UCLA escapes upset bid by South Alabama with 32-31 victory

Sep 17, 2022, 2:46 AM | Updated: 5:19 pm

UCLA place kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira (2) celebrates with place kicker Ari Libenson (96) after Barr-...

UCLA place kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira (2) celebrates with place kicker Ari Libenson (96) after Barr-Mira kicked a field goal to win an NCAA college football game against South Alabama in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. UCLA won 32-31. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Chip Kelly prepared UCLA squad leading up to Saturday’s game against South Alabama to expect a trick play when they least expected it.

The Bruins were ready though, which allowed them to escape with a 32-31 victory at the Rose Bowl after Nicholas Barr-Mira’s 24-yard field goal on the final play of the game.

UCLA (3-0) got the chance to drive for a game-winning field goal because it was able to diagnose and blow up a fake field goal attempt. Facing fourth-and-2 on the UCLA 22, South Alabama (2-1) lined up for a 39-yard attempt by Diego Guajardo. Instead of allowing the junior a chance to extend the lead to five, coach Kane Wommack rolled the dice.

Holder and third-string quarterback Tanner McGee shifted into a shotgun formation, but he couldn’t find an open receiver and was sacked for an 11-yard loss by Carl Jones Jr.

UCLA took over with 2:52 remaining at the 33-yard line and went 61 yards in 10 plays.

“We had talked all week long about some type of trickeration. Sometimes that happens when you have Group of Fives playing Power Fives,” Kelly said. “I thought that our guys did a really good job of defending it. I saw Carl (Jones Jr.) coming off the edge, and then it was really a big play by our defense when we needed one.”

Jones was surprised like most people in the Rose Bowl that the Jaguars would take that risk with the game on the line, but adjusted by adjusting his positioning on the line to get a better rush to the quarterback.

“My eyes lit up when they hiked it and number 10 was looking for somebody to pass the ball to,” he said. “The only thing that was on my mind was ‘go get him.’ This could be a chance to change the game, and that’s what happened, we changed the game.”

Wommack said his reasoning for going for the late fake was he wasn’t comfortable giving UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson a chance to drive down the field with that much time left and only a five-point advantage.

“I thought we needed to go up two scores against a quarterback like this,” Wommack said. “They adjusted well to it. We thought we had them right there. It would have been nice to get that one and ice the game.”

Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed a pair of passes to Titus Mokiao-Atimalala to get the Bruins into South Alabama territory. Six running plays followed, including a 3-yard gain by Zach Charbonnet to get UCLA a first down and force the Jaguars to spend their final timeout.

“We work on it everyday, the two-minute clutch. We’re pretty good at it now having done it so much, it’s a normal Wednesday’s practice for us,” said Thompson-Robinson, who was 20 of 30 passing for 263 yards and three touchdowns.

La’Damian Webb rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown and Carter Bradley passed for 237 yards and two scores for South Alabama, which was looking to become the fourth Sun Belt Conference team in two weeks to beat a Power Five program.

Bradley completed 26 of 36 passes, including a 4-yard TD to Caullin Lacy late in the third quarter to put the Jaguars up 31-23 late in the third quarter.

“We have to be better getting points scored, throwing touchdowns. I support coach on everything and it’s a coaching move, players have to do what coaches ask at the end of the day,” said Bradley on the fake field goal.


Barr-Mira missed two field goals in the Sept. 3 opener against Bowling Green, but has made all five the last two games, including four on Saturday.

The junior is the first UCLA kicker in five years to make a field goal in the last minute of regulation or overtime.

“Any kicker, you dream of having those moments. And in the moment, all I was focused on was making that kick, treating it like any other kick,” Barr-Mira said. “I just went out there and it felt like any other operation.”

Barr-Mira also had a career-long from 49 yards in the first quarter.


South Alabama: The Jaguars drop to 1-11 against Power Five teams since moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2013. Their lone victory was against Mississippi State to open the 2016 season.

UCLA: Not many people viewed the Bruins’ escape. The game drew 29,344, the second-worst crowd since they moved to the stadium in 1982.


South Alabama: Hosts Louisiana Tech next Saturday.

UCLA: Begins Pac-12 play next Saturday at Colorado.


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UCLA escapes upset bid by South Alabama with 32-31 victory