Sometimes, you need luck.
A pass meant to be thrown away falls into a receiver's hands for a touchdown. Another pass, underthrown, slips through a defensive back's hands and into those of its intended target for a score.
Sometimes, you need to be the smarter team.
A faked spike freezes the defense, buying the extra millisecond the receiver needs to get separation and make the catch.
UCLA needed all of it Sunday night at the Rose Bowl — luck, smarts and a heaping dose of resolve leading to the biggest comeback in school history for a 45-44 victory over Texas A&M in an unforgettable season opener that gave those who had lingered from a crowd of 64,635 something to stick around for besides the postgame fireworks show.
"I mean, the things that had to go right to win this game were incredible," UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen said after making his first game in 11 months one for the ages.
The Bruins rallied from a 34-point deficit with 35 unanswered points starting late in the third quarter, culminating in Rosen's 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley in the back corner of the end zone with 43 seconds left. Rosen had momentarily frozen the Aggies defense with a fake spike.
"We faked it, threw it up, the DB kind of realized last second that the play was actually a play and I thought that's what helped us," Rosen said. "Las made an incredible catch and the chips just fell in our favor."
It was as if they descended in buckets from the heavens. Rosen passed for 292 of his career-high 491 yards and all four of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter, shrugging off an abysmal start in which he struggled to find receivers and limped off the field late in the second quarter after a sack.
The fake spike was called by new UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, whose players finished with a flourish after failing to move the ball for most of the first three quarters. Daniel LaCamera's 48-yard field goal had given Texas A&M a 44-10 lead with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
"It got real bleak at a certain point — real, real bleak," Rosen said.
And then it got blindingly bright.
Lasley's touchdown catch came two plays after he had dropped a third-down pass at the first-down marker. He received a second chance thanks to teammate Soso Jamabo's fourth-down catch and spin move that provided a first down. Lasley twisted his body to pull in the ball and tie the score before UCLA kicker J.J. Molson booted the most meaningful extra point of his career to nudge the Bruins ahead.
The Bruins then stopped Texas A&M backup quarterback Kellen Mond, a freshman, a yard short of a first down on fourth and 10. After UCLA ran out the final 20 seconds, several players sprinted over to the student section to celebrate. Their teammates soon followed.
A Bruins defense that had been gashed for 413 yards over the first three quarters made the stops it needed in the fourth, holding Texas A&M to 58 yards over the final 15 minutes.
"Obviously, we were playing some desperation-style defense in the fourth quarter," UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "Coach [Jim] Mora and I had spoken on the [headphones] about it and we said, 'Hey, we don't have a choice but to let it all hang out,' which we did. We took some chances.
"We took what I like to call a brave pill on so many chances in that fourth quarter because we had to."
UCLA defensive end Keisean Lucier-South came up with a big sack and safety Adarius Pickett, who had been flagged for taunting earlier in the fourth quarter, tipped a late field-goal attempt that would have extended Texas A&M's lead to 16 points.
"I mean, for God's sakes, that field goal would have put us out and we just had an incredible surge of effort to put probably a centimeter of finger on the ball," Rosen said.
Rosen completed 35 of 59 passes and got lucky twice, floating a pass early in the fourth quarter that should have been intercepted but instead went for a 42-yard touchdown to Darren Andrews. Rosen also threw off his back foot with a defender in his face, meaning to put the ball out of bounds but instead finding Theo Howard for the 16-yard touchdown that got UCLA within 44-38.
"We were an inch away from losing that game probably 10 times," Rosen said.
Caleb Wilson led the UCLA receivers with 15 catches for 203 yards, both career highs.
Mora credited switching to a base defense in the second half along with improved protection for Rosen as triggers for the comeback.
"You felt like things were happening," Mora said. "There were no Debbie Downers on the sideline. They believed in each other. I told them not to look at the scoreboard."
Trayveon Williams had 203 yards rushing for Texas A&M (0-1), which was unable to sustain its punishing ground game late. It was the ultimate do-over for the Bruins after the heartache of an overtime loss to the Aggies last season in Texas.
"My career at UCLA, a lot of times the chips didn't fall in our favor and I think it's time that it finally did," Rosen said. "We've worked our absolute butts off to try and right the ship from the last two years and just play a little bit better and get some Ws and I think we took a really good step in that direction tonight."
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch