UCLA broke out light blue retro uniforms Saturday, a tribute to its only national championship team in 1954.
Fortunately for the Bruins, their defense lived up to the throwback moment.
Applying constant pressure, No. 23 UCLA withstood a turnover-prone offense and more special-teams blunders on the way to a 28-16 victory over Colorado before 71,343 at the Rose Bowl, the largest home crowd of the Chip Kelly era.
Shadowing Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders in the backfield for much of the evening, edge rusher Laiatu Latu tallied three of the Bruins’ seven sacks. UCLA (6-2 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) limited Colorado (4-4, 1-4) to 255 yards of offense while giving up just three fields goals and one garbage-time touchdown.
After committing four first-half turnovers, UCLA was far more careful with the ball in the second half while outscoring the Buffaloes 21-10 satisfying a crowd that had grown restless.
Making a second consecutive start, UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers continued his steady, efficient play with the exception of one interception. Garbers completed 20 of 27 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
The offensive highlight of the game initially was ruled an incompletion. UCLA wide receiver Logan Loya’s toe-dragging, one-handed catch on third down, which needed a replay to overturn the initial call on the field that he was out of bounds, extended a drive that ended with running back T.J. Harden cutting outside for a three-yard touchdown run. UCLA was ahead 21-9 early in the fourth quarter and it felt like a much bigger cushion given the way its defense was playing.
UCLA held Colorado to a field goal late in the third quarter after the Buffaloes had first and goal at the Bruins’ 10. After a short run by Sanders, Latu sacked the quarterback for an eight-yard loss and Sanders was forced to throw the ball away under pressure on third down.
On came the Buffaloes’ field-goal unit, an all-too-familiar sight for a team in desperate need of more points. Latu now has 91/2 sacks on the season, one short of his total for all of last season.
UCLA’s sputtering offense suddenly hummed on its first drive of the third quarter. Garbers followed a 49-yard pass to Loya with a 26-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Moliki Matavao.
In just two plays, the Bruins had gone 75 yards while doubling their point total in taking a 14-6 lead.
That was a welcome departure from the way things had gone.
A bizarre first half featuring four UCLA turnovers ended with the Bruins holding a 7-6 lead thanks largely to their attacking defense. UCLA’s edge rushers and defensive linemen logged eight tackles for loss and five sacks while holding the Buffaloes to 107 yards of offense.
UCLA’s offense was another matter entirely. Garbers and backup quarterback Collin Schlee each had a pass intercepted by Colorado’s Travis Hunter, and running back Carson Steele lost two fumbles after getting popped by defenders at the end of long runs.
But Garbers was effective even taking into account his interception. He repeatedly took off on runs when receivers failed to get open downfield, accounting for 38 yards in six first-half carries.
UCLA took the lead early in the second quarter after lining up out of the T formation when Steele leaked out of the backfield uncovered and caught a three-yard pass in the front corner of the end zone.
The odds were against the Bruins being ahead at the game’s midpoint considering their flurry of turnovers compared to none for the Buffaloes. There was also a special-teams miscue when UCLA kicker R.J. Lopez bounced a 24-yard field-goal attempt off the left upright, his third consecutive miss and fifth in his last eight tries since the team switched holders this month.
Colorado made a pair of field goals to build a 6-0 lead, including a 31-yarder in which UCLA’s Kamari Ramsey appeared in perfect position to block the kick before coming up empty.
Things would start going the Bruins’ way soon enough.
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