By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
PASADENA, Calif. — Nebraska ran onto UCLA’s hallowed home turf Saturday hoping to take another step toward a return visit to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Although that second trip is still possible, the No. 17 Cornhuskers now realize they’ve got an awful lot of work to do first.
Brett Hundley passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns in an outstanding Rose Bowl debut, Datone Jones sacked Taylor Martinez for a tiebreaking safety with 8:44 to play, and UCLA surprised Nebraska 36-30.
Martinez passed for 179 yards and made a 92-yard TD run in his return to his native Southern California, but his offense couldn’t keep up with UCLA after that decisive sack. Ameer Abdullah rushed for career highs of 119 yards and two touchdowns for the Huskers (1-1), who struggled on both sides of the ball in the second half and failed to go 2-0 for the first time since 2004.
“I’m embarrassed by how we played today, and I point the thumb at me first,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “We didn’t play well in any phase of the game, in my opinion. We were inconsistent, our fundamentals were lousy, and that leads to bad things happening. I give UCLA credit, but I’m disappointed.”
Nebraska’s defense had its worst statistical game in a half-decade, giving up 653 yards to a UCLA offense with a freshman quarterback, a new coaching staff and an offensive line with three freshmen starters. The Blackshirts hadn’t given up 600 yards since Missouri went for 606 in 2007, and hadn’t allowed 300 yards rushing since Texas did it that same year.
“You’ve got to give them credit, (but) we didn’t come to play tonight, and it showed,” Nebraska linebacker Will Compton said. “We definitely didn’t plan on this happening, but I definitely feel we’re going to come back strong.”
Martinez went 17 for 31, but just 4 for 14 after halftime on the field where the Corona, Calif., native always imagined playing for the Bruins, who only recruited him as a safety and never offered him a scholarship.
After Jones put the Bruins ahead in a defense-dominated second half, Andrew Abbott intercepted a long pass by Martinez and returned it to the Nebraska 16, setting up Johnathan Franklin’s 8-yard TD catch with 2:13 to play for UCLA.
Brett Maher’s third field goal pulled the Huskers within 36-30 with 1:38 left, but UCLA recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock on just its second win over Nebraska in eight meetings since 1973.
“We can still get everything we want,” Compton said. “The Big Ten championship, everything else is still within our grasp. We’ve just got to go out and get it.”
Franklin rushed for 217 yards for the Bruins, who improved to 2-0 under new coach Jim Mora with an impressive offensive performance. But the Bruins couldn’t stay ahead until Jones read a pass play in Martinez’s eyes and closed on the quarterback with ferocious speed.
“We all made a promise to each other that we weren’t going to bow down this year,” Jones said. “We came into this year with another chance to play for our team and our family, and we want it to be a good season.”
After a largely mediocre past decade, the Bruins might be ready for something great, thanks to their new quarterback and new coach.
Joseph Fauria caught two TD passes and Steven Manfro grabbed another from Hundley, the redshirt freshman who went 21 for 31 and coolly led the Bruins to their second straight game with at least 640 yards of offense.
“We just have a different mentality this year,” Hundley said. “We come out and learn from our mistakes, and we play our game. Coach Mora has done an amazing job with this team.”
The Bruins were undeniably impressive in the home debut of Mora, the veteran NFL coach who took over for Rick Neuheisel last winter after four mostly dismal seasons. Mora arrived with no significant college experience, but the former Falcons and Seahawks coach immediately energized UCLA by hiring a strong staff and landing an impressive recruiting class.
With this effort against a perennial college football power, the excitement in Westwood will only grow.
“That’s a pretty good defense we were going against,” Mora said. “That’s the Blackshirts out there. For us to step up and run the ball like that, and to see Brett throwing like that, it’s great.”
Nebraska made its first visit to the Rose Bowl since losing the 2002 BCS title game to Miami. Blue-clad Bruins fans might have barely outnumbered an enormous contingent of red-wearing Huskers supporters who filled the Rose Bowl parking lots hours before kickoff and raised chants of “Go Big Red!” in the stadium.
Both teams made significant mistakes in the third quarter, with Nebraska fumbling on its first play and UCLA later failing on a fake field goal from 37 yards. When Hundley left the game for a few plays to get his right ankle re-taped, the Bruins had to settle for a field goal inside the Nebraska 5.
The Huskers didn’t convert a third down until the first play of the fourth quarter, but Maher barely missed a go-ahead, 37-yard field goal with 12:12 to play.