PASADENA, CA-Last team with the ball wins the game. Well, almost. The first team to get to 50 points was more suitable in the Pac-12 Conference South Division game between UCLA and No. 19 Utah Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
If you wanted to see a contest where playing defense was not an option, this would be the game to watch. For the Bruins, playing a homecoming game without your starting quarterback is not the same as having the best signal-caller for your team out on the field.
UCLA didn’t have its ace in the hole in quarterback Josh Rosen for a second straight week. But backup Mike Fafaul acted liked he was the best, going for broke on UCLA passing records in completions (40) and pass attempts (70) in a single game.
In the process of doing all of that, Fafaul erased those two marks that Rosen previously held as school records.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, Fafaul’s impressive stat line didn’t equate in a victory. That’s because some guy who came out of running back retirement decided to play and ran the Bruins’ defense and the scoreboard ragged.
Utah running back Joe Williams had just called it quits last month, removing himself from football altogether and the Utah running depth chart. He was not in a good place or space, for that matter. Then the unthinkable happened.
Several Utah running backs went down to season-ending injuries. The depth chart was getting thing for coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff. Williams was talked back into coming back to the team. It may have been the best decision that Whittingham has made this season.
Williams, after demolishing Oregon State defenders with 179 yards in a 19-14 Utah win, decided to go rogue against UCLA, rushing for a Utah record of 332 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries. It’s a pretty good chance that Williams will stay on the No. 19 Utes’ roster for the rest of the year.
The Bruins probably wished the shifty running back would have stayed retired. The final ticker in this game reads Utah 52, UCLA 45.
“Just a great performance by Joe Williams,” Whittingham said after the game. “He was on a pitch count. He wasn’t going to go above 30 carries, and we held him to 29 and he got over 300 yards. I can’t say enough about that young man and what he has meant to our team the last two weeks. What a blessing it is for us to have him back and how unselfish it was of him to come back. It was legitimate when he stepped away, he was really hurting. He did it for his teammates; he is an unselfish guy. We are elated to have him back.”
William’ rushing total is the highest number by a running back in college football this season. Three of his four touchdowns went for 40 yards or more, and it was his 55-yard dance into the endzone with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the game that sealed the deal for Utah, handing the Utes a commanding 52-38 lead.
UCLA did manage to slice the lead to seven after Fafaul connected with Austin Roberts on a 13-yard touchdown pass, but as they had done in their previous two game the Bruins didn’t have enough gas to get into the win column.
The scoring avalanche started in the first quarter. Between them, the Bruins and the Utes scored five touchdowns in the first quarter. By the time the smoke had cleared, UCLA held a 21-14 lead. This after the Bruins had fell behind 14-0, courtesy of a 99-yard kickoff return by Cory Byrd and a three-yard touchdown run by Williams.
These guys were just getting started. Neither defensive units could stop water as missed tackles and broken plays was the rule of thumb for most of the afternoon. On top of that, the Bruins rolled into the Rose Bowl riding a two-game losing streak and just one victory in four games in the Pac-12.
Make that a three-game skid. Homecoming is not supposed to end this way. The game started off not so sweet for the Bruins. Gametime was 1.p.m. At 1:09, the Bruins fond themselves down 7-0, thanks to a 99-yard kickoff return from Cory Byrd. OK. No problem.
But then Utah made it a two-score lead when they got a 3-yard touchdown run from Joe Williams. Uh-oh. Just like that the scoreboard read Utah 14, UCLA 0. It looked like a long day lay ahead for the Bruins.
But Fafaul got his passing mojo going and before the Utes knew what was coming at them, UCLA had stolen the lead from them. It wasn’t enough. The Bruins’ defense surrendered 539 yards in total offense to Utah, offsetting Fafaul’s career-day of 464 passing yards.
“It’s tough to win a game when you start with a kickoff return for a touchdown, you give up 360 yards rushing and only get 46, you have five turnovers, you kick the ball out of bounds right when you’re trying to get field position,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said during his press conference. “Those are some really discouraging things. But I’ll give you a positive: I thought our young men, getting 14-0, coming off two losses, fought. There’s not quit in them. We’re not doing well enough, but it’s not for lack of effort on the part of our players.”