LOS ANGELES — UCLA practiced a fake spike last week, never imagining that it would cap off the biggest comeback in school history.
Josh Rosen faked the spike and threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley with 43 seconds remaining and UCLA overcame a 34-point deficit to stun Texas A&M 45-44 on Sunday night.
“How many seconds were left when we did it? 40? That’s when we thought of it. Not before then,” UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said.
Rosen went 35-for-59 for 491 yards and four fourth-quarter touchdowns, and Jalen Starks and Soso Jamabo had scoring runs for the Bruins in the opener for both teams.
UCLA overcame a deficit of more than 20 points for the first time since overcoming a 22-0 hole in the first quarter of the 2005 Sun Bowl against Northwestern.
Rosen threw for 292 yards and the four scoring passes in the final 15 minutes to overcome a 27-point margin.
“My career at UCLA, we’ve had a lot of times where the chips didn’t fall in our favor, and I think it’s time that finally it did,” Rosen said.
UCLA scored touchdowns on five straight possessions after trailing 44-10 with 4:08 to play in the third quarter. Rosen threw touchdown passes of 9 and 42 yards to Darren Andrews before finding Theo Howard for a 16-yard score on a broken play with 3:08 remaining.
UCLA got the ball back with 2:39 to go and drove 66 yards in 10 plays, including an 11-yard throw and catch to tight end Caleb Wilson. Rosen capped the remarkable comeback with a fade to the far corner of the end zone after faking the spike to freeze the defense. JJ Molson kicked the winning extra point.
The intent of the fake was to catch Texas A&M off-guard, but the Aggies were already discombobulated by a series of breakdowns that had allowed UCLA back into the game.
The most memorable happened when cornerback Deshawn Capers-Smith was in position to intercept Rosen’s pass, only for it to sail through his hands to Andrews for the 42-yard strike that cut it to 44-31 with 8:12 to play.
“We were an inch away from losing that game probably 10 times,” said Rosen, who threw for the third-most yards in a game in school history. “I mean, for God’s sakes, I mean, that field goal would have put us out, and we just had an incredible surge and effort just to put probably a centimeter of a finger on the ball. I mean, the things that had to go right to win this game were incredible.”
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond was stopped short of the first-down marker on a scramble with 20 seconds left to close out the biggest FBS comeback since 2006.
“It was a lot of fun, huh? Glad you stuck around?” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “We knew that this was not going to be an easy game, but we didn’t know we were going to be down 28 points at halftime. I was just so impressed by the way that they managed their emotions at halftime and then coming back in the second half.”
Wilson had 15 receptions for 203 yards, and Andrews had 12 catches for 147 yards.
Trayveon Williams rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns, and Keith Ford added 114 yards rushing and three touchdowns for Texas A&M. The Aggies lost for only the second time in six openers under coach Kevin Sumlin.
Rosen spent much of the game under constant pressure from Texas A&M for the second straight season until mounting the stunning comeback. After being sacked five times last season in a 31-24 overtime loss in College Station, Rosen was dropped three times and lost two fumbles in his return after missing the final six games last year with a shoulder injury.
Texas A&M had largely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball before melting down, rushing for 382 yards and limiting UCLA to 70 yards on the ground. Williams had a 72-yard run where he bounced outside and raced down the UCLA sideline, which set up a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Ford, and the sophomore added a 61-yard scoring run late in the first half.
Redshirt freshman Nick Starkel got the start at quarterback for Texas A&M, and completed his first three throws during an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Ford.
The touted freshman Mond entered the game on the sixth possession for Texas A&M and played the entire second half after Starkel suffered an apparent left foot injury. Starkel returned to the sideline on crutches with his foot in a walking boot.
Mond was 3 of 17 for 27 yards and rushed for 55 yards on 15 carries, and Starkel was 6 of 13 for 62 yards.
“We didn’t finish the game, simple as that,” said Texas A&M safety Armani Watts, who had 12 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. “We all know they’re a great offense. Josh Rosen moved the ball well, but we just didn’t finish executing. We have to finish games and overcome adversity.”
UCLA: Rosen can roll. When they finally turned loose their star quarterback, the Bruins looked nothing like the inept offense that did practically nothing for most of the game. UCLA has plenty to work on, but Rosen is more than capable of taking them back to a winning record and more.