GUTSY EFFORT, GUTSY WIN BY BRUINS, 29-28

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After the UCLA Bruins were left for dead in Tucson, AZ on October 20th, who would have thought that two weeks later:

The Bruins would be tied for first place in the Pacific 12 Conference’s Southern Division, with them owning the tiebreaker?

That they would win their next three games, they would earn a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game on December 2nd – these little Bruins, largely regarded as also-rans and nobodies in the college football world, especially in this BCS era.

In fact, who would have thought that Kevin Prince, after having the worst game that any quarterback could have against Texas (anyone remember his three interceptions in the first half? I sure don’t want to), would not only be playing, but playing quite well in running the pistol offense; making great runs for first downs and not throwing a pick since the Washington State game – basically coming through for Rick Neuheisel.

And who would have thought that this football team would be putting out the effort that it has, playing with such an extreme sense of urgency and fire with so many players delivering clutch performances?

That’s exactly the situation that UCLA is in now after a missed 46 yard field goal attempt by Alex Garoutte – his third miss of the night – gave the Bruins an extremely hard fought 29-28 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils in a contest that frankly had the air of a USC rivalry game.

It was that intense an atmosphere among the 65, 438 hysterically screaming fans at the Rose Bowl last Saturday.

Being nine point favorites, I’m not sure if the ASU players felt that they would be in a fight going into their match up with lightly regarded UCLA. However…

It was crystal clear, as the first half unfolded, that the Bruins were absolutely playing their guts out, that they were, to paraphrase the late great coach John Wooden, being at their best when their best was needed.

If Johnathan Franklin’s 11 yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the first quarter, which put UCLAp 6-0 (the point after was missed), as well as Derrick Coleman’s one yard touchdown run that gave the Bruins back the lead at 16-14 after two ASU touchdowns in the second quarter, didn’t convince the Bruin faithful that the determination to win was at 20 on a scale of one to 10, then nothing would have.

Not to mention the 76 yard touchdown pass from Prince to Nelson Rosario to open the third quarter and give UCLA a nine point cushion at 23-14. Arizona State was completely taken by surprise as Rosario was all alone, and it was a definite punch in the mouth that showed once and for all how badly the Bruins wanted this game.

Prince ended up with 196 yards in the air on 11-of-17 passing, with an additional 61 yards on the ground.

Don’t misunderstand – these Sun Devils from Tempe clearly had the better talent, particularly quarterback Brock Ostweiler as he completed 22 of 38 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns, one for 35 yards to A. J. Pickens. Gerrell Robinson torched the Bruins with his 131 yards on six catches.

Put it this way: this ASU team wasn’t 20th ranked in the BCS for nothing.

That was particularly the case in the fourth quarter, when the Sun Devils took a 28-23 lead on Cameron Marshall’s one yard run with just under eight minutes left.

And the knockout death bullet was dodged – twice – after fumbles by Franklin and kick returner Josh Smith, as Arizona State went three-and-out after Franklin’s miscue and missed a 37 yard field goal attempt by Garoutte after Smith’s.

That missed attempt set up the last fateful drive by UCLA, which started rather badly when after a 41 yard run by Coleman, the Bruins proceeded to lose a total of 22 yards on a fumble (which was thankfully recovered) and an offensive pass interference call on tight end Joseph Fauria.

With a 3rd and 29 and pretty much the season on the line, Rosario made a heroic catch-and-run for 33 yards to the six, electrifying the crowd; he finished with a game-high 151 yards on five catches.

Three plays later, Coleman, who finished with 119 yards on 17 carries, ran it in from a yard out to give the Bruins the lead with less than a minute left. It was his second touchdown run of the game and his 6th in the last four contests.

Let’s all chant now: MVP! MVP!! MVP!!!

Because that senior running back is – without a doubt – the Most Valuable Player of this football team.

That go ahead TD set up the final Sun Devil drive that, after an extremely questionable pass interference call on safety Aaron Hester that drowned the Rose Bowl in a sea of boos, led to the missed field goal and a wild celebration for everyone wearing blue and gold, while the maroon and gold-clad fans were left shocked and heartbroken.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if some of those fans – and at least some of the ASU players themselves – were crying after the game.

With their two turnovers and eight penalties for 75 yards, as well as the defensive line failing to pressure Ostweiler in the first half outside of one sack, giving up a total of 465 yards for the game with Marshall rushing for 168 of those yards, we can all agree that UCLA mae quite a few mistakes, errors, and lapses that could have easily cost them the game and their Pac-12 South title hopes, as well as maim their overall post season aspirations.

4-5 would have looked a hell of a lot worse than 5-4.

But the fact that this band of Bruins overcame all of that to get a win over a very good ASU squad says a lot about their character and resiliency, showed that they never quit on the season when they could have, and showed that they had tons and tons of guts.

Simply put, the Sun Devils ran into a team that would not be denied, that was going to win with the Malcolm X approach – By Any Means Necessary.

And that is often the most dangerous opponent one can face.