The 16th-ranked UCLA Bruins (2-0) battled back from an 18-point first-half deficit to beat the 23rd-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-1) in an emotional game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Saturday, 41-21.
Trailing 21-3 with under a minute to play in the first half, Jim Mora's Bruins completely turned the tide over the final 31 minutes of Saturday's game, scoring 38 unanswered points to stun Nebraska and their sea of red supporters.
UCLA players and coaches took the field with heavy hearts less than a week after Bruins walk-on wide receiver Nick Pasquale was struck and killed by a car in San Clemente, Calif. Speaking to a sideline reporter after the game, Mora said the victory was in honor of Pasquale and his family, per Fox Sports West's Abbey Mastracco:
Jim Mora looking into the camera and telling the Pasquale's "We did it for your son." Might already be the quote of the year. #PacSeason— Abbey Mastracco (@AbbeyMastracco) September 14, 2013
A sold-out crowd of more than 91,000 was in attendance for the Top 25 showdown, per ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi via Twitter:
A Memorial Stadium record 91,471 at the UCLA-Nebraska game today.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) September 14, 2013
Nebraska would take advantage of an early miscue from UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, scoring the game's first touchdown just over six minutes in on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez to Quincy Enunwa.
The scoring drive was set up by a Hundley interception that the Cornhuskers' Stanley Jean-Baptiste returned to UCLA's 28-yard line.
However, the Bruins would respond on the very next drive, moving the ball 49 yards on eight plays to set up a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal from 44 yards out.
The Huskers would have an answer of their own, though, driving the ball 92 yards on 17 plays to score again and take an 11-point lead at the end of the opening quarter. Nebraska's second scoring drive was capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Enunwa—their second hookup of the day.
Although Nebraska led 14-3 at the end of the quarter, the Bruins had history on their side, per ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter:
UCLA 1-4 in last 5 games in which Bruins trailed after 1st quarter. Lone win was last season vs Nebraska (trailed 14-7)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 14, 2013
But UCLA would fall into an even deeper hole early in the second quarter following another mental lapse. On fourth down, punter Sean Covington dropped the long snap resulting in a turnover on downs at the Bruins' 26-yard line.
Two plays later Martinez made UCLA pay with a 22-yard touchdown toss to Kenny Bell to extend the Cornhuskers' lead to 18 points.
Controversy unfolded with the first half winding down as officials called Fairbairn's 46-yard field-goal attempt good after it sailed just wide of the uprights. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini reacted as any coach would in a similar situation, erupting on the referees.
After a brief review, officials reversed the call, much to the delight of Pelini and his team.
UCLA would narrow the gap on its final drive of the half, scoring on a six-play, 59-yard drive capped off by a 10-yard touchdown run from Paul Perkins.
Trailing 21-10 to start the second half, UCLA came to life, scoring touchdowns on its first three drives of the third quarter to take a 31-21 lead with just under four minutes to play in the quarter.
Desperate to keep the offense on the field late in the third quarter, Pelini and the Huskers ran a fake punt that came up short. Three plays later the Bruins scored their fourth touchdown of the quarter to go up 38-21.
Nebraska would squander a golden opportunity to get back into the game early in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over in the red zone on an Ameer Abdullah fumble.
After tacking on a field goal late, UCLA would go on to win comfortably.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska, QB: C+
It was a tale of two halves for both quarterbacks on Saturday. Unfortunately for Taylor Martinez, he played his best football in the first half, throwing three early touchdowns to put the Huskers out in front.
But surprisingly, the senior signal-caller was nowhere to be found in the second half, and neither was Nebraska's offense. While struggling to find any receivers open down field, Martinez also failed to generate any momentum with his legs, rushing for minus-13 yards on 10 attempts.
Brett Hundley, UCLA, QB: A
Brett Hundley made one critical error early on in Saturday's game, but he showed tremendous composure the rest of the way. The dynamic sophomore quarterback utilized both his arm and his legs in the third quarter to help put the Bruins ahead.
Instead of forcing throws into tight windows when his guys weren't open, Hundley wisely tucked the ball in and ran up field to pick up yards and stay ahead of the chains.
He would finish with 294 yards and three touchdowns through the air and 61 rushing yards on 19 total carries.
Shaquelle Evans, UCLA, WR: A
UCLA superstar wide receiver Shaquelle Evans was quiet for the most part on Saturday but was the loudest player on the field when it mattered most.
The 6'1" senior turned his three receptions into 97 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown with six minutes to play in the third quarter. He also starred briefly on special teams, returning a punt for 26 yards
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