They don't call it #Pac12AfterDark for nothing. In what will probably be the most unlikely result of the 2019 college football season, UCLA -- winless UCLA -- erased a 32-point second-half deficit, scored 50 points in the final 18:48 seconds and upset the No. 19 Washington State Cougars in a 67-63 fever dream of a football game.
To even describe what transpired in the final quarter and a half is a challenge. It defied all logic and reason. The largest comeback in FBS history is 35 points when Michigan State came back to beat Northwestern in 2006 and UCLA, led by Josh Rosen in 2017, came back to beat Texas A&M after trailing by 34, so this one certainly ranks among the all-time greats.
It is worth repeating, and will probably be repeated more before this is all said and done, but Chip Kelly's Bruins came into Saturday night's game with a claim as the worst Power Five team in the country. At the very least, they had one of the most ineffective offenses of any team in the FBS. And yet, somehow, on a night when Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon broke Gardner Minshew's single-game passing touchdown record, UCLA managed to generate more points than its first three games combined.
What did learn from this wild overnight game? Let's try to put it into words.
1. Let's start with what could very well be a turning point for Kelly's team. If you were to say two years ago that a Chip Kelly football team would put up 657 yards of offense, 500 of which were passing, and win a game that went into the 60s, that would have made complete sense. Kelly developed a reputation as an offensive innovator from his days at Oregon. But, as anyone who's followed his return to college knows, that has not been anywhere near the case at UCLA. Quite to the contrary, the Bruins have been abysmal on offense. Through three weeks they scored exactly 14 points per game and were dead last in the FBS in yards per play at 4.11. That's 130th out of 130 teams. No lie.
There are a number of theories as to why Kelly simply couldn't get anything going with this team. In simplest forms, Kelly was probably making things too complex and his once-signature high-tempo offense was no longer an advantage.
Against Washington State, however, Kelly seemed to simplify his approach. Even though this was still a lopsided game for two and a half quarters, Kelly allowed his offense more freedom to play and react without having to think too much. And once it caught on, it caught on fast. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was far more effective distributing the ball in the second half. He was also a dangerous runner with 57 yards on the ground. DTR has always had skill, but Kelly has never quite been able to put all the pieces together to make him a venerable multi-tool. That changed with 564 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns.
This is what Kelly's offense at UCLA was supposed to look like. Now the question is whether the Bruins have legitimately turned a corner and can start competing in the Pac-12, or if this game was an aberration. This was not a perfect performance, mind you, just a spectacular one. UCLA still went 3-of-11 on third downs and had 10 offensive points through most of the game. If it's a new day in Los Angeles, though, Kelly's job may be much safer than it was a week ago. Things were looking grim, even if there was a feint hope that he could turn things around.
2. As incredible as the comeback was, this was an epic choke job by Washington State. Indeed, UCLA's offense finally turned into high gear. But this comeback wasn't complete without help from Washington State -- a lot of help. In short, this was a massive choke job by the Cougars to the tune of six turnovers -- four fumbles and two interceptions -- and two non-offensive touchdowns for the Bruins. Both came on special teams in the form of a 100-yard kickoff return by Demetric Felton and a 69-yard punt return by Kyle Philips in the fourth quarter to give his team the first lead of the night.
Credit UCLA's defense for forcing turnovers and not giving up on plays. Without defenders going after loosely-held footballs or being Johnny-on-the-spot, the comeback may never have happened. Still, losing the ball six times and allowing two big special teams gaffes is a surefire way to lose a game. For the record, this is not the first time a Mike Leach team has lost a high-scoring game despite record-setting numbers from his quarterback.
Mike Leach has lost a Pac-12 game while his QB has…— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 22, 2019
— Thrown 89 passes
— Passed for 734 yards
— Thrown nine TDs
That's a shame for Washington State because ...
3. Anthony Gordon is probably going to break all kinds of passing records this year. Originally, the storyline of this game was going to focus on Gordon, who was set to break Washington State's single-game passing touchdown record previously held by Gardner Minshew last season. Minshew was in attendance for Saturday's game as well. Gordon tied Minshew's record of seven passing touchdowns with 6:52 remaining in the second quarter. He would then break the record in the fourth quarter to help the Cougars go up 56-46. Gordon finished the game with nine touchdown passes on 41-of-61 passing for 570 yards.
Gordon has 21 touchdown passes in four games. That's on pace to obliterate Colt Brennan's single-season record of 58. While Gordon won't throw for nine touchdowns in each game this season ... we think ... he's still putting up ridiculous numbers even by this offense's typical standards.