September 15, 2015

With freshmen quarterbacks who have quickly come of age, UCLA and BYU both believe they're ready for college football's biggest stage.

Back in the national rankings following a pair of stirring comebacks, the No. 19 Cougars will see if Tanner Mangum has more magic left when they visit the Rose Bowl for an intriguing matchup with 10th-ranked UCLA.

BYU's promising campaign seemed ready to derail almost as soon as it started when quarterback Taysom Hill left the Sept. 5 opener at Nebraska in the fourth quarter with a season-ending foot injury.

It was Mangum, however, who stepped in and heaved a last-second touchdown to Mitch Matthews to give the Cougars a miraculous 33-28 victory, and he delivered more late-game heroics when his go-ahead scoring pass to Mitchell Juergens with 45 seconds left helped produce a 35-24 win over then-No. 20 Boise State.

"I like situations like that. They're fun," said Mangum, a star recruit of the 2012 class who spent the past two years on a mission in Chile. "At some point (against Nebraska) I just decided to smile and say that this is fun."

The 22-year-old's exploits have put BYU (2-0) in the early driver's seat for a New Year's Six bowl as Mangum and the Cougars prepare for perhaps their toughest challenge yet in this road date with a UCLA (2-0) team that's yielded a mere 294 passing yards in easy wins over Virginia and UNLV.

The Bruins, who held the Runnin' Rebels to 56 yards on 6-of-23 passing in last week's 37-3 rout, will be stepping up in class as well. BYU is averaging 344 yards through the air and had both Juergens and Devon Blackmon eclipse 100 receiving yards against the Broncos. Juergens finished with a career-high 174 and two TDs on only four catches.

BYU is averaging just 3.1 yards per rush, however, while allowing an average of 308 passing yards through the first two weeks, a weakness Josh Rosen will try to exploit in the impressive 18-year-old's third start.

Rosen, the consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect among incoming recruits, did not disappoint by shredding Virginia for 351 yards and three touchdowns in his debut during UCLA's 34-16 win Sept. 5. He had a tougher time in his first road start, finishing 22 of 42 for 223 yards with a touchdown and interception against UNLV.

"It ain't going to be as pretty every week as it was last week," Bruins coach Jim Mora said afterward. "You saw him learn as the game goes on, and you saw what you expected to see - this amazing poise. He was never flustered. He was never frustrated, even when I was feeling frustrated."

Rosen's struggles were offset by a 151-yard, two-touchdown ground effort from Paul Perkins, the Pac-12 rushing leader last season.

BYU surrendered 297 passing yards to Boise State but got three interceptions from Kai Nacua, the last returned 50 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds. The junior safety was suspended for the opener for participating in the post-game brawl between BYU and Memphis in December's Miami Beach Bowl.

"He changed the game," Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Nacua. "The range he covers and the plays he makes, that's really who he is. I'm really excited for him regarding all the scrutiny he's been under. For him to be able to come out and play that way it's fitting. It shows who he is and how he's worked so hard to be back on our team."

Mendenhall is 2-1 against UCLA and led the Cougars to a 59-0 shellacking in Provo during the previous meeting in 2008. The win was the most lopsided by a non-Power 5 program over a Power 5 school of the BCS era.

UCLA, which opens Pac-12 play at No. 20 Arizona next Saturday, improved to 13-1 in non-conference games under Mora and has won 10 straight since losing to Baylor in the 2012 Holiday Bowl.

The Cougars are seeking their first top-10 win since a 14-13 upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma at Arlington's AT&T Stadium in 2009. They're 1-5 in such games under Mendenhall.

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