In a game of big plays, missed chances and momentum swings, UCLA capitalized in the fourth quarter at home in the Rose Bowl for a 36-30 win over No. 16 Nebraska.
The Huskers fought hard for four quarters but came up short for the first time to slip to 1-1 on the season with a loss in their road opener. UCLA improved to 2-0 under first-year head coach Jim Mora, as the Bruins won their home opener at the Rose Bowl.
Nebraska produced 439 yards of total offense, including 260 rushing yards led by sophomore I-back Ameer Abdullah's 119 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez added 108 yards and a score on 11 carries, while contributing 179 yards passing (17-31-1) to finish with 291 yards of total offense.
Martinez's night was highlighted by a career-long 92-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that put Nebraska ahead 14-7. It was the longest run by a Nebraska player since Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch sprinted an NU quarterback-record 95 yards at Missouri in 2001. Martinez's run also tied for the fifth-longest run in school history. It was the third run of 80 yards or more in Martinez's career.
While Martinez and Abdullah produced solid numbers for the Huskers, Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin packed an impressive one-two punch for UCLA. Hundley completed 21-of-33 passes for 305 passing yards and four touchdowns. He added 53 yards on 12 rushes to account for 358 yards of total offense.
Hundley's final touchdown pass, a nine-yard connection to Franklin with 2:13 left in the game, provided the winning margin. It was Franklin's third reception on the night for a total of 59 yards, but receiving was a minor part of the talented back's production.
Franklin rushed 26 times for 216 yards - the sixth-highest total ever by an opposing back against the Huskers - to help the Bruins amass 653 yards of total offense. Franklin's big numbers led a Bruin ground game that accounted for 344 yards on 56 carries. Overall, UCLA produced 94 snaps and produced 37:40 time of possession.
Despite UCLA's gaudy stats, the Huskers were in position to win for 60 minutes. But Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini credited UCLA for making the plays to win, while recognizing the Huskers' mistakes as the difference in the outcome.
"We didn't play well in any phase of the game. We were inconsistent. Our fundamentals were lousy. I give UCLA credit. We didn't execute well. We didn't tackle well. We didn't do anything well on the defensive side of the ball," Pelini said. "Obviously, I'm disappointed with how we played defensively. I'm embarrassed how we played defensively. There were a lot of times we had them in our grasp. It killed us.
"You want to talk about a team loss. That's it. Defensively, we didn't show up in the first half and offensively we didn't show up in the second half. We didn't earn it. We didn't deserve to win at the end of the day. In the end, we want to end up back out here. We want to play our last football game here. But to get back here, we've got a lot of work to do."
The Bruins took the game's opening drive 57 yards on 12 plays, but Kyle Fairbairn misfired on a 36-yard field goal for the game's first missed opportunity.
The Bruin defense forced a three-and-out, and Brett Maher mishit a punt for just 13 yards, giving UCLA great field position at the NU 27.
Hundley capitalized on the next play, hitting Joseph Fauria with a 27-yard touchdown pass with 9:08 left in the first quarter to give the Bruins a 7-0 lead.
Field position played a major role throughout the night, especially in the second half.
Nebraska's average drive start in the first half was inside its own 19, while UCLA started beyond its own 33 on average in the half. In the second half, the Bruins started on average near their own 42. On its first eight drives of the second half, the Huskers averaged a start at their own 20, before starting their final drive at the UCLA 36.
Nebraska answered with a quick score of its own, racing 75 yards on six plays capped by Abdullah's six-yard scoring run with 7:00 left in the opening quarter. The biggest play of the drive came with Martinez's 36-yard connection with sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell, who finished with a team-best six receptions for 108 yards.
The Blackshirts made a big play on the UCLA drive, as Jason Ankrah forced a fumble recovered by Daimion Stafford. The Huskers started the drive at their own 13, and moved just 14 yards before another short punt put the Bruins on the doorstep against at the UCLA 45. But the Blackshirts forced another three-and-out, before a 50-yard Jeff Locke punt buried the Huskers at their own 4.
After a four-yard gain by Abdullah on first down, Martinez exploded up the middle on his 92-yard burst to put the Huskers up 14-7 with 2:24 left.
Hundley, Franklin and the Bruins went back to work, putting together a 12-play, 58-yard march that consumed nearly five minutes. But the Blackshirts forced a 35-yard field goal by Fairbairn to keep the Huskers in the lead at 14-10.
