UCLA returned to its winning ways Saturday, but a 45-23 rout of Colorado was perhaps sloppier than the Bruins need to close out a division championship in the Pac-12 South.
"There's going to be some drives and starts of games that aren't beautiful," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said in his postgame press conference, per Bruin Sports Report. "We're coming off two really difficult road losses against great teams, and tonight...I hate to admit to this, but I think there was a little hangover."
The Bruins need Saturday's win to be the remedy for the hangover, because the remainder of their schedule is a minefield threatening their Rose Bowl aspirations.
Coming off back-to-back road losses at Stanford and Oregon, UCLA had the perfect recipe for returning to the win column: Homecoming weekend and a sub-par opponent. The final score was sufficiently lopsided, just two points shy of the 24-point Las Vegas line.
Colorado's offense moved the ball within the UCLA 30-yard line seven times. While it yielded just 23 points for the Buffs, a more talented offense poses a serious threat to the Bruins under similar circumstances.
Contributing to Colorado's sustained drives were a number of UCLA flags. The Bruins drew laundry 11 times on the night for 122 yards, giving them 75 penalties and 630 yards for the season.
The Buffs gained 30 yards on personal foul penalties to set up their final scoring drive. Fourth quarter flags cannot be a regular occurrence in the final month if UCLA is to defend its crown.
Finding a consistent run game will also remain a question mark for the Bruins in their critical, final stretch. Since top ball-carrier Jordon James suffered an injury in early October, the UCLA offense has lost a significant bit of its punch.
Against the nation's No. 105-ranked rush defense Saturday, UCLA running backs carried 18 times for 62 yards. Quarterback Brett Hundley buoyed the run game with 72 yards to help UCLA to 139 as a team.
However, the next four defenses the Bruins see are much better against the run, particularly nationally-ranked No. 15 and 22 run defenses in USC and Arizona State.
Ultimately, UCLA left the Rose Bowl Saturday with a 22-point win. To that end, there were plenty of building blocks going into the critical, stretch run.
Though the running backs were collectively unspectacular, Damien Thigpen came on for a touchdown and 38 yards in his best showing since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the first month and much of the offseason.
Thigpen will be an important part down the stretch, and Mora says the redshirt senior is growing more confident with each week.
Most significant for the Bruins going forward was the emphatic response of Hundley to two weeks of adversity. Stanford and Oregon made Hundley’s life difficult, sacking the Bruins’ sophomore star seven times and providing constant pressure.
"We can all agree, we've all watched the games: The kid has looked burdened the last two weeks," Mora said. "He didn't look burdened tonight."
After scoring just three touchdowns and giving away four turnovers in the previous two weeks, Hundley came roaring back with four touchdowns Saturday.
"He didn't have so much tension in the way that he was approaching everything, and that's the way you have to approach football," Mora said.
Though it wasn't the prettiest, Saturday was a win for UCLA. The Bruins are 6-2 and bowl eligible, and still control their destiny in the divisional race.
With a bevy of youth—nine freshmen started Saturday—there remain points of emphasis for Mora and staff to iron out in the weeks to come.
Nevertheless, the UCLA head coach sees the positives.
"I'm going to enjoy every stinking win, because they are hard. Doesn't matter who you are playing, it's hard to win a football game," Mora said.