BYU football’s two-game winning streak came to an end in a devastating one-point loss to the UCLA Bruins in the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on Sept. 19. The loss in large part came down to several missed opportunities on offense and a rush-defense that was gashed for almost 300 yards, aspects of the game the team hopes to clean up ahead of this weekend’s matchup against Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The entire game was a tight race with BYU in the lead until the final 3:21 of the game, when the Bruins gained momentum and took the game 24-23.
Both teams were ranked in the AP top 25 with UCLA at No. 10 and BYU at No. 19 going into the game. BYU dropped to No. 22 following the loss and UCLA progressed to No. 9. Both teams featured true freshman as starting quarterbacks with BYU’s Tanner Mangum and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
BYU was widely considered to be the underdog with sources such as ESPN rating the Bruins as the favorite by 16.5 points. Many doubted Mangum’s abilities and contributed his previous game-winning plays to pure luck. Both quarterbacks were put to the test in this freshman face-off on a big stage. Mangum came out on top, but it wasn’t enough to secure the win. His passing game was strong while Rosen handed the game over to the running backs.
“He’s exceeding my expectations,” BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a post-game interview. “He is amazing. The game is not too big for him. Road games, different stadiums, different teams — he’s showing a lot of command for a true freshman. I’m very impressed. He’s doing a nice job.”
The Cougar’s defense challenged the Bruin’s passing game early and Mangum appeared to be the superior quarterback with 244 passing yards compared to Rosen’s 106. However, BYU’s defense wasn’t enough to stop UCLA’s running game, allowing 296 rushing yards. Running back Paul Perkins ran for 219 of those yards to compensate for Rosen. While Perkins displayed speed up the middle unlike what the Cougars have seen this year, much of the blame was attributed to poor tackling up the middle and in the secondary.
BYU senior defensive lineman Graham Rowley said it was a big blow to the defense to allow almost 300 rushing yards after allowing just 64 yards at home to Boise State on Sept. 12.
“That was terrible,” Rowley said in a Monday’s press interviews. “We are a lot better (of a) team than that. To come up with that game (Boise) and then let UCLA run that much, it was not very good. It was a teaching moment for us, that we need to learn how to tackle, wrap up and finish. It was kind of a blessing that that happened to us, but we can do better and we will do better.”
Aside from rushing, the team did meet several markers set by Mendenhall on both sides of the ball, including three interceptions — two from Harvey Langi and one from Kai Nacua — for plus-two in turnover margin and 161 yards rushing. There is still much to improve on, though, as BYU prepares to face Michigan on Saturday at “the Big House.” Rowley commented on all the travel — from Nebraska to California to Michigan — and how it affects on the team this early in the season.
“We’re pretty focused right now,” Rowley said. “Coach Mendenhall has a system, and for those that have played for him for a while, we’re pretty used to it. We are very comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Mangum was 30 of 47 passing and threw one touchdown and one interception. He also had a pass deflected back to him, which he caught and ran for four yards. Rosen was 11 of 23 and threw three picks to one touchdown. Although the Cougars’ last drive resulted in an interception instead of a “miracle” play, the first-year quarterback said he felt he improved against the Bruins; even going as far to say it was his best game.
“I felt good out there,” Mangum said. “I felt confident, I felt calm, just taking one play at a time. I felt that I was better mentally against UCLA than I was against Boise State. Maybe that just comes with experience, to be out there, play by play. I felt good.”
Mangum was able to convert several third-downs against the Bruins in the fourth quarter. Part of the maturing process for Mangum is capitalizing in crucial moments, something he said he hopes to accomplish against Michigan and throughout the season.
“We converted a lot of third downs (against UCLA), but when it came down to it we got to be able to convert some of those red zone, those blue zone drives, into touchdowns,” he said. “It’s good to get field goals, but if we want to win those (close) games we’ve got to be able to score more touchdowns.”
Michigan, since opening the season with an away loss to Utah, has shown resilience and toughness, going 2-0 since. Mangum said the matchup will stretch the Cougars, but they’re up for the challenge.
“They are obviously a good team. They’ve shown these past couple weeks that they are tough on both sides of the ball. We’re excited for the challenge; it’s going to test us as an offense and as a team in general, but that’s something that excites us.”