PASADENA, CALIF. – Washington coach Tyrone Willingham had predicted that his Huskies would meet an angry UCLA team on Saturday.
As it turned out, the Bruins didn’t even wait for game time to vent their anger, flashing it instead in a players’ only meeting during the week.
Whatever they said, it worked.
UCLA dominated Washington for much of Saturday night, and finally gutted and grunted their way to a 44-31 victory before 72,124 at the Rose Bowl.
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However, for much of the evening, there were plenty of opportunities for the Bruins (3-1 overall, 2-0 Pacific-10 Conference) to grow frustrated.
Through the early going, they dominated the statistics, but couldn’t get that control to show up on the scoreboard, as the teams went to halftime tied, 10-10.
In the second half, the Huskies (2-2, 0-1) seemed to be constantly playing with one foot in the grave, but they refused to stay buried.
In both halves, UCLA showed far more grit than they did a week earlier in a 44-6 loss to Utah. That disastrous loss had been the reason for the players’ only meeting and also for Willingham’s prediction that the Bruins would come out angry.
They did so against a Washington team also trying to bounce back from its first defeat of the season, 33-14 to Ohio State.
In trying to right themselves, the Huskies turned to several new faces.
Freshman Matt Mosley made a surprise first start at cornerback, where true freshman Vonzell McDowell Jr. had started the first three games.
Also, cornerback Byron Davenport, a Husky who began his career at UCLA, saw his most extended playing time in purple.
However, far more new faces wore light blue, as injuries forced seven new starters into the UCLA lineup.Tops among those was quarterback Patrick Cowan, son of Tim Cowan, a UW quarterback from 1980 to 1982.It wasn’t an unusual role for Cowan. He started eight games last season when Olson went down. One of those was the Bruins’ upset win over Southern California.
However, Olson moved back to the top of the depth chart in spring. And the issue was settled on Aug. 20 when Cowan went down with a hamstring injury. He didn’t return to practice until this week.
In his Saturday start, Cowan completed 17-of-30 passes for 147 yards and one touchdown. However, he suffered an undisclosed injury and was replaced in the fourth quarter by walkon freshman McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who managed to navigate the Bruins through a fourth quarter when the Huskies nipped at their heels without ever quite catching up.
His Husky counterpart, Jake Locker, completed 14 of 36 passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, including a crushing one that was returned 60 yards for a touchdown that pushed UCLA ahead by what proved an insurmountable 14 points, 24-10.
Once again, Locker was Washington’s prime ground threat, running for 92 yards on 15 carries. Tailback Louis Rankin managed only 44 yards on 14 carries.
Throughout the first quarter, UCLA began drives with terrible field position, but managed to pile up yards before being solved by bend-but-don’t break Washington.
The Bruins first drive ended with a missed field goal. But they connected on their second for a 3-0 lead, which stood up through the end of the quarter.
Washington took its only lead in the second quarter, after a Bruins’ turnover.
The UCLA defense had stopped the Huskies, but the bouncing punt rolled over a fallen Bruin and Washington took over again at the UCLA 26. They took it in from there, with the touchdown coming on a Locker to Marcel Reece pass on third down from the 4.
UCLA immediately reclaimed the lead on the next drive with trickery. A reverse pass fooled the UW secondary for 57 yards to the Washington 6. Then Cowan found Dominique Johnson on an ally-oop over Mosley.
Ryan Perkins hit a 35-yard field goal in the final minutes of the first half, sending the teams into halftime tied, 10-10.
UCLA opened the third quarter by marching 71 yards for the touchdown that put them ahead to stay.
After that, the teams swapped big plays with Washington never quite able to catch up.
Next week, the Huskies head home where they will meet No. 1-ranked Southern California on Saturday. UCLA visits Oregon State.