First, there were the sacks. Then the missed throws, the lost fumble. There was the helmet slam on the sideline. The boos from the home stands. The calls for firing head coach Jim Mora. All of this happened within the first 40-plus minutes of awful UCLA football in which Bruins fell behind visiting Texas A&M, 44-10.
Then there was Josh Rosen.
There was Rosen in the fourth quarter, calmly sitting back in the pocket that UCLA’s mediocre offensive line had somehow patched up for him, delivering frozen ropes on a muggy Sunday night at the Rose Bowl, where Sunday games are virtually never played. Nine months after USC had pulled off the improbable against Penn State in this very venue, UCLA did the impossible, scoring on five straight drives in the final 19 minutes and turning a 34-point deficit into a triumphant 45-44 win.
On a night when it seemed like everything was going wrong for UCLA, suddenly all went right. With the stands emptying out, Rosen—the 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior quarterback who was once the most coveted recruit in the Class of 2015—found a way to engineer one of the most improbable comebacks in college football history.
“He just was ripping it,” Mora told reporters of Rosen afterward. “Hits don’t bother Josh. There’s no fear in him.”
On the final, game-winning drive, Rosen converted third- and fourth-down throws, hitting perfect seams left and right—a stark change from the first half, when no Bruins receivers could seem to get open. The capper of the dramatic comeback was something out of a movie: UCLA reached the Texas A&M 10-yard line with just under a minute left, yet instead of taking his sweet time to set up a play, Rosen blissfully faked a spike, a practiced play called by offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, and threw a perfect parabola to redshirt-junior receiver Jordan Lasley in the corner of the end zone.
The Rose Bowl crowd, or what was left of it, exploded in pandemonium.
Chosen Rosen.... "The touchdown heard round the world" https://t.co/Bg0goaxXhB— UCLA Nation (@UCLA_Nation) September 4, 2017
Two of UCLA’s first three drives of the game resulted in fumbles. The Bruins punted on four straight possessions before losing another fumble in the third quarter. “I told them at the half to not look at the scoreboard,” Mora said. The tide turned in the final 20 minutes, as UCLA’s defense kept stopping the Aggies offense, which stubbornly continued to throw the ball. The Bruins answered with the speed the game required. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin could only look on in horror.
By the time UCLA got the ball in advance of its fifth consecutive touchdown drive, the comeback felt like destiny—one that only the so-called Chosen One could complete. He finished 35-of-59 passing for 491 yards with four touchdowns, and got to line up in victory formation after A&M turned the ball over on downs with 27 seconds remaining.
Rosen was swarmed on the turf to open his Sunday at the Rose Bowl. He ended it the same way—except this time, instead of being tackled by defenders, he was mobbed by his teammates after pulling off an unbelievable victory.
This piece was updated after publication.