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UCLA Sports

UCLA hopes to stay on the winning side of close games

UCLA proved it could do something besides compile a crazy comeback against Texas A&M. The Bruins also showed they could finish.

That was a persistent problem last season. In each of their first four losses, the Bruins could have tied the score or won the game in the final minute. They went 0 for 4.

A chance to force a second overtime against Texas A&M fizzled when quarterback Josh Rosen’s fourth-down pass was knocked away for an incompletion.

An opportunity to end an eight-game losing streak against Stanford crumbled when Rosen was sacked, fumbled and the Cardinal picked up the ball for a touchdown on the game’s final play.

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Backup quarterback Mike Fafaul, subbing for an injured Rosen, suffered a similarly crushing fate two weeks later against Arizona State when a pass was intercepted on the last play with the Bruins trailing by three points.

Another last-second desperation pass from Fafaul was intercepted to end a six-point loss to Washington State.

Those close-but-no-victory-cigar finishes made what happened Sunday during UCLA’s 45-44 triumph over Texas A&M all the more pleasurable. The Bruins got the go-ahead touchdown thanks to a fake spike that triggered a Rosen-to-Jordan Lasley touchdown pass with 43 seconds left before holding Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond a yard short of the spot he needed to reach on fourth down.

“Me and Josh talked about that after the game, to finally be on the other side of one of those,” UCLA center Scott Quessenberry said Tuesday. “Last year, it was kind of the same game against [Texas A&M] and this year, just a different outcome. It was great to come out with a win.”

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Bruins coach Jim Mora said he had coached in other games as wild as UCLA’s comeback from a 34-point deficit, mentioning the San Francisco 49ers’ rally from 24 points down against the New York Giants in the 2003 NFL playoffs and 49ers receiver Terrell Owens’ catch to beat the Green Bay Packers with three seconds left in the 1998 playoffs.

“I’ve been in a lot of games like this,” Mora said. “That’s what happens when you survive and get old.”

Quick turnaround

Mora addressed his players in a loud, animated fashion Tuesday after they completed the first practice of a shortened week before playing Hawaii on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

The Bruins watched film for 2 1/2 hours before starting formal preparations for the Rainbow Warriors (2-0), who have beaten Massachusetts and Western Carolina. Their efforts on the practice field apparently were lacking.

“We need to come out here every day this week and be better than we were today,” Quessenberry said.

Part of the uninspired showing might have had to do with the lingering euphoria of having completed the second-biggest comeback in major college football history. Quessenberry said he needed nearly a day and a half to read all of his congratulatory texts and tweets.

“Gosh, it took me until right before practice to get through them all,” Quessenberry said, “so it was unbelievable.”

Defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had to weed through an assortment of unknown numbers after failing to sync his contacts to his new phone.

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“I had all these numbers hitting me up, like, oh well, I don’t know these guys,” Tuioti-Mariner said. “So I just said, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Fresh approach

UCLA played three first-year freshmen against Texas A&M, the fewest in a season opener under Mora.

The Bruins played eight in their 2016 opener, five in 2015, seven in 2014, 15 in 2013 and eight in 2012. Freshman cornerback Darnay Holmes and defensive end Jaelan Phillips started against the Aggies on Sunday and defensive back Mo Osling III entered as a reserve.

Quick hits

UCLA did not have a Pac-12 Conference player of the week last season on offense, defense or special teams. Rosen spared the Bruins a repeat of that fate by being named the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week after his 491-yard, four-touchdown performance. … Mora was named the Dodd Trophy coach of the week. … Mora said right tackle Sunny Odogwu, who was not in uniform Sunday, was “making a lot of progress and hopefully he’s ready to go this week.” Mora would not speciify Odogwu’s injury, citing his policy of not discussing injuries once the season starts. … UCLA was not ranked in either of the major polls.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch


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