UCLA players were “so excited” after they squeaked out a narrow victory in their final home game of the season, enabling the embattled Bruins to play in a holiday bowl game.
“Our players are so excited right now that they get to go to a bowl game,” interim coach Jedd Fisch said after Friday night’s win over Cal.
“Our whole football operation, from the trainers to the doctors, from the equipment managers to the coaching staff to the strength staff to the nutrition staff, we’re all appreciative of this opportunity. We are obviously excited as a program.”
The victory came five days after Jim Mora was fired as UCLA’s coach and replaced on an interim basis by Fisch, the offensive coordinator.
“We also feel that we owe this win to coach Mora,” Fisch said. “We wanted to make sure that we were able to end his legacy as the head coach at UCLA as a guy that led five of his six teams to bowl games. So we are very respectful of that.”
UCLA will be among 78 teams that will receive bowl invitations Dec. 3, thanks to a 30-27 victory over California at the Rose Bowl on JJ Molson’s 37-yard field goal with four seconds to play.
The Bruins (6-6, 4-5 in Pac-12 Conference play) have not missed going to bowl games in back-to-back seasons since 1989 and 1990.
Quarterback Josh Rosen did not play in the second half “for some precautionary reasons,” Fisch said.
“We want to make sure he is healthy for the bowl game,” Fisch said.
The Bruins were 6-0 at the Rose Bowl this season, its first undefeated home season since 2005.
“Our players were so excited that they’re 6-0 and went undefeated at the Rose Bowl,” Fisch said.
UCLA also had undefeated home seasons at the Rose Bowl in 1987 (6-0) and 1985 (5-0, including a victory in the Rose Bowl Game.) The Bruins have played at the Rose Bowl since 1982.
The Golden Bears, who were also seeking their sixth victory to become bowl eligible, tied the score with two minutes, 22 seconds left on Ross Bowers’ six-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Veasy.
The Bruins began the ensuing drive on their own 20-yard line. Devon Modster completed three of four passes for 33 yards and rushed once for three yards and Brandon Stephens rushed twice for 17 yards as UCLA advanced the ball to California’s 25-yard line with 46 seconds left.
Runs by Stephens of two and three yards moved the ball to the 20 with eight seconds left, setting up Molson’s third field goal of the game.
Rosen completed 13 of 18 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Bruins to a 17-9 halftime lead.
The Golden Bears tied the score, 17-17, with 8:56 left in the third quarter on Bowers’ two-yard run and a two-point conversion pass to Patrick Laird.
UCLA regained the lead on the ensuing possession, driving 75 yards on eight plays in 2:21 with Stephens running the final yard for the touchdown. Modster completed four of five passes for 66 yards, including a 37-yard completion to Jordan Lasley that put the ball on California’s 28-yard line. Modster completed a 16-yard pass to Eldridge Massington on the next play.
The Bruins increased their lead to 27-17 with 12:10 to play on Molson’s 26-yard field goal. California moved back within seven on the next possession when Matt Anderson kicked a 20-yard field goal with 8:35 left.
UCLA outgained the Golden Bears, 462 yards to 458. California led 26-24 in first downs and 33:15-26:45 in time of possession.
“We just didn’t play good enough football today in a lot of ways to win the game,” California coach Justin Wilcox said.
Modster, a redshirt freshman, completed 14 of 18 passes for 191 yards, all season highs, before a crowd announced at 50,287.
Lasley, a junior, caught 12 passes for 227 yards, both career highs, becoming the first Bruin with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. He caught 10 passes for 204 yards in the 28-23 loss to USC last Saturday.
Lasley’s 1,136 receiving yards for the season are the sixth-most in school history.
UCLA trailed just once, as Anderson kicked a 32-yard field goal on the game’s first drive. Rosen threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Theo Howard on the Bruins’ third possession for a 7-3 lead.
Anderson kicked a 34-yard field goal 3:28 into the second quarter. Molson kicked a 27-yard field goal on the ensuing possession.
Rosen threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Lasley 5:10 before halftime that increased UCLA’s lead to 17-6. Anderson kicked a 37-yard field goal with 1:20 left in the first half.
Bowers completed 25 of 41 passes for 242 yards and one touchdown. Laird ran for 178 yards on 32 carries.
A benefit of going to a bowl game is the additional practice times it gives a team.
“We can really look at our fundamentals,” Bruins defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “Guys who have moved around positions will be able to slow down and look some things over which we can’t do when we’re preparing for a game. It will be a good chance to get fundamentally better as we get ready for the bowl game.”
—City News Service
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