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Josh Rosen's mantra aims to keep UCLA offense in gear

Josh Rosen's mantra aims to keep UCLA offense in gear
Quarterback Josh Rosen and the Bruins will look to continue performing at a proficient rate against the Sun Devils on Saturday. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

"Screw it."

Those words might belong on a T-shirt, a whiteboard or maybe even a season epilogue depending on how far UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and his teammates take their new unofficial mantra.

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Rosen uttered the phrase after a previously lifeless Bruins offense dropped 31 points on Arizona in the second half last week, signifying the need to stop thinking so much and rely on talent and preparation.

"Sometimes," Rosen said, "I just have to say, 'Screw it' and play."

UCLA's offensive surge against the Wildcats brought the one underperforming aspect of its game in line with a defense and special teams that had carried the Bruins in the first half. It was perhaps the first time this season that the team had all three phases working in sync for a sustained period.

The go-out-and-play approach is one Rosen pledged to maintain Saturday when UCLA (3-2 overall, 1-1 in Pac-12 Conference play) meets Arizona State (4-1, 1-1) at Sun Devil Stadium. If things go well, it may become a seasonlong catchphrase.

"There's a lot of thinking going on and I think we need to move toward more reacting," Rosen said this week. "Thinking is what happens Monday through Friday and then Saturdays, we've just got to react. So I think that's what I, myself, have to transition into. And I can imagine with defense you don't have much time to think when you're back there, you've just got to react and study so hard that it becomes second nature."

UCLA Coach Jim Mora emphasized the need to play well across the board more often after the Arizona game, though it can seem as elusive as hitting 7-7-7 on a slot-machine pay line.

The Bruins' offense sputtered for the first three quarters of its season opener against Texas A&M before sparking the rally that forced overtime. That comeback was possible only because UCLA's defense had been stout in the first half before bending in the third quarter.

UCLA's offense looked unstoppable for much of its rout against Nevada Las Vegas the following week, the game still close headed into the fourth quarter because the Bruins' defense gave up big plays.

That defense put together a much better effort against Brigham Young and Stanford, only for the offense to revert to spotty production.

UCLA's freshman-laden special teams have been fairly steady. J.J. Molson has made seven of 10 field goals and Austin Kent has averaged 41.5 yards per punt. The problem had been a lack of lengthy returns, which finally abated last week when Adarius Pickett returned a punt 33 yards, Ishmael Adams returned a kickoff 52 yards and Randall Goforth returned a kickoff 50 yards.

Mora said getting the offense, defense and special teams to click at once involves preparing to succeed.

"It's preparation, it's being redundant in your preparation and 'rhythming' up," Mora said. "But I don't know that there's a magic formula other than just —  you emphasize it and you concentrate on it and you work at it and you talk about it and hopefully it happens every once in a while. It doesn't happen a lot in sports."

Rosen said a more reactionary approach could especially help younger players such as freshman Theo Howard, who turned a short catch into a 19-yard touchdown against Arizona.

"Sometimes, in practice and stuff, he's not as athletic as he really is because he's thinking," Rosen said. "So once you can X that out, once he knows what he's doing, he's insanely athletic. I mean, you saw when he got the ball in his hands, he can make incredible things happen. But a lot of it with young guys — me, too, last year — when you start thinking too much, you reduce your athleticism and talent."

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Another possible benefit of not overthinking is that it might allow the Bruins to better execute their new pro-style offense, which also has featured shades of the old spread attack.

Rosen said he's become more comfortable with the scheme even though new plays are incorporated weekly. Left tackle Conor McDermott said the initiation is over.

"It's definitely at that point," McDermott said, "where you can get past it and have that mindset of, let's just get out there and play and have fun and play to the ability that we know we are capable of and break out."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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