UCLA catches on during upset of Nebraska

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley took the last snap, fell on his back, got up and hobbled off the field, never once letting go of the football.

That was a keepsake.

This wasn’t like beating Rice. It was so much better for UCLA.

A 36-30 victory over 16th-ranked Nebraska in the Rose Bowl on Saturday will stand on its own merit. For more than a week the Bruins have heard “it was only Rice” about their 49-24 victory in the opener. Saying “it was only Nebraska” carries a lot more sand.

Hundley, hobbled by sprained right ankle, limped to the locker room, waving the football at fans and shouting over and over, “It’s just a start.”

And quite a finish.

An offensive display that put the Bruins back into the spotlight, as their 653 total yards made the post-game fireworks show much more of a celebration for UCLA fans.

Hundley threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns, the last a nine-yard scoring pass to Johnathan Franklin for a 36-24 lead with 2 minutes 13 seconds left.

Franklin, who had 214 yards rushing against Rice, had 217 against a highly regarded Nebraska defense.

But what turned the moment the Bruins way was the defense. Datone Jones dropped quarterback Taylor Martinez for a safety for a 29-27 lead with eight minutes left. Cornerback Andrew Abbott intercepted a Martinez pass with three minutes remaining to set up the last touchdown.

It could get the Bruins back in the top-20 club. UCLA has not been ranked for 78 weeks, since the third week of the 2007 season.

“This is exciting,” said receiver Joseph Fauria, who had touchdown receptions of 27 and four yards. “Let’s enjoy it for 24 hours, look at the film and move on to the next one.”

The path UCLA travels from here gets easier. In fact, the Bruins do not face another team currently ranked until they play USC on Nov. 17. Not that they are looking beyond the moment.

“All this means is we beat Nebraska and we’re 2-0,” Coach Jim Mora said. “Any time you come off a win, it’s a challenge to retain your focus.”

The Bruins had plenty of focus Saturday.

In a game that had wall-to-wall offense in the first half, the play that may have signaled change in Westwood came from the defense. Nebraska was on its own five-yard line when Jones bull-rushed past the Cornhuskers corn-fed line and dropped Martinez for a 29-27 Bruins lead.

“You hate to say anything is ‘the play of the game,’ because so many plays are critical,” Mora said. “But that was the play of the game.”

The defense made adjustments throughout the second half. The Cornhuskers had 333 yards in the first half, 103 in the second half.

“This is a new Bruin defense,” Jones said. “It’s a new Bruin team.”

UCLA matched Nebraska point-for-point in the first half, leaving the field tied, 24-24, after Nebraska’s Brett Maher buried a 54-yard field goal. But the Bruins could have had more.

Three times UCLA got inside the Nebraska 20-yard line but had only three points to show for it. That, though, would be nit-picking considering how the Bruins were in lock step with a Nebraska offensive loaded with options.

The first half was an exhibition in school-yard football. The teams combined for 705 yards, with their quarterbacks having can-you-top-this moments.

Martinez had a 92-yard run, with UCLA cornerback Aaron Hester giving chase, catching him just in time to congratulate him on the score.

Hundley threw for three touchdowns in the half, one a poetic 49-yard toss to Stephen Manfro.

Hundley completed 21 of 33 passes in the game. Mora had only one criticism, after Hundley left briefly with a sprained ankle in the third quarter.

“He needs to learn to slide,” Mora said.

Other than that, Mora said, “there was an indication early on that this game wasn’t too big for him.”

As did the rest of the Bruins.

“We’re hoping to be great,” receiver Devin Lucien said. “This game means a lot.”