There was a moment when Charlie Strong seemed prime for his first statement at Texas. That was about how long it felt – a moment.
After taking a 17-13 lead on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Tyrone Swoopes to John Harris, Texas had the ball and the lead with four minutes remaining when Steve Edmond punctured the ball from Jordon James’ grasp and Longhorns defensive tackle Paul Boyette gathered the loose piece of pigskin. Malcolm Brown rushed for five yards on the ensuing play, but UCLA blew up the second down run, putting Brown right back where he started and setting up a low-percentage third-and-10. Swoopes threw incomplete to Harris on third down, and then Josh Turner was hit with a false start penalty, making William Russ punt from his own six yard-line.
Russ punted the ball 58 yards, and Ishmael Adams returned it 45, giving UCLA a first-and-10 two yards from the exact spot where James fumbled, and with ample time to work. The Bruins wouldn’t need it, though, as Jerry Neuheisel hit Jordan Payton for a 33-yard touchdown on the next snap, giving UCLA a 20-17 lead with three minutes to play.
Texas gained three yards in the next four plays, and that was that. Final score: No. 12 UCLA 20, Texas 17.
UCLA relied on the golden locks and famous name of Neuheisel after star quarterback Brett Hundley injured his left elbow in the first quarter. Hundley completed all four of his passes for 48 yards and added nine rushing yards before leaving the game; he did not return but was active on the sideline with his left arm in a wrap. In his absence, Neuheisel connected on 23-of-30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, the first two of his career. In the second half, the sophomore was 15-of-18 for 132 yards and those two scores, the first of which, to Nate Iese, quickly pulled the Bruins into a tie after a lackadaisical 10-3 first half, and then the winning score to Payton.
Swoopes played well in his second start, showing marked improvement from a week ago. He completed 24-of-34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. The duo of Brown and Johnathan Gray combined for 21 carries and 118 yards.
The most frustrating aspect for Strong and company, other than the late-game meltdown, was the rush defense allowing UCLA 217 yards on 47 carries. Paul Perkins raced 58 yards on the first half, erasing any momentum Texas had taken away from the locker room after grabbing a 10-3 halftime lead. Perkins finished the game with 124 yards on 26 carries.
UCLA, 3-0 with an average margin of victory of six points, is still alive as everyone’s College Football Playoff dark horse. The Bruins take next Saturday off before visiting No. 16 Arizona State on Sept. 25. Texas (1-2) takes next week off as well before opening Big 12 play at Kansas on Sept. 27.