PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Josh Rosen’s first run down the Rose Bowl tunnel left him incredibly nervous. He described his first snap as totally surreal.
Nobody ever would have guessed. From his eye-popping first throw to the last TD toss, UCLA’s heralded freshman quarterback got his career off to a stellar start.
Rosen passed for 351 yards and three touchdowns, leading the No. 13 Bruins to a 34-16 victory over Virginia on Saturday.
Thomas Duarte, Devin Fuller and defensive tackle Kenny Clark caught scoring passes from the 18-year-old Rosen, who went 28 for 35 with several stunning throws and no turnovers. The local kid with the powerful arm and remarkable football smarts shook off the nerves and captivated the Rose Bowl in a memorable debut.
”Once I get my hands on the ball once, then everything settles down,” Rosen said. ”I thought I did pretty well. I’ve definitely got to improve in some areas. My adrenaline got going in a few spots and I overthrew some guys, but we’re going to get that cleaned up.”
Rosen showed remarkable poise while stepping in for three-year starter Brett Hundley, and UCLA racked up 503 total yards to beat Virginia easily. The nation’s top quarterback recruit even impressed his teammates, who don’t hesitate to call him by his high school nickname.
”That’s Chosen Rosen right there,” receiver Eldridge Massington said. ”We weren’t surprised. He does that stuff in practice all the time.”
That stuff included a gorgeous 30-yard TD pass to Duarte midway through the second quarter, dropping the ball over the defensive back’s shoulder and directly into his sprinting receiver’s outstretched hands.
”Sometimes we were looking at each other, `OK, how did he do that?”’ Duarte said.
Linebacker Myles Jack rushed for a touchdown, and the 310-pound Clark nimbly hauled in a TD pass late in the third quarter to cap the Bruins’ strong offensive performance. Everything was managed capably by Rosen, who capitalized on nearly every opportunity in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s scheme.
Matt Johns passed for 238 yards for the Cavaliers, who didn’t reach the end zone until Taquan Mizzell’s TD catch with 3:29 left in an ugly opener for embattled coach Mike London.
”I just thought their receivers outplayed our corners,” London said. ”Again, give Rosen a lot of credit. Some of the throws he made were right on point, indicative of a good football player.”
On his first snap, Rosen put a long play-action pass perfectly onto Kenneth Walker III’s hands with nobody between him and the end zone – but the backup receiver dropped it. UCLA’s first drive fizzled, but Rosen completed seven straight throws to close the first quarter, including a short TD pass to Fuller.
UCLA took control with an 85-yard drive in the third quarter capped by the first two runs from Jack, the star linebacker in his third season of moonlighting as a short-yardage running back. Rosen marched the Bruins 67 yards moments later, rolling out and hitting Clark in stride for the junior’s first score.
”He’s going to be a great quarterback this year,” Virginia cornerback Demetrious Nicholson said. ”He did a lot of great things, his O-line definitely blocked, and we’ve got to do a better job covering on the back end and getting pressure as a whole defense together.”
Backup Jerry Neuheisel took over with 9:40 to play, and the crowd of 68,615 roared in appreciation for Rosen, who completed his final nine passes.
Johns went 9 for 20 in the second half as Virginia’s offense fizzled in the school’s second-ever trip to California. Mizzell caught eight passes for 100 yards, but the Cavaliers have lost six of seven dating to last season – and they must face Notre Dame and Boise State later this month.