PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — UCLA kept its raucous celebration in the locker room, with only a few tweeted photos providing any evidence. By the time the Bruins emerged from their Rose Bowl party following their 36-30 victory over Nebraska on Saturday night, they were all business again, insisting it was just another victory.
"It's only one more win, that's it," defensive end Datone Jones said.
It sure felt like more than that after a long-struggling program defeated a perennial college football power.
With a new coaching staff, an exciting freshman quarterback and what certainly seems to be a novel attitude toward success, these Bruins are off to a strong start in the lengthy task of fixing 15 years of mostly mediocre football at UCLA.
The Bruins (2-0) cracked the AP poll at No. 22 on Sunday, earning their first ranking in more than four years. They began preparations Sunday for a Rose Bowl visit from Houston (0-2), the Bruins' first home game as a ranked team in a half-decade.
Jim Mora might be a college coaching newcomer, but he kept a studious, professional approach to an enormous win in his Rose Bowl debut. Mora declined to address the crowd postgame, as his predecessor Rick Neuheisel sometimes did, and thoroughly downplayed the victory afterward while still praising his team for its poise and calm, particularly in its fourth-quarter rally.
"When you get in an environment like this, it's intense," Mora said. "You're playing a great opponent, and you've got a big crowd, and the lights come on, and you can become overwhelmed. You didn't see that with these guys. I'm very proud of them."
The Bruins are ranked for the first time since Sept. 2, 2008, when they entered the poll at No. 23 after an overtime victory at Tennessee in UCLA's debut under Neuheisel, the former Bruins quarterback and veteran coach who vowed to restore his alma mater to prominence.
Just about everything in Neuheisel's tenure was downhill from that win in Knoxville. The Bruins dropped out of the next poll during their bye week — and then lost 59-0 at BYU, their worst loss in 79 years. UCLA was never ranked again during Neuheisel's four-year tenure, not even after a 3-0 start in 2009, and Neuheisel was fired before the Bruins lost their bowl game in San Francisco last December.
Brett Hundley passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns in his first home game for the Bruins, showing off the skill Neuheisel saw when he won a recruiting competition for the Phoenix-area product two years ago. UCLA considered burning Hundley's redshirt last season when Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut struggled with injuries and inconsistency, but Hundley used the experience he gained in practice to get off to an impressive start one year later.