But a holding penalty during Bell's kickoff return on the next play put the Huskers deep in their own territory to start another drive. Maher hit a solid 45-yard punt, but Steven Manfro worked his way for 14 yards on the return to start the Bruins at their own 42. Six plays later, UCLA went up 17-14 on Fauria's second touchdown reception from Hundley.
Nebraska settled for its third drive start of the first half at its own 13, but six straight successful plays later, Abdullah burst 17 yards for a touchdown to put NU back up 21-17 with 5:07 left. Abdullah set up the score with a 25-yard run earlier in the drive, while Martinez added a 10-yard run of his own along with passes of 12 and 17 yards to Bell.
Hundley and the Bruins took just four plays to regain the lead after connecting with Manfro on a 49-yard scoring strike with 3:49 left.
After rare first-half defensive stops by each team, the Huskers were knocking on the door at the UCLA 21 before a bad snap sent Martinez scrambling. Before taking a 16-yard sack, Martinez tried to throw a desperation shovel pass to the sideline, which was deflected and intercepted by Datone Jones. On review, Martinez's left knee was ruled down before the throw occurred, leaving the Huskers with three seconds and a 54-yard field goal attempt.
Enter Maher, who appeared to knock through a career-long field goal to end the half, but Mora called timeout prior to the kick. After UCLA called a second "icing" timeout, Maher stepped up again and squeezed the field goal inside the upright to send the two teams to the locker room tied at 24.
Nebraska started the second half with the ball, but on the opening play of the half, Abdullah was stripped of the ball and UCLA started at the NU 28. The Bruins capitalized nine plays later with Fairbairn's 22-yard field goal to go up 27-24 with 11:50 left in the third quarter.
After three-and-outs by both defenses, Nebraska pieced together a drive to the UCLA 26 that resulted in Maher's 43-yard field with 7:45 to tie the game at 24.
At that point, the shootout turned into a slugfest, as the defenses made plays the rest of the third quarter. The score remained tied at 27 entering the fourth quarter, and the Huskers were again buried deep in their own territory with the ball to start the fourth.
Nebraska started the fourth with a burst of energy though, as Martinez powered his way 13 yards on third-and-eight from the NU 9. Abdullah then raced 36 yards on the next play to put the Huskers at the UCLA 42. Three straight runs by Braylon Heard carried NU 21 yards to the UCLA 21, before the Husker drive stalled at the UCLA 19. Maher then missed wide left by inches over the upright to keep the score tied.
UCLA moved the ball the midfield before the Blackshirts stiffened, but Locke's punt buried the Huskers at the NU 5. On the first play, Datone Jones sacked Martinez in the end zone for a safety to put the Bruins up 29-27.
On the ensuing possession, Franklin set up a potential UCLA score with his 54-yard gallop to open the drive, but Fairbairn missed his second field goal of the night from 34 yards to keep the Huskers within a field goal of winning.
Martinez misfired on three straight passes on the ensuing drive, before Maher boomed a 64-yard punt with no return to pin UCLA at its own 16 - its worst field position of the second half.
UCLA threatened again, as Hundley completed passes of 33 yards to Devin Lucien and 19 yards to Franklin to put the Bruins at the NU 24. But a sack from Andrew Green pushed UCLA out of field goal range and the Bruins were forced to punt. The Huskers benefitted from a holding penalty to start the drive at the own 20 instead of inside their own 10 again, but Martinez's second pass of the drive was intercepted by Andrew Abbott and returned 24 yards to the NU 16.
Hundley connected with Franklin from nine yards out three plays later to put the Bruins up 36-27.
The game appeared to be over, but a pair of Bruin mistakes on the ensuing kickoff gave the Huskers a breath of life. Bell returned Locke's kick 47 yards and NU was able to tack on a 15-yard personal foul by the Bruins to start the drive at the UCLA 21 with just over two minutes left needing two scores. The Huskers were unable to move, but Maher hit his third field goal of the night from 40 yards out to pull NU back within a score at 36-30.
Nebraska was unable to come up with the onside kick, and UCLA ran out the clock for the victory.
Nebraska returns home next week to begin a three-game homestand. The Huskers will take on Arkansas State in an 11 a.m. (CDT) game at Memorial Stadium.