Pardon me while I catch my breath. There were a ton of great moments in Week 4 of the college football season, such as Tulane’s last-second win over Houston set up by a fake kneel, Justin Fields’ six second-quarter touchdowns for Ohio State, Pittsburgh running their version of the Philly Special to end UCF’s regular-season win streak, and Georgia surviving late against Notre Dame in a matchup of two playoff hopefuls.
However, none of that comes close to the constant, utter madness that was the second half of the matchup between #19 Washington State and UCLA. With Gardner Minshew inhouse in his return to Pullman, the Cougars and Bruins played what is unquestionably the game of the season thus far.
No one saw this one coming. Washington State entered this home game undefeated and 18.5 point favorites over Chip Kelly’s young UCLA squad still searching for their first win of the season.
The over/under was set at 60. Both teams scored more than 60 points individually. Combined, they went for 130 points and 1,377 yards of offense. What can I say? It’s the Pac-12 after dark.
Before falling behind by 32 points, UCLA actually held an early lead in the game. Following an interception from Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon (we’ll be hearing a lot more from him) on the first drive of the game, UCLA scored the game’s opening touchdown and would go on to lead 10–7 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, though, Washington State’s air raid offense got to work, dropping 28 points on the Bruins. By halftime, the Cougars led 35–17, and Gordon had a mind-boggling stat line of 23/35 for 306 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs.
After a UCLA punt to open the third quarter, Gordon led a lengthy drive resulting in his sixth touchdown pass. UCLA punted again, and Washington State returned the punt all the way to the Bruins’ six-yard line, at which point, ESPN’s Win Probability tracker looked like this.
Washington State had a 99.9% chance of winning. And on the very next play, Gordon tied Gardner Minshew’s school record with his seventh touchdown pass. The score was 49–17 midway through the third quarter.
There was no way UCLA could come back, right?
Well, if the title of this article and the right-half of the above probability tracker didn’t spoil it already, this is where the fun started.
UCLA, led by sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, went on a nine-play touchdown drive to make things 49–24. At this point, I was just happy because I believed that if UCLA had failed to score, Anthony Gordon would have been pulled from the game due to it being a blowout. I wanted to see Gordon throw more touchdowns.
On Washington State’s first pass of the drive, the receiver fumbled the ball. Thompson-Robinson threw a touchdown on the very next play for UCLA. 49–31. Washington State punted on their next drive, giving UCLA the ball at their own six. Once again in one play, the Bruins scored, on a 94-yard catch and run by Demetric Felton. 49–38.
Another Cougar wide receiver fumble turned into a quick Bruins score (this time with an added two-point conversion, and the game was 49–46 just 32 seconds into the fourth quarter. After facing a 32-point deficit, UCLA had scored 29 points in just seven minutes and 24 seconds to cut the Cougars’ lead to three.
Now it was game time.
Anthony Gordon fired back with his eighth touchdown of the game, a new school record. But UCLA had all the momentum — you could just feel it. They scored a touchdown of their own, Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s second rushing TD of the game. He was in total control of the game by this point.
Washington State went three-and-out and the ensuing punt was returned for a 69-yard score, UCLA’s second return touchdown of the game. Unbelievably, with 7:31 left on the clock, the scoreboard read: UCLA 60, Washington State 56.
The Bruins had taken the lead, but this was far from over. Predictably, the Cougars wasted little time going back on top — a 65-yard connection from Gordon to running back Max Borghi put Gordon well over 500 yards passing with nine touchdowns. Nine!
It was amazing to see the resilience of UCLA, and particularly their quarterback. Thompson-Robinson had been taking hit after hit, even limping at times, but never once left the game. Once again, the Bruins found themselves marching in for a score.
However, they were stopped, and on fourth down, instead of attempting a 35-yard field goal to tie things up, Chip Kelly decided to keep the offense on the field. The pass was incomplete.
With under three minutes left, Washington State had an opportunity to close out the game. Yet, on a first-down reception, Easop Winston Jr., who caught four touchdowns on the day, fumbled. It was the third fumble by a Cougars receiver in the half.
UCLA made good on their second chance, scoring a touchdown and taking a 67–63 lead. With about a minute left, Washington State had a chance to go the length of the field with no timeouts, but Gordon was stripped on the first play of the drive. After 564 total yards and seven total touchdowns, all Thompson-Robinson had to do was kneel. UCLA, 67–63.
Washington State had scored 63 points on nine Anthony Gordon touchdowns (Case Keenum in 2011 was the last FBS player to record nine passing TDs), but critically, the team also committed six turnovers, and couldn’t find a way to stop the inspired play of UCLA, who scored 50 points in the second half.
Games are 60 minutes long for a reason, folks.
This was the type of win that has the potential to not only alter a season but an entire program as well. Chip Kelly and his team needed this one badly, and despite facing the longest of odds, they persevered in a battle we won’t soon forget.
Connor Groel is a writer who studies sport management at the University of Texas at Austin. He also serves as editor of the Top Level Sports publication on Medium, and the host of the Connor Groel Sports podcast. You can follow Connor on Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, and view his archives at toplevelsports.net.