It was somewhere over the Palouse, with the tiny seatback screens leaving them riveted, that every UCLA player became a film major.
There were elements of comedy and horror in the footage that unfolded on the team plane, but the final minutes were pure drama, if somewhat predictable.
“I couldn’t script a better movie ending for that game,” linebacker Josh Woods said Monday, two days after his fumble recovery with 59 seconds left preserved UCLA’s comeback from a 32-point deficit during a 67-63 victory over then-No. 19 Washington State.
The replay was shown on ESPN, with future airings of the third-largest comeback in major college football history presumably headed for ESPN Classic. Players didn’t mind that a game lasting 3 hours 52 minutes was shortened because of time constraints given that none of the highlights were omitted from their 50-point second half.
“We were all watching together and hyping each other up whenever we see each other making plays like that on offense and defense,” Woods said. “It was great camaraderie.”
The Bruins could predict every twist and U-turn in a game that was tilting heavily in the Cougars’ favor midway through the third quarter. Receiver Kyle Philips said the defense’s ability to force four of its six takeaways in the second half gave players the belief that they could come back from a 49-17 deficit for their first victory this season.
“That’s when we knew,” Philips said, “OK, we got this, we can get this win.”
The performance allowed the Bruins to nearly make a clean sweep of the Pac-12 Conference awards handed out Monday. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was the offensive player of the week after setting a school record with 564 yards.
Demetric Felton was the special-teams player of the week after a 100-yard kickoff return that luckily wasn’t wiped out by an UCLA operations assistant inadvertently colliding with an official near the sideline, the blunder leading only to a penalty that was enforced on the ensuing kickoff.
Philips was the freshman of the week after his 69-yard punt return gave the Bruins their first improbable lead of the fourth quarter.
Woods, who also played in the Bruins’ school-record 34-point comeback over Texas A&M in September 2017, said the Washington State rally was more special because it came on the home field of his old high school pal, the late Tyler Hilinski, amid a hostile environment.
“It’s fun going into enemy territory with only our short roster,” Woods said, “and quieting a big crowd like that.”
Woods made three takeaways, including two fumble recoveries and an interception that came as the result of closely scouting the Cougars plays and then materializing in front of a pass thrown by quarterback Anthony Gordon.
“I told the guys I was really visualizing and dreaming about that one and it just happened,” Woods said. “One of [my teammates] made fun of me in practice, [saying], ‘You act like you knew where it was,’ and then the game came and I knew where it was.”
Woods said the Bruins realized there were opportunities to force turnovers after their film study during the week revealed that the Cougars sometimes carried the ball without properly securing it. UCLA’s four fumble recoveries doubled the total number of turnovers the team had forced through its first three games.
“Our defensive staff did a really good job of emphasizing all week how to attack the way they carry the football and to get after them from that standpoint,” coach Chip Kelly said.
Kelly was predictably his team’s biggest postgame film critic, noting that missed tackles in the secondary were among the issues that the Bruins (1-3 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) needed to address before facing Arizona (2-1, 0-0) in Tucson on Saturday.
But it was hard not to give two thumbs-up after a comeback that ended with linebacker Lokeni Toailoa waving a giant UCLA flag in an end zone awash in Washington State red. Especially since the Bruins got to relive it all at 30,000 feet.
“It was awesome,” Philips said.
Center Boss Tagaloa’s next unsportsmanlike conduct penalty will cost him more than 15 yards. “He won’t play,” Kelly said of the punishment the coach would levy. Tagaloa has twice been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct this season for apparent retaliation. … Receiver Theo Howard, safety Quentin Lake and running back Martell Irby, all recovering from unspecified injuries, worked with a trainer on the sideline during the portion of practice Monday open to the media. … UCLA’s game against Oregon State on Oct. 5 at the Rose Bowl will start at 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.