Life around UCLA seems a little more relaxed when the Bruins’ freshman quarterback doesn’t play like a freshman.
With the Bruins facing a watershed moment in their season, Josh Rosen had what seemed like a senior moment.
The Bruins entered the Rose Bowl on Thursday with a beat-up defense and diminishing prospects after back-to-back losses. They left what became, for one night, the Rosen Bowl with a 40-24 victory over No. 20 California that kept hope alive for the Pac-12 championship.
“Every time we win it’s a step forward,” said Rosen, who completed a school-record 34 of 47 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns. “We want to go in every week and play as hard as we possibly can. Every single person on the bench, on the sidelines and on the field is ready to fight tooth and nail to get another win.”
UCLA running back Soso Jamabo, who finished with 79 yards rushing in 18 attempts, is upended after picking up yards against California.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams breaks up a pass intended for California receiver Darius Powe on Thursday night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen passed for 399 yards with a record 34 completions against California on Oct. 22 at the Rose Bowl.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA receiver Stephen Johnson scores a touchdown against California’s Darius Allensworth but the play was called back because of a holding penalty,(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA Coach Jim Mora argues with a referee during the win over California on Thursday night at the Rose Bowl.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA running back Soso Jamabo fumbles the ball in the second half Thursday night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA receiver Jordan Payton prevents California cornerback Darius Allensworth from intercepting a pass in the end zone.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA cornerback Jaleel Wadood breaks up a pass intended for California receiver Darius Powe but is call for pass inteference on the play.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA linebacker Aaron Wallace sacks California quarterback Jared Goff in the fourth quarter at the Rose Bowl on Thursday night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA receiver Devin Fuller picks up yards after a catch against California’s Darius Allensworth in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA defensive lineman Kenny Clark sacks California quarterback Jared Goff in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (15) celebrates his 60-yard field against California at the end of the first half at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 22.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA receiver Thomas Duarte catches a seven-yard touchdown pass behind California defensive back Damariay Drew in the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA receiver Devin Fuller beats the California defense on a 19-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA running back Paul Perkins is checked by a trainer after injuring a knee in the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
California safety Damariay Drew attempts to tackle UCLA running back Paul Perkins in the first half(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
UCLA running back Paul Perkins uses a stiff-arm to evade California cornerback Darius Allensworth in the first half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
California receiver Kenny Lawler makes a touchdown catch in front of UCLA defensive back John Johnson in the second quarter.(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)
UCLA had been through a tense week after a 56-35 loss to Stanford and was in danger of slipping from the Pac-12 South race. The victory allows the Bruins (5-2 overall, 2-2 in Pac-12) to remain in the discussion. They trail first-place Utah by two games in the loss column and still have the Utes ahead on the schedule.
“Our goal is to get better every day,” Coach Jim Mora said. “Tonight was another good step. We have to back it up with another good step tomorrow.”
The steps won’t get any easier.
The Bruins, already ravaged by injuries, lost Paul Perkins, the leading rusher in the Pac-12 last season, linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea and receiver Devin Fuller during the game. None of them “looked good,” Mora said.
This had the makings of a showdown between Rosen and California’s Jared Goff, considered the Pac-12’s top NFL quarterback prospect by scouts if the junior declares for the draft. Goff probably will retain that standing, but Rosen might have NFL teams eagerly anticipating his draft day.
“Josh is a lot like the kid we were playing against,” Mora said. “Like all great performers, he is able to let go of what just happened and move to the next event.”
Rosen outdueled Goff, with his 399 yards tying the sixth-best performance by a UCLA quarterback. His three touchdown passes had the Bears (5-2, 2-2) looking overmatched at times.
“He has learned to make better decisions in the open field,” Mora said. “He had an understanding of the offense, an understanding of his receivers and what they do well.”
Thomas Duarte had 10 receptions for 141 yards and one touchdown. Fuller caught seven passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Rosen said that the Bears “were pressing me to step up and not be a freshman. We could have [thrown] for 500 yards and a few more touchdowns.”
UCLA rolled up 573 yards.
Those offensive numbers meant a battered and beleaguered UCLA defense got a chance to exhale.
Having a quarterback like Goff would make any team pass-happy. The Bruins, though, were better equipped to handle that style.
Goff did complete 32 of 53 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. But he never seemed to find a rhythm. The Bruins, who entered the game with only nine sacks, got to Goff five times and harassed him on a number of other occasions.
“The key was getting that quarterback on the ground,” Mora said. “We were standing guys up and moving them around. We did a good job pressing the pocket.”
The Bears moved fast at the start, as Goff drove them to the UCLA 13-yard line. But on third down, the Bears came up short and had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Matt Anderson.
A UCLA highlight reel, starring Rosen, followed. The Bruins scored on their first seven possessions and Ka’imi Fairbairn drilled a school-record 60-yard field goal to end the first half, arguably the Bruins’ best this season.
Rosen was sharp from the start, conducting touchdown drives of 70 and 90 yards. Duarte hauled in a seven-yard touchdown catch to give UCLA a 10-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. Fuller had a 19-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter for a 17-3 lead.
Mix in four Fairbairn field goals, and the Bruins had a comfortable 26-10 halftime lead.
Rosen wasted little time in adding to it, throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to Fuller on the opening drive of the third quarter.