UCLA Coach Jim Mora opened with a joke.
“We wanted to see what overtime felt like,” Mora said after the game Saturday.
You can either laugh or you can rant. Mora walked the line between the two after sweating out a 40-37 double-overtime victory against a Colorado team that remains winless in Pac-12 play.
UCLA (6-2 overall, 3-2 in the Pac-12) jumped to a 17-0 first-quarter lead and meandered. The Bruins took a 31-14 lead into the fourth quarter and meandered.
So it was left to quarterback Brett Hundley in the second overtime. He had a 17-yard run, followed by an eight-yard sprint through a huge hole for the game-winning touchdown.
“We were not going to let the ball out of his hands,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.
The relief of not dropping the ball, as a team, was made clear by the group hug in the end zone. But the Bruins saw challenges on the horizon.
“As team, what we talked about afterward was, ‘yeah, a win is a win, and we’re happy,’ but we still have tough teams down the road,” Hundley said.
The Bruins face No. 15 Arizona next week in the Rose Bowl, followed by games against Washington, No. 20 USC and Stanford. Those four teams were a combined 19-8 before Saturday. The Buffaloes had beaten only Massachusetts and Hawaii.
Yet, Colorado was able to close with 17 unanswered points to force overtime.
“We sort of let Colorado come along, and they played a great game at the end, but we have to learn to destroy teams,” Hundley said.
Instead, the Bruins merely survived this team. The Buffaloes (2-6, 0-5) drove to the UCLA 19-yard line before settling for a 35-yard field goal by Will Oliver that tied the score, 31-31, with 2 minutes 19 seconds left.
Each team settled for a field goal in the first overtime. Hundley took matters into his own hands in the second overtime, after Oliver’s 34-yard field goal had put Colorado ahead, 37-34.
“We felt we could expose them on quarterback runs,” Hundley said.
The Bruins finished with 509 yards, 309 of which was rushing. The Buffaloes had 500 yards, 233 on the ground.
It was that kind of afternoon for the Bruins, who have won five games by a combined total of 23 points. It left their coach pushing the upside.
“That’s kind of who we are right now,” Mora said. “We fight and scrap and we’re not perfect, but we’re resilient and we know how to win on the road.”
This one came against a Colorado team that has lost 28 of 32 Pac-12 games since joining the conference in 2011.
Asked what has to change in the coming weeks, Mora said, “You mean winning. Well, we’re 6-2. So I hope nothing changes. I hope we keep winning. Now we’ll go back and evaluate everything and continue to get better. I hope nothing changes in terms of the result because I like winning.”
Still, Mora admitted that when the Bruins have a chance to overwhelm an opponent, “I feel like at times we take a little exhale instead of doing that. I think that has a lot to do with our youth, and I’m not using this as an excuse. I think the three worst words used are ‘I got it,’ or ‘We got them.’”
Well, the Bruins did have them.
Paul Perkins burst loose for 92 yards on the Bruins’ first play and UCLA was in control. After the Buffaloes bungled a drive late in the second quarter, allowing the clock to run out when they were at the UCLA six-yard line, the Bruins took a 24-14 lead into halftime and appeared to have weathered the worst.
But there were stumbling points throughout the game.
•Hundley was not sharp passing. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown, but missed receivers throughout the game.
•The Bruins’ defense had penalties that erased interceptions on back-to-back plays, extending a Colorado touchdown drive in the second quarter.
•Mora gambled and lost late in the fourth quarter, going for it on fourth and one at the Colorado 22 instead of kicking a field goal. The Buffaloes made a stop and drove for the tying field goal.
“We were up 17-0 in the first quarter, that’s when we have to bury people,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said.
The Bruins didn’t. And, all kidding aside, Mora said his postgame chat was clear.
“The message to them was, ‘love the resiliency, love the win, but we got to move past that part of our deal,’” Mora said. “We will. As long as we pile up wins while doing that, it’s a good thing.”