UCLA vs. Houston: Bruins 31, Cougars 13 (final)
There was little not to like about UCLA's first victory of the season.
Tailback Johnathan Franklin rushed for a career-high 158 yards and three touchdowns in 26 carries, quarterback Kevin Prince was steady if unspectacular and the Bruins' defense held a Houston offense that came into the game averaging 61 points well below its usual output.
Perhaps most important, a sputtering offense that had misfired throughout its first two games showed some consistency against the 23rd-ranked Cougars, amassing 365 yards and converting five of 11 third-down attempts. UCLA was a horrid four of 22 in those situations coming into the game.
Prince completed nine of 18 passes for 99 yards with one interception and rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown in 10 carries. The only offensive bugaboo was tailback Malcolm Jones' two fumbles, but UCLA's rushers averaged a stout 5.2 yards a carry in collecting 266 yards.
It was a much-needed victory for the Bruins (1-2), especially after last week's 35-0 loss to Stanford, and it erased the possibility of an 0-4 start with Texas looming next. UCLA had lost six consecutive games to ranked teams under Coach Rick Neuheisel.
Houston (2-1) was in trouble well before starting quarterback Case Keenum left with an injury late in the second quarter, surrendering 21 first-half points and displaying an inability to sustain drives until its third-string quarterback entered the game in the second half.
UCLA 31, Houston 13 (midway through the fourth quarter)
Uh, feel free to play some defense, UCLA.
The Bruins have surrendered another scoring drive, this one ending in Matt Hogan's 31-yard field goal. UCLA still leads by 18 points with 6 minutes 23 seconds remaining, but the Cougars are a few recovered onside kicks away from making things interesting.
If nothing else, Houston may have found its quarterback of the future in Terrence Broadway, a freshman who has impressed since coming into the game in the second half.
UCLA 31, Houston 10 (early in the fourth quarter)
Houston's third quarterback of the game was the charm.
Terrence Broadway, playing in place of injured starter Case Keenum and ineffective backup Cotton Turner, directed a scoring drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass to James Cleveland in the corner of the end zone.
Chances are slim that it will ultimately make a difference as the No. 23 Cougars still trail by 21 points with 11 minutes 39 seconds left.
UCLA 31, Houston 3 (end of third quarter)
OK, so UCLA is not perfect.
Tailback Malcolm Jones lost his second fumble of the game late in the third quarter to squelch a drive that had moved inside the Houston 15-yard line, but nitpicking at this point is a little ridiculous.
Tailback Johnathan Franklin has already surpassed the 100-yard mark, linebacker Patrick Larimore is a beast who just caused a fumble and UCLA is well on its way to its first victory over a ranked opponent since beating Tennessee at the Rose Bowl in Rick Neuheisel's debut as the Bruins' coach in 2008.
The Volunteers have something else in common with the Cougars: Neither deserved to be ranked.
UCLA 31, Houston 3 (late in the third quarter)
It figured that things might get ugly at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. Just not in this fashion.
UCLA has opened a 27-point lead over No. 23 Houston after Johnathan Franklin rushed for a 12-yard touchdown, his third scoring run of the game. The touchdown was set up by Taylor Embree's 31-yard punt return to the Cougars' 12-yard