UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson suffered a forefoot injury against Colorado on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl that will require surgery and force him to miss the rest of the season, depriving quarterback Josh Rosen of one of his favorite targets.
Wilson limped off the field in the fourth quarter after catching six passes for 65 yards during the Bruins' 27-23 victory. The redshirt sophomore was the team's second-leading receiver this season with 38 catches for 490 yards and one touchdown and had become a reliable option over the middle in helping the Bruins build the nation's most prolific passing attack.
"I'm built for this," Wilson tweeted Sunday along with an emoji showing a flexing biceps. "I'll be back and better."
The loss of Wilson will mean more opportunities for tight ends Austin Roberts and Jordan Wilson, who is not related to Caleb. Roberts made a 12-yard touchdown catch against Colorado and has six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns on the season.
The Bruins also could use freshman tight ends Moses Robinson-Carr and Jimmy Jaggers, who have yet to make their college debuts.
One highlight per play often wasn’t enough for UCLA’s defenders last season.
Defensive end Takkarist McKinley memorably waylaid Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, leading to a wobbly pass that was intercepted by Bruins linebacker Jayon Brown. Rather than watch the rest of the play unfold, McKinley rose and sprinted downfield to make a block that allowed Brown to pick up extra yardage.
It was a relentlessness that had been missing from UCLA’s defense this season before linebacker Kenny Young made it a throwback night Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“We had some ballers last year,” Young said afterward, “and this year, we're just trying to keep that energy.”
Young’s extra effort sparked an improved showing from a beleaguered defense that did just enough to secure its first Pac-12 Conference victory. Young snuffed out a fake field goal and made a crucial open-field stop of quarterback Steven Montez on the way to collecting a team-high 12 tackles, including one that went for a two-yard loss.
After Montez’s desperation pass sailed out of the back of the end zone on the game’s final play, UCLA safety Adarius Pickett and a few teammates celebrated with students in a corner of the end zone, taking selfies with cellphone cameras that presumably did not belong to them.
The result was picture perfect, even if there were more than a few fuzzy moments along the way. The Bruins gave up big chunks of yardage, including 434 total yards. They mostly contained tailback Phillip Lindsay, who rushed for 86 yards in 19 carries, but were repeatedly burned by Montez on read-play option runs that caught defenders out of position.
Montez finished with 113 yards rushing in 15 carries. But Young got just enough of the quarterback to trip him up halfway to a first down on third and 10 early in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt. UCLA stopped Colorado on 12 of 16 third downs for the game.
UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said Young “was back to his old self” three weeks after sustaining head trauma that forced him to miss one game and struggle at times in his return against Stanford.
Young also helped the Bruins stop a fake field goal attempt late in the second quarter when he pursued kicker James Stefanou, who couldn’t catch a pass with Young all over him.
“That’s just being prepared,” Young said. “They’ve done that a billion times in practice on me, so it just was a reaction, man, if anything.”
UCLA receiver Jordan Lasley apologized for his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter resulting from a late hit on Colorado defensive back Afolabi Laguda, who had to be helped off the field. Laguda later tweeted that he was OK.
“I didn’t hear the whistle blow, I was just playing hard,” Lasley said. “I guess I want to apologize to No. 1 [Laguda’s number]. I wasn’t trying to be a vicious player or play maliciously. I was just trying to play football really hard and I apologize for that.”
UCLA’s seemingly inexplicable mistake of putting 12 men on the field coming out of back-to-back timeouts late in the first half might have a simple explanation: A few players didn’t hear what they thought they did.
Bradley said the Bruins have what they call a “big corner group” and a “big nickel group,” leading to possible confusion.
“I don’t know if they heard the second word,” Bradley said of the players who mistakenly ran onto the field, giving Colorado a first down on third and two. “So we’re going to get that worked out. Maybe we just need another word.”
UCLA played most of the game without its two starting cornerbacks after Darnay Holmes was ejected for targeting in the first quarter and Nate Meadors suffered an undisclosed injury. Denzel Fisher struggled as a replacement, being called for three defensive holding penalties, but Colin Samuel broke up a third-down pass in the end zone in the third quarter. … Offensive guard Najee Toran sustained what appeared to be a leg injury in the third quarter. The Bruins moved tackle Andre James to guard to replace Toran while Poasi Moala came off the bench to take James’ usual spot.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch