UCLA Football 2012: Top 10 Plays from the Bruins' Regular Season
The UCLA football team heads into bowl game preparation with a bad taste in its mouth after taking consecutive losses to Stanford, including a 27-24 heart-breaker in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
It's a bittersweet ending to barely miss the Rose Bowl, as the 2012 season showed marked improvement in every aspect of the Bruins' gridiron game plan.
Seniors Johnathan Franklin and Joseph Fauria made their final seasons in Westwood count, while younger players like QB Brett Hundley and LB Anthony Barr emerged as bona fide superstars with time left in the True Blue and Gold.
But before we turn to the future, let's spend some time reliving UCLA's 2012 season by taking a look at the top 10 plays from the Bruins' best season since 2005.
10. Damien Thigpen Reverse for TD at Colorado
Coming off the first loss of the Jim Mora era, UCLA entered the late-September matchup with Colorado needing to make a statement against the Pac-12 cellar dwellers.
The Bruins answered the call, dominating in all three phases of the game and coming away with a 42-14 victory in Boulder.
While the highlight package from this game spilleth over, no play was more impressive than Damien Thigpen's 23-yard end-reverse for a TD in the fourth quarter.
The score itself didn't mean much, as the Bruins had already wrapped things up by then, but it was a well-executed play that showcased Thigpen's speed and agility.
RB Steven Manfro came into motion on a fly-sweep, took the handoff from QB Brett Hundley and dumped it off to Thigpen as he crossed the backfield.
Thigpen turned on the jets to the opposite field and juked a would-be tackler before diving for the end zone and a four-possession UCLA lead.
Thigpen's athletic scoring run, one of six UCLA touchdowns against Colorado, can be seen at the 3:35 mark.
9. Shaq Evans' 65-Yard TD Catch to Close the Half vs. Oregon State
A week before the Bruins trounced the Buffaloes in Boulder, the Oregon State Beavers paid a visit to Pasadena and came away victorious.
Oregon State handled UCLA in the trenches for most of the game, eventually coming away with a 27-20 win.
But if it weren't for Shaq Evans' electrifying second quarter TD grab, this game could have been a lot worse.
Trailing 17-3 with less than a minute remaining in the first half, the Bruins were seemingly stuck in neutral at their own 35-yard line.
That's when UCLA decided to roll the dice.
QB Brett Hundley caught the OSU defense cheating towards the middle, hitting Evans as he streaked past his one-on-one coverage on the edge. Evans caught the bomb at the 20-yard line and raced untouched to the finish.
With one monstrous heave, UCLA was back in business against the Beavs.
The 65-yard TD pass can be seen at the 1:03 mark of the embedded video.
8. Bevy of Blocked Kicks at Washington State
The November road date with the lowly Washington State Cougars looked like a classic trap-game for UCLA, especially since the USC Trojans were due up next on the schedule.
But a 30-point second quarter explosion proved that UCLA wasn't looking past the Cougars, as the Bruins walked the rest of the way in a 44-36 win.
UCLA's efforts were helped along by insanely productive special teams play, including four blocked kicks.
The beginning of the above video shows three of the blocked attempts, one of which was returned for a touchdown by CB Sheldon Price.
In the end, every point counted because WSU made a fourth quarter rally, eventually falling by one possession.
The block party carried on into the Bruins' showdown with hated rival Southern Cal, as UCLA blocked two kicks against the Trojans as well.
7. Johnathan Franklin Monster Run vs. Nebraska
Johnathan Franklin had an unbelievable night against Nebraska, gashing the Huskers for 217 yards with an average of 8.3 YPC.
Franklin also tacked on 59 yards and had a TD as a receiver, providing some early season Heisman-hype for the redshirt senior from Los Angeles.
And even though the hype faded over the next few weeks, Franklin's performance against NU will still go down as one of the best by a UCLA running back.
His biggest play of the night came with less than nine minutes to play in a two-point game.
Franklin took a swing pass from Hundley, breaking two tackles behind the line of scrimmage and two more downfield on his way to a beastly 54-yard gain.
The embedded video shows all of Franklin's many highlights against Nebraska, but to see the mind-boggling fourth-quarter effort, skip ahead to the 1:45 mark.
6. Brett Hundley Scramble on 3rd and 14 vs. Utah
Redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley impressed onlookers all season with his dual-threat capabilities, but no game showcased his talents more than the tilt with Utah.
Reeling after a shocking loss to Cal, the Bruins were desperate for a win with DT Star Lotulelei and the Utes coming to town.
It wasn't a pretty game, but Hundley and company did what was necessary to grind out the 21-14 victory.
Utah didn't find much success on offense, but the Utes did contain the Bruins defensively for the most part.
The only thing they couldn't account for was Hundley's escapability. The 6'3", 223-pound signal-caller ripped the Utes for 68-yards rushing and a score on 15 carries.
The most amazing of Hundley's rushes came in the fourth quarter on a 3rd-and-14 deep in UCLA territory.
When the pressure collapsed in on the pocket and there were no openings downfield, Hundley took off and punished the Utah defense for leaving the middle unprotected.
After breaking three tackles and diving for the first down marker, the Bruins had a fresh set of downs, good field position and a new lease on life.
Feel free to watch the whole video, as it is a very impressive collection of clips, but the specific play I'm referencing is at the 1:53 mark.
5. Andrew Abbott Interception to Seal Win vs. Nebraska
Despite the fact that Nebraska was recently embarrassed in the B1G title game by Wisconsin, the Bruins' early-season victory over the Huskers is still one of Mora's marquee wins to date.
And while Johnathan Franklin was definitely the player of the game, senior strong safety Andrew Abbott tossed his hat into the ring as well.
Clinging to a slim two-point lead late in the fourth, the Bruins were on their heels as the Cornhuskers had the ball and were driving.
QB Taylor Martinez read single coverage on the edge and tried to squeeze one into his receiver, but Abbott came flying over the middle to intercept the pass, saving what could have been a huge NU gain.
To top it off, the former walk-on turned defensive captain took it back 24 yards to the Nebraska 16-yard line, setting up the offense for the game-sealing score.
4. Game-Winning Drive at Arizona State
Okay, so this isn't a single play, but the sequence of events for UCLA's game-winning drive on the road against Arizona State was huge.
After a back-and-forth affair found the Sun Devils with a one-point lead and less than two minutes to play, the Bruins took the ball at their own 25-yard line and worked some magic.
On the first play of the drive, Hundley was under pressure, scrambling to try and keep the play going, when RB Steven Manfro came back to bail him out.
Manfro caught Hundley's pass and sprinted out of bounds, giving UCLA a first down at the 39-yard line.
After a Johnathan Franklin rush to midfield, the Bruins faced a third down with less than a minute to play.
Hundley found Damien Thigpen out of the backfield and the junior WR did the rest, getting the first down and finding the sideline inside ASU territory.
Later in the drive, Hundley was bailed out again by 6'7" wideout Joseph Fauria, who caught a jump ball and got his toes in bounds with 19 seconds left.
UCLA then used a Franklin run and a timeout to set up the game-winning, 33-yard field goal as the clock struck triple zeroes.
The win gave the Bruins sole possession of the Pac-12 South and was especially important for the psyche of a young team with a true freshman kicker.
3. Brett Hundley 72-Yard TD Run on First Career Snap
UCLA fans were very excited to watch redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley in 2012, but I don't think anyone was expecting him to start off like this.
Hundley took his first collegiate snap 72 yards on a zone-read keeper, following his blockers and making a nice cutback to find the end zone.
The score set the tone for the season, as the Bruins would go on to roll the Rice Owls and secure their first road win of the year.
In the Bruins' 49-24 victory in Houston, Hundley passed for 202 yards and two touchdowns on top of the early scoring run.
2. Anthony Barr Sack of Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley
Perhaps no single play epitomizes the Bruins' success in 2012 like Anthony Barr's devastating sack of Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley.
With the Trojans trailing by 10 points inside three minutes to play, Barkley and the USC offense was threatening to make it a one-possession game.
Barr, a LB converted from tight end this season, seized the moment and crashed through the O-line untouched, laying the wood to Barkley's blind side.
The blow left the sell-out crowd at the Rose Bowl in a frenzy and left the Trojans' senior signal-caller in a sling.
Barr's sack sprained Barkley's throwing shoulder, leaving the senior incapable of taking the field the following week against No. 1 Notre Dame.
Respectable fans never cheer for injuries, but that doesn't mean the Bruin faithful didn't love the significance of the sack.
UCLA went on to beat the rival Trojans for the first time in five tries, earning a bid in the Pac-12 Championship Game along the way.
The punishing hit can be seen at the 4:53 mark of the above video.
1. Johnathan Franklin Breaks All-Time Career Rushing Record
Coming into the matchup with Arizona, senior RB Johnathan Franklin needed only 21 yards to break the UCLA all-time career rushing record set by Gaston Green in the 1980s.
On just his third attempt of the game, Franklin took the handoff from Hundley, bounced it outside, juked a man on a cutback and burst to the goal line.
The 37-yard TD scamper was the first of eight Bruin touchdowns in UCLA's 66-10 bludgeoning of the Wildcats.
And while Franklin's score didn't end meaning too much on the stat sheet, it will be remembered by Bruin nation and in the record books for years to come.
Since this game, Franklin has gone on to surpass Maurice Drew for most all-time all-purpose yardage in UCLA history as well.
The redshirt senior has one more chance to leave his mark in a Bruin uniform, as UCLA prepares for a Holiday Bowl matchup with the Baylor Bears.