UCLA’s Josh Rosen looks for redemption against UNLV after season opener loss

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is pressured by Texas A&M's Myles Garrett.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is pressured by Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett.
(Sam Craft / Associated Press)

Far removed from the cover of Sports Illustrated and the glimmer of national television, Josh Rosen will try once more to show why he’s been widely peddled as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.

Redemption could start during UCLA’s home opener against Nevada Las Vegas on Saturday evening at the Rose Bowl in a match-up far less alluring than the Bruins’ season opener a week ago.

The game will be televised regionally. The crowd won’t reach six figures. The opponent belongs to the Mountain West Conference.

Rosen also hopes the results are different. Vastly different.

He had been nearly as hard on himself as the Texas A&M pass rush after three of his passes were intercepted and he was sacked five times during UCLA’s 31-24 overtime loss last weekend. He described his performance as “abysmal” and “unacceptable.”


“Regressing” was another word that might have worked. Rosen threw one ball up for grabs like he was on an elementary school play yard and exacerbated a bad snap with another hurried throw that was also intercepted.

The same quarterback who had gone five consecutive games and a school-record 245 passes without an interception as a freshman couldn’t get through the opener as a sophomore without making mistake after mistake.

“Sometimes you can trump anything good or bad that happened in the play by making a good decision, and I didn’t,” Rosen said this week. “There’s three very specific plays in particular that I very easily could have thrown to the end zone and scored and hopefully turned the tide of the game.”

Rosen did score plenty of points among his teammates by heaping blame upon himself. There was also admiration for the way Rosen remained mostly upright while being pressured on 49.1% of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. That was the second-highest percentage last week among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.

“I commend him for staying in the pocket,” Bruins center Scott Quessenberry said, “with some of the heat he took.”

UCLA appeared to move the ball better with Rosen operating out of the shotgun formation in comeback mode as opposed to under center earlier in the game as part of a shift toward a more pro-style offense. But Bruins Coach Jim Mora said Rosen played out of the shotgun for the majority of the game and vowed to continue using both styles against UNLV.

There’s no disputing that UCLA’s receivers also need plenty of improvement after drops and bad routes became the norm against the Aggies. Tight end Austin Roberts had five receptions but fixated afterward on the third-down pass in overtime he failed to grab for a touchdown.

“You mean the drop?” Roberts said with a chuckle. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to reel it in. I’m a big believer in blessings in disguise. I wish that came at another moment, but that ignited the fire in me to be better, working extra on my hands, knowing where I need to be, how I need to be there and just try to become a better player.”

Rosen took a dual approach with Roberts after the play.

“After a minute when he found out that I wasn’t too down,” Roberts said, “he let me know that I need to reel that one in, which is fair enough. He put it in a spot where only I can get it, where I’ve made that catch plenty of times in practice. We gotta finish it.”

Mora seemed a bit antsy early in the week, as if he wanted his team to play again on Tuesday. He said his players had displayed an increased sense of urgency and was eager to find out if they could apply lessons from the opener against UNLV.

Maybe losing has its benefits. Roberts said the Bruins were more focused in practice after their poor showing.

“Knowing that we can be beat, we’re not invincible,” Roberts said, “is something that I think is going to be beneficial to us going into the rest of the season.”

Rosen implied that UCLA’s national championship hopes remained intact, saying the team could accomplish everything it wanted even after starting the season on the wrong side of the win-loss ledger.

Skeptics might note that Rosen’s record as a college quarterback is a middling 8-6 and the Bruins have lost four of their last five games going back to last season.

But UCLA’s home stadium hasn’t been dubbed the Rosen Bowl as a result of failure. The next step in what’s already been a record-setting career for Rosen will come at a place where the only thing that matters is what happens next.

“It’s your first game at home and everybody’s excited to see what your team looks like in person,” Rosen said. “I feel like we’re going to give them a good show.”

Twitter: @latbbolch