Comeback or choke? How UCLA rebounded from 34 down to shock Texas A&M

The hot seat bowl between Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M Aggies and Jim Mora's UCLA Bruins was wild, crazy, silly and everything we love about college football.

UCLA came back from 34 points down in the third quarter to stun the Aggies in what was the second-largest comeback in college football history. The Bruins scored touchdowns on five straight drives of 66 yards or longer to end the game, and junior quarterback Josh Rosen completed the comeback with a fake spike touchdown toss that reminded of Dan Marino's heroics in 1994.

Here's how the comeback happened:

Josh Rosen settled in: The junior threw for a career-high 491 yards, four touchdowns and pulled out a touchdown pass for the ages when he tossed the game-winner on a fake spike to Jordan Lasley with under a minute to play. 

This after he was rattled early by the Aggie defensive front, had no help from his teammates and was forced into a situation where everybody in the building knew what was coming.

He didn't care.

Rosen settled into his groove, utilized the middle of the field like a seasoned veteran and never panicked in a situation in which most mortals would pack it in. Down 44-10, he completed four of his six passes on a touchdown drive midway through the third quarter that resulted in a Soso Jamabo touchdown. That was all UCLA needed: one drive, one bit of confidence, one way to slow down the unrelenting Aggie pass rush that was bringing pressure from all over the field.

Texas A&M couldn't figure its quarterback situation out: Nick Starkel got the start under center for the Aggies and looked in control in his first action as a college player. The redshirt freshman from Argyle, Texas, completed 6-of-13 passes for 62 yards before leaving the game with a leg injury. No, that stat line isn't Heisman-worthy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was something to build on.

Starkel suffered a leg injury early in the third quarter and was carted off, replaced by true freshman Kellen Mond, who played sparingly in the first half in a change-of-pace role.

Mond has plenty of talent. A four-star, dual-threat weapon from IMG Academy in Florida, he is a perfect fit for Sumlin's system -- which thrived with dual-threat quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2012-13. But he's a true freshman and like all true freshmen -- especially those who start as backups -- there will be growing pains. Sunday was an example of that.

His 54 rushing yards gave reason for hope, but 3-for-17 passing through the air won't cut it. It allowed UCLA to focus on the zone read, make Texas A&M one-dimensional and prevent running backs Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford from having the same kind of success in the second half that they had in the first.

Jaelan Phillips' heroics (which will probably be overlooked): A sack by a team down 20 with just over 11 minutes to play doesn't seem like much normally, but Phillips' takedown of Mond with 11:10 to play was one of the biggest plays of the game.

The Aggies had found a little bit of a groove on the drive, crossing midfield to the Bruins 42-yard line and facing a second-and-5 when it happened. The 10-yard loss forced Sumlin to play ultra-conservative and run on third down because the last thing he wanted was his true freshman quarterback to force a throw and make a potential game-changing mistake.

After all, the game was in hand at the time, right? RIGHT?!

Ninety-six yards to glory: Things got cooking on the ensuing drive, and that's when you knew A&M was in deep trouble. A 28-yard pass to Darren Andrews, 9 more to Caleb Wilson, 17 yards on the ground by Jamabo and and a 42-yard touchdown to Andrews -- that sailed through a Texas A&M defender's hands and should have been intercepted -- on four consecutive plays made it clear that the Bruins weren't dead.

This drive was the sign. It was confirmation that Rosen is cooler than a polar bear's toenail, and the real factor in the game wasn't whether he could pull off this comeback, but if he would get the time. (He got the time.)

When it isn't going your way, it isn't going your way: There was hope in Aggieland. Real, tangible, justifiable hope. Until there wasn't. In the red zone on third-and-4 from the 16, Mond was sacked for a loss of nine. With 4:41 to play, Texas A&M lined up for a 43-yard field goal that would have made things very difficult for the Bruins. It would have made it a 16-point game and, while that's still within two scores, asking anybody -- even a quarterback as hot as Rosen -- to score two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions with under five minutes to play is way different than being 13 down.

Braden Mann's attempt fell short.

Would those extra nine yards have made a difference? It's impossible to say. But the sack accelerated what became an out-of-control snowball that nobody in maroon and white could stop.

Opportunity creates legends: A seven-play touchdown drive got the Bruins within six. Then a sack on third-and-8 gave the ball back to UCLA. 

Andrews caught three passes, Wilson caught two and the Bruins found themselves eight plays into a drive, needing a fourth-and-6 conversion to keep hope alive. Rosen found Jamabo out of the backfield and fought to move the chains. One play later, the fake spike happened. 

The final cruel blow for the Aggies: On its final possession, Texas A&M faced a fourth-and-10. Mond kept the ball and initially was awarded a first down after running for what appeared to be 10 yards. Replay showed that he was a half-yard short.

Rosen became a legend. Lasley knelt down, overcome with emotion. Sumlin suffered the worst loss of his career. And the college football world was treated to a comeback -- or choke job -- unlike any it has ever seen.

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, while also hosting on ESPNU on SiriusXM Radio channel 84, the... Full Bio

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