After failing to find the end zone in the first 59:30, No. 7 Stanford football struck for two touchdowns over the final 24 seconds to beat UCLA, 22-13, in the Rose Bowl in a Pac-12 Conference contest Saturday.
It was the ninth-consecutive victory for the Cardinal (2-0, 3-0) over the Bruins (0-1, 2-2) and a national television audience got to see it.
Trailing 13-9 with 2:05 left and no timeouts, senior quarterback Ryan Burns calmly drove Stanford to the UCLA 8-yard line with 31 seconds remaining.
He lobbed a perfectly thrown pass in the left corner of the end zone and 6-foot-3 sophomore JJ Arcega-Whiteside outjumped a Bruin defender and kept one foot in bounds for the game-winner with 24 seconds to play.
"At the end of the game, Ryan was cool, David Shaw, Stanford's Director of Football, said. "He was calm. He ran the plays that he knew. He executed. Trent Irwin had a big game for him. He got the drive started. JJ, we just put him out there one-on-one. He’s a big receiver with a ridiculous vertical. He’s got phenomenal range. We have a big quarterback who can give him the ball. We were able to score and then the defense finished the game.”
UCLA had one last gasp, but linebacker Joey Alfieri sacked quarterback Josh Rosen and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas picked up the loose ball and returned it for a score to cap the win.
Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey surpassed 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game, but earned every one against a physical and stacked Bruin defense. He finished with 138 yards on 26 carries.
“I thought we did a good job, but he is a heck of a player," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "He just finds yards that other people don’t find. He’s so explosive and strong. He’s physical for his size. He’s a great player. I think, and no disrespect to any other player, that he’s the best player in college football.”
Saving his best for last, Burns completed 13 of 25 passes for 137 yards, with wide receiver Trenton Irwin making seven catches.
In the first half, mistake-prone Stanford was outplayed on both sides of the ball. UCLA set the tone and the Cardinal found no rhythm on offense.
After taking a 3-0 lead on its first possession, on Pasadena native's Conrad Ukropina 37-yard field goal, Stanford stalled the rest of the half.
UCLA linebacker Kenny Young set up the half's only touchdown by intercepting a Burns pass over the middle and returned it 40 yards to the Cardinal 31.
Rosen capitalized, finding tight end Nate Iese for a 10-yard scoring pass on third-and-5 to give the Bruins a 7-3 advantage.
It was the first touchdown allowed by the Stanford defense in the opening half this season and the first time the team has trailed.
As planned, backup quarterback Keller Chyrst replaced Burns on the third offensive series late in the first quarter.
He threw a strike to tight end Dalton Schultz early in the second quarter on third and 10 and would have produced a first down, but was rocked by cornerback Tahaan Goodman and couldn't hold on.
Schultz absorbed another jarring tackle but remained in the game. However, starting cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks each departed with injuries and did not play in the second half, giving way to tested backups Alameen Murphy and Terrence Alexander.
Midway through the stanza, Burns mounted a march and hit wide receiver Francis Owusu for what would have been a first down on third and 15 deep in UCLA territory.
But Goodman crushed Owusu with what replays clearly showed was helmet-to-helmet contact and the play was ruled a catch and fumble.
After a press box review, the call stood, clearly a travesty, or a poor interpretation, of the targeting rule.
Earlier in the day, also on national television, a Penn State defender was called for targeting on accidental contact, his shoulder pads making contact with the helmet and no intent.
Shaw was incensed and appealed to the officials for a targeting call, but to no avail. "I disagree vehemently," he told the national audience at halftime.
A woozy Owusu was assisted off the field and taken to the locker room and did not return. He is sure to undergo concussion protocol.
"A lot of guys got hurt in this game," Shaw said. "And everybody that we put in there stepped up and played well. And that’s what happens when you recruit well and you recruit great kids, tough kids, smart kids, guys that don’t bat an eyelash when things get difficult."
UCLA capitalized again, hurting the Cardinal with the run and pass. Rosen drove the Bruins to the Stanford 10, where Murphy made a nice play on third and 8 to knock the ball away from tight end, the Bruins settling for a 27-yard field goal from JJ Molson.
UCLA limited McCaffrey to 59 yards rushing, controlling the line of scrimmage. Running back Bryce Love, who missed the opener against Kansas State with an injury and played last week against USC, had only two carries.
In addition to the turnovers, Stanford hurt itself with an assortment of penalties on offense.
"They made some big plays. We ran the ball well at times, and we got stuffed at times," Shaw said. "We gave up a couple of sacks. We turned the ball over, which is uncharacteristic of us. The bottom line is, we got down there, we trust out field goal kicker, and he made his field goals. We trust our defense."
Thomas was a bright spot on defense, making several plays in the backfield, including a sack.
The third quarter was a defensive struggle, with Stanford scoring the only points on a 37-yard field goal by Ukropina. The key play on the drive was a 20-yard end run by Love after a fake handoff to McCaffrey.
Late in the quarter, UCLA mounted a drive and reached the Cardinal 33, where it faced fourth and 4. The Bruins went for it, but Rosen was sacked by nose tackle Harrison Phillips, who returned to the starting lineup after missing the USC game with an injury.
Stanford continued to pound the ball with McCaffrey and collected several first downs to reach the UCLA 27. But on third and 5, Burns was pressured and threw incomplete, and Ukropina booted a 44-yard field goal to cut the Bruin lead to 10-9 with 10:55 remaining.
Stanford plays at Washington next Friday night.