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UCLA gets ranking, respect with upset of Nebraska

Associated Press Modified: September 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm •  Published: September 9, 2012

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.

"We just have a different mentality this year," Hundley said. "We come out and learn from our mistakes. We're focused. We're ready to play."

Hundley produced the Bruins' first 300-yard passing game since 2010, cutting up Nebraska's Blackshirts defense with 21-of-31 passing and no turnovers despite leaving the game for several plays in the third quarter to get his right ankle re-taped.

Although he wore a goofy white beanie cap to his postgame interview, complete with a pompom on top, the Bruins love Hundley's maturity.

"Just being around him will make you better," said tailback Johnathan Franklin, who rushed for 217 yards and caught the final TD pass. "He's a great player, and he's going to take this team to the top."

Franklin is the nation's leading rusher after two games with 431 yards, taking an 82-yard lead over Buffalo's Branden Oliver by becoming just the third player in UCLA history to rush for 200 yards in back-to-back games.

UCLA's defense also excelled, allowing just 106 yards after halftime. Taylor Martinez went just 4 for 14 in the second half, finishing the game with eight straight incomplete passes, including a late interception by Andrew Abbott. The Huskers didn't complete a pass in the final 23-plus minutes.

Mora still found areas for improvement, criticizing the Bruins' tackling and vowing to work on it before the Cougars' late-night visit Saturday.

"Any time you come off a (big) win, it's important that you regain your focus, just like after a loss," Mora said. "That's one of the challenges of coaching. I sense determination among our players. Our coaching staff has the experience to know how to get them back and focus."