By Chris Foster Los Angeles Times
LINCOLN, Neb. — This was building toward one raucous plane ride home.
UCLA players could be heard screaming their “Mighty Bruin” chant from the locker room. Coach Jim Mora was wired postgame, talking so much about his team needing to breathe that he seemed to forget to do it himself. Brett Hundley was hung up on the word “epic.”
That was the giddiness following a 41-21 victory over No. 23 Nebraska on Saturday. The No. 16 Bruins spotted the Cornhuskers an 18-point lead, then raced through a third quarter, scoring 28 points to send a record 91,471 fans staggering out of Memorial Stadium. This seemed as easy as cow tipping.
What follows will be a somber bus ride to San Clemente on Sunday, where a memorial service will be held for UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale, who died a week ago after being struck by a car.
Players spent the week in an emotional maze, not finding their way out until late in the second quarter Saturday. A blur of a third quarter followed, where the Bruins scored four touchdowns in four possessions.
“This is something we can feel proud about,” said Hundley, who threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns. “We started playing the way Nick always played.”
The Bruins (2-0) were sent off on this trip by the Pasquale family, who spoke with the team Friday morning. The message was “go out and win,” linebacker Anthony Barr said.
Said Mora: “We wanted to go out and play with the type of enthusiasm and passion that reflect what he meant to us.”
It took a while, but the Bruins got up to that speed.
Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez threw three touchdown passes in the first half as the Cornhuskers took a 21-3 lead. The Bruins helped out with mistakes. Hundley had a pass intercepted, setting up one score. Punter Sean Covington mishandled a snap, setting up another.
“You can’t believe how tough it was on them unless you were in our locker room this week,” Mora said. “Nick had such an influence on our team. He was a little guy who played only one snap, but they respect the heck out of him.”
Mora had one word for the UCLA offense late in the second quarter: “Breathe.”
When the Bruins exhaled, the Cornhuskers (2-1) were blown away.
UCLA’s four touchdown drives in the third quarter totaled 7 minutes 6 seconds.
Running back Jordon James started things with a 38-yard run and finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 21-17. Hundley kept the Cornhuskers on their heels, throwing touchdown passes of 28, 12 and three yards.
“When we’re movin’ and groovin’ like that, things happen,” Hundley said.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said Hundley “was trying so hard to score and score right now” in the first half. Mazzone shouldered a little of that, saying, “I have to be careful not to over-think things. I have all these fancy plays I want to call.”
When the Bruins simplified, they dominated a team that was once known for bully-like defense. UCLA had 210 yards rushing, 105 by James, and 504 total yards.
The UCLA defense was able to handle the pace despite getting little rest due to the offensive pace.
“They’re used to it,” Mora said. “Our practices are chaos.”
Nebraska had only 135 yards in the second half and 331 for the game.
“We got thick and pushed them back,” UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure said.
When Hundley tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to Nate Iese, the Bruins had a 38-21 lead with 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
“That’s when I knew we were in control,” Mora said. “That drive was bam, bam, bam.”
Mora, though, was quick to push back from this as a defining moment.
“I don’t believe in statement games,” Mora said. “Sometimes those are followed up by disappointment.”
The Bruins follow this one up with woeful New Mexico State. Disappointment shouldn’t be on the menu.
Hundley was eager to frame things.
“These games you remember forever,” the quarterback said. “You want to leave a legacy. Being down 21-3 in front of 91,000 and coming back to win is an epic thing.”
What Mora, Hundley and the rest of the Bruins could agree on was what it would mean to the Pasquale family.
“It took a lot for Nick’s parents to come talk with us,” Hundley said. “We can feel proud about what we did today.”