The UCLA Bruins control their own destiny in the Pac-12.
With a win this past weekend against the Arizona State Sun Devils, Jim Mora's squad is two division wins away from representing the South Division in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second straight year.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at what transpired this past Saturday in Tempe. The Bruins won a thriller as they edged ASU 45-43 with a game-winning field goal as time expired.
It was a truly masterful performance by Arizona native Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman signal-caller from Chandler, Ariz. finished the day 19-of-29 for 274 yards and four touchdowns. Hundley also scampered for 27 yards on the ground.
There's something truly special about UCLA's young quarterback. He exhibits a maturity and presence far beyond his years. Teammates look up to him, and he's seemingly unflappable in the face of adversity.
Down a point with 1:32 remaining, Hundley beautifully orchestrated a final drive that ultimately put UCLA in the position to win the game. In the contest's totality, Hundley was incredibly poised—even when facing extreme pressure from Arizona State's defense. In coming back to his home state, the Bruins' signal-caller demonstrated why ASU should be kicking themselves for not getting Hundley to stay home for his college ball.
Aside from the offense having a stellar day, a big congratulations (and a sigh of relief) should go to UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn.
The true freshman from Honolulu had been maligned throughout the season. In his first collegiate game, Fairbairn had three extra points blocked. The next week against Nebraska, the kicker converted on only two of four attempts.
Needless to say, he wasn't having the best start to his young career. But credit should be given to head coach Jim Mora, as he always stuck with and publicly defended his kicker. Even when Fairbairn had a tough stretch, Mora maintained the thought that Fairbairn would turn it around and perform well.
Against the Sun Devils with four seconds left, he calmly slotted home a 33-yard field goal for the win. This was a huge play for the Bruins obviously, and one can imagine the confidence that this kick gave the young kicker. After the game, the team mobbed him and showered Fairbairn with praise.
This was a massive win for UCLA. Although the defense didn't play well, the offense looked resourceful, explosive and unstoppable at times.
Damien Thigpen utilized his insane speed and parlayed it into two touchdown catches. He also led the Bruins on the day with 92 receiving yards on three catches. Bell cow back Johnathan Franklin ran for a cool 164 yards on 26 carries—leaving him only 20 yards shy of UCLA's all-time rushing record.
With the win, UCLA now sits in second place in the South Division.
The victory here signifies more than just placement within the conference. As mentioned previously, this was the type of game that UCLA's been unable to win during the past decade. Facing a team of similar talent on the road could be seen as an automatic loss. Not only did UCLA win this game, but also the team did so in spectacular fashion.
There's no doubt that this type of win could be used as a rallying cry for the duration of the season.
Transitioning to this upcoming week, the Bruins will play host to the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats are also coming off of a big win—they defeated the Southern Cal Trojans at home by a score of 39-36.
The implications in this game are huge.
Both UA and UCLA are still alive in the conference race for a Championship Game appearance. From the Bruins' perspective, a win against Arizona and Southern Cal will give them a return to the title game.
Arizona is a dangerous team—plain and simple. Matt Scott is a tremendous talent from the quarterback spot, and running back Ka'Deem Carey is one of the most underappreciated backs in the entire country. The receiving tandem of Austin Hill and Dan Buckner is one of the best on the west coast.
Against USC, Scott suffered multiple blows to the head which left him disoriented and vomiting on the sidelines. Head coach Rich Rodriguez publicly announced that Scott will play (as reported by Ryan Finley on azcentral.com), but it's still a question mark as to how he will respond. He is the fulcrum for the football team, so his effectiveness will go a long way in determining how Arizona plays on Saturday.
To add impetus to this upcoming matchup, the Bruins were embarrassed by a score of 48-12 last season on national television in Tucson. The game turned ugly after a streaker—unceremoniously dressed as a referee—went onto the field and essentially incited a brawl between the teams. That scene led to a suspension for multiple Bruins players.
One can bet that UCLA will want to atone for that demolishment at the hands of the Wildcats last season. With so much riding on this game, expect it to be a much closer contest.
On Thursday, we will have a full game preview/prediction for the tilt between Arizona and UCLA.