UCLA

UCLA turned into corn meal by Nebraska in Foster Farms Bowl

Josh Rosen, legs churning frantically, scrambled to his right, where he found a wall of Nebraska defenders. He pivoted and ran toward UCLA's sideline, as Nebraska's Michael Rose-Ivey closed in.

It was fourth down, late, and if UCLA was to have a chance to pull out a win in the Foster Farms Bowl on Saturday night despite Nebraska's physical dominance, it was here. Rosen squared his shoulders and hurled the ball, just as he was crushed by Rose-Ivey.

“I threw up a desperation play, trying to make something happen,” Rosen said.

Nebraska's Chris Jones intercepted the pass in the end zone.

Nebraska celebrated what would become a 37-29 victory. Rosen curled up on the sideline. Backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel was needed to lift Rosen up, and help him from falling again to the Levi's Stadium turf.

Rosen was one of many UCLA players in pain after the game. Nebraska had bruised and bullied the Bruins, ending the worst season for UCLA (8-5) since Coach Jim Mora's first season, in 2012.

As Nebraska's offense studied tape of UCLA leading up to Saturday's Foster Farms Bowl, it grew more and more encouraged.

UCLA's run defense? Nebraska could work with that.

“We watched a lot of film,” quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said. “Liked what we saw.”

A simple game plan was formed: Nebraska was going to run the ball right at the Bruins and dare them to prove it wrong.

Nebraska ran for 326 yards, becoming the fifth opponent to eclipse 200 yards rushing against UCLA. The Bruins ran for just 67 yards.

“We need to get bigger, obviously,” Mora said. “We need to get stronger, obviously.”

Nebraska's touchdown drives were methodical, boring and unstoppable. In the first half: 75 yards, 12 plays, two passes; 75 yards, four plays, one pass; 73 yards, eight plays, one pass.

The first drive of the second half at least offered some variety. The touchdown came when Stanley Morgan Jr. made a one-handed catch. It was Nebraska's only passing touchdown. And it was just the second pass of the drive.

The Cornhuskers ran 62 times and passed just 19. On the one possession Nebraska passed more than it ran, it went three and out.

No Cornhuskers rusher ran for more than 100 yards. But six had at least 20, led by Devine Ozigbo, with 87, and Armstrong, who ran for 76.

“When you can do that, life goes better everywhere,” Nebraska Coach Mike Riley said of the running game.

One minute into the fourth quarter, after Armstrong took a read-option on third down for a touchdown, Nebraska had scored 30 unanswered points. UCLA trailed, 37-21.

As effective as Nebraska's ground attack was, UCLA's was just as toothless. The Bruins had just six healthy offensive linemen. Before the game it lost two starting guards, one to early entry in the NFL draft, another to injury. The Bruins started walk-on Cristian Garcia at guard. Caleb Benenoch, typically the right tackle, shifted to guard.

Paul Perkins rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown. The next closest back, Nate Starks, ran twice for six yards.

The game, then, rested with the freshman, Rosen.

The last game he'd played, Rosen turned the ball over three times in a loss to USC.

How would he respond?

On the day after the USC loss, according to Mora, Rosen showed up to Mora's house unannounced, and the two sat together on the couch.

“We'll be all right,” Rosen said, according to Mora.

Rosen showed command of the offense early. He completed his first five passes, including a convincing play-action fake and pass to Thomas Duarte that set up one-yard touchdown run by Perkins.

In the second quarter, Rosen hit Kenneth Walker III 45 yards downfield and he didn't even have to slow down, cruising 15 more yards for a 60-yard touchdown catch.

UCLA's next drive ended with Rosen's well-timed swing pass to running back Starks, 26 yards for a touchdown.

The early scores had put UCLA ahead, 21-7, and Rosen would finish with 319 yards and three touchdowns, to two interceptions. But Rosen barely held the ball as Nebraska began its punishing rushing campaign. The Cornhuskers held the ball for more than 38 minutes in the game.

UCLA clung to life. Early in the fourth quarter, Rosen led a quick scoring drive ending in a nine-yard pass to Jordan Payton. A two-point conversion drew UCLA within eight.

Two possessions later, Rosen led UCLA into Nebraska territory. But, facing fourth down, the makeshift offensive line could not hold.

Nebraska took over and ran out the clock.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on December 27, 2015, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "A CORN MEAL - Bruins are ground down by Cornhuskers' rushing game, a familiar scenario to end a disappointing season" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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