Josh Rosen emerged from a tunnel about two hours before the Cactus Bowl, walking on the field in a long-sleeved T-shirt and shorts. The UCLA quarterback eased his way into warmups, throwing 15-yard passes to a stationary receiver before connecting with receivers on short routes.
Rosen appeared upbeat, smiling and bopping to the music played over the Chase Field loudspeakers. He came back out in full uniform about an hour later, throwing passes, taking snaps and rolling out. He stretched as usual with his teammates.
It was as close as Rosen came to playing against Kansas State.
The drama ended when Rosen was shown on the video board wearing his jersey top over a gray long-sleeve shirt and matching sweatpants as the Bruins prepared to run onto the field just before kickoff.
UCLA interim coach Jedd Fisch said before the game that Rosen was feeling good, had participated in practices and wanted to play. But Rosen’s wishes were contrary to those of doctors who wanted to safeguard his health after Rosen suffered two recent concussions.
Rosen was initially injured on the Bruins’ first drive of the game against Washington on Oct. 28 when he was sacked by Huskies defensive lineman Vita Vea. Rosen later acknowledged having tried to hide his concussion from coaches before they “kind of noticed I was a little bit off.”
Rosen was removed from the game in the third quarter after his symptoms worsened and sat out UCLA’s next game against Utah on Nov. 3. He returned to play against Arizona State and USC before suffering another concussion in the first half against California on Nov. 24 and being held out for the balance of the game.
Fisch said the possibility of suffering three concussions in such close proximity was giving doctors pause despite Rosen’s having felt good in recent weeks. And so Rosen was left to become a cheerleader in what might have been his final appearance on the UCLA sideline.
Should they stay or should they go?
That will be the choice confronting Rosen, receiver Jordan Lasley, left tackle Kolton Miller, safety Adarius Pickett, cornerback Nate Meadors and possibly other juniors who must pick between the pursuit of NFL riches or college glory under new coach Chip Kelly.
The Bruins have asked for evaluations of five unspecified players from an NFL draft advisory committee. The assessment gives the players an idea of whether they might be selected in the first or second rounds or should strongly consider returning to college for their senior seasons.
Kelly, who spent four seasons as an NFL coach with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, said he would advise the players based on all available information. New Bruins defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro also coached in the NFL under Kelly.
“We have a lot of coaches who have NFL experience and have been at combines, have been in the meeting rooms, can understand what teams are looking for,” Kelly said last week. “We’re here to be a resource but it’s ultimately the player and their family’s decision on what they want to do and we’ll support them in any way they want.”
They’ve got swag
Players from both teams received several Cactus Bowl-themed gifts.
Included in the allotment were a stainless steel watch, a backpack with a laptop sleeve, a hat, a 30-ounce tumbler, a portable cooler, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker and a polar fleece picnic blanket.
UCLA’s payout from the bowl is contingent upon total revenue generated. In each of the last two years, a bowl spokesman said, each participating team received $1 million. … The roof was briefly opened before the game and then closed at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Players noted this week that playing inside a baseball stadium would be a novel experience. “This will be a first,” UCLA linebacker Kenny Young said. “I can knock this off my bucket list.” … Kelly attended the game and sat in a suite with UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch