his team of the most prolific passer in the Pac-12 during back-to-back defeats.
Equally significant was the return of Lasley, who had sat out the previous three games because of unspecified disciplinary issues. Lasley caught seven passes for 162 yards and a touchdown.
UCLA now must win only one of its final two games to reach the six victories required to become eligible for a lower-tier bowl that might save Mora’s job.
There didn’t seem to be a consensus among UCLA fans about whether that would be a good thing earlier in the day after several dozen of them paid for airplane banners expressing displeasure with Mora and Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero to circle the Rose Bowl a few hours before the opening kickoff.
One banner read “UCLA FB 16 YRS 0 ROSE BOWLS 0 CONF TITLES!” and the other said “GUERRERO 9-16 THE LAST 25 GAMES NO MORA!” Several fans held up their cellphones to snap pictures of the banners in one parking lot, reading the messages aloud, as the planes flew overhead. A few fans chuckled.
“Of course I saw them,” Mora said when asked about the banners. “It’s great to have passionate fans. I can assure everybody that our team and our staff and our administration and everybody at UCLA is just as passionate and working just as hard to make everybody in this UCLA Bruin family proud.”
Mora appeared to be in an upbeat mood before the game, extending his hand to exchange high-fives with fans in one corner of the stadium as he walked onto the field.
His team would put him through what felt like a season’s worth of highs and lows over the hours that followed.
UCLA’s defense gave up 584 yards, including 294 on the ground, but made some crucial stops when backed up near the goal line. The Sun Devils (5-5, 4-3) had first downs at the Bruins’ 11- and 10-yard lines on separate drives in the third quarter and came away with only a field goal each time.
Arizona State finally broke through in a big way late in the third quarter when Malik Lawal blocked a Stefan Flintoft punt and the Sun Devils’ Eno Benjamin picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown that tied the score at 34-34.
Rosen rallied his team with the go-ahead touchdown, but Mora made sure to spread the praise afterward.
“I’m proud of all those guys,” Mora said. “They’re all like Josh. They’re gritty and tough and playing through pain and stepping up when they need to.”
UCLA defensive end Marcus Moore changed the momentum single-handedly late in the first quarter. All it took was sticking his meaty hand into the air.
Moore deflected a pass from Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins, the ball sailing into the air. It landed in the hands of Bruins cornerback Nate Meadors, who ran 27 yards for a touchdown, raising his right arm into the air in celebration as he reached the end zone to halve what had been a 14-0 deficit.
Meadors then broke up a third-down pass on Arizona State’s next possession, helping the Bruins get the ball back. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch displayed some creativity, calling for a reverse in which Pabico ran for 30 yards. UCLA tailback Bolu Olorunfunmi then took a swing pass from Rosen and made a couple of nice cuts for a 23-yard gain to the Arizona State one-yard line.
Rosen faked a handoff to Olorunfunmi on the next play and ran untouched into the end zone to help the Bruins tie the score 14-14.
They were on their way to much greater things.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch