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Original Issue

City Harvest

A rookie coach and his callow team retook L.A. from their Pac-12 South rivals (finally) with a fearless brand of football. Stanford, you've been warned

As UCLA prepared to face USC with the Pac-12 South title in the balance, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone pondered the youth of his offense, which includes a freshman quarterback and three freshman linemen. "I don't look at any of them like freshmen anymore," Mazzone said four days before kickoff. "They're all old guys now to me."

So after a Matt Barkley--to--Marqise Lee touchdown cut what had once been a 24-point UCLA lead to 31--28 midway through the fourth quarter, Mazzone let his old young guys do it their way. With the Bruins backed up to their own 17, redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley hit junior wideout Shaquelle Evans for 18 yards. Later, facing third-and-13 from the UCLA 47, Mazzone could have played it safe and called a run, which probably would have led to a punt, putting the game in the hands of the Bruins' D. Instead he let his quarterback chuck it again. Hundley found senior tight end Joseph Fauria for a 15-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Four plays later senior tailback Johnathan Franklin raced for a 29-yard touchdown with 4:02 left to seal a 38--28 win.

The choice to keep pushing offensively wasn't made last Saturday. It was made when coach Jim Mora, hired to replace Rick Neuheisel, assembled his staff this past off-season and established the Bruins' core philosophy. "We weren't going to go into a shell," Mora says. "That's not the way you do it. That's not how you win games like this. That's a great credit to Noel. He just keeps slinging it."

The Bruins will have to keep slinging on Saturday, when they face Stanford—a team fighting for the Pac-12 North title. The Cardinal is fresh off a 17--14 overtime upset of No. 2 Oregon, so each team will have to manage the comedown from an emotional high. The Ducks will be rooting hard for UCLA; if the Bruins beat Stanford and Oregon beats Oregon State, the Bruins will travel to Eugene for the Pac-12 title game on Nov. 30. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the Bruins would face the Cardinal (again) in Palo Alto for the conference championship.

No matter the opponent, the younger Bruins are desperate to do right by the seniors, who after three straight losses can finally check beat USC off their to-do list. Now the UCLA upperclassmen will take aim at a Rose Bowl berth. "I play for them," says Hundley, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown and rushed for two more scores. "I play for this team, but the seniors went through a lot—a lot of coaching changes—and this is the year that they get to do the things they have always wanted to do."

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SENIOR MOMENT Franklin's TD gave the Bruins their first win over USC since 2006 and a shot at their first Rose Bowl since '99.