UCLA scored exactly 14 points in each of its first three games, all losses. The Bruins had scored 59 points for the season when they trailed 49-17 midway through the third quarter at Washington State on Saturday night.
They were a listless, impotent offensive team by all measures and predictably were looking at their fourth consecutive loss on the road, this time against the country’s 19th-ranked team.
So, UCLA’s ability to rally for a 67-63 win might rank as September’s most improbable moment, even if Washington State did aid the effort with six turnovers in the game.
“The football is a really odd-shaped ball, and it bounces different ways sometimes,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “Fortunately for us, it bounced our way tonight. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean we kick up our feet and stop working.”
The second-half offense is what fans hoped to see when Kelly was hired. After scoring 59 points in the first 221 minutes of the season, the Bruins scored 50 in the final 19 minutes Saturday. They pulled off the win despite Anthony Gordon’s school-record nine touchdown passes for the Cougars. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 507 yards and five TDs.
“There’s nothing to lose when you’re down that much,” Thompson-Robinson said.
The Bruins scored 29 of their points in a burst that covered less than five minutes.
Kelly believes his team’s schedule helped facilitate the comeback. The Bruins had lost to Cincinnati, San Diego State and Oklahoma, all of which have displayed defenses that are statistically superior to that of the Cougars.
Although the offense offered a glimmer of hope, the defense still has a lot of work to do. The Bruins rank No. 122 in the country in scoring defense, out of 130 bowl subdivision teams in scoring defense.
“I always thought we were a good football team if we can be consistent,” Kelly said. “I’ll tell you what helped us is our schedule because we played 12 full quarters coming into this game and some other people don’t play 12 quarters in their first three games. When you’ve got to play four full quarters, if you’re battle tested like our guys are, I think that show up.”
Washington State’s collapse completed a rough first month for the Pac-12, which has seen all of its ranked preseason teams suffer losses. That list included Utah on Friday. Meanwhile, California is the only unbeaten Pac-12 team and jumped to No. 15 in the rankings.
Taylor warming up
Jonathan Taylor finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy balloting last season despite rushing for 2,194 yards and putting himself in the conversation about Wisconsin’s best running backs in just two seasons. This year he’s among the favorites.
Taylor rushed for 203 yards Saturday and added two more touchdowns to his nation-leading total as the Badgers rolled over Michigan. And he did it while missing the second quarter.
“J.T. is obviously the best back in football, but the guys behind him are just as talented,” offensive tackle Cole Van Lanen told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Taylor does what Wisconsin running backs have done for years, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. He has averaged 6.9 yards per carry during a career in which he has played in every game. In 30 games he has topped 100 yards 25 times, 200 yards nine times and 300 yards once.
There will be no controversy this season surrounding Central Florida and whether it deserves a chance to play for the national championship, after a 35-34 loss to Pittsburgh.
In 2017, UCF went 13-0 and crowned itself the national champion despite finishing 12th in the final College Football Playoff rankings. In 2018, the Knights were 12-0 and No. 8 in the rankings before losing 40-32 to Louisiana State in the Fiesta Bowl.
UCF fell behind Pitt 21-0 before scoring 31 unanswered points Saturday and seemingly was going to win again, but ended up with its first regular-season loss since 2016. Pitt scored the winning touchdown on a fourth-down play with less than a minute remaining and the Knights dropped to No. 22 in this week’s Associated Press poll.
Don’t mess with Mountain West
Arkansas didn’t figure to have trouble with San Jose State on Saturday. Yes, the Razorbacks are struggling, but the Spartans had not beaten a power conference opponent since 2006 and were coming off a two-year stretch with three wins.
The Mountain West has been beating power conference teams all season and it happened again with a 31-24 San Jose State victory on the road. Add that to, among others, Boise State winning at Florida State, Nevada-Reno beating Purdue, Wyoming beating Missouri and Hawaii taking down Arizona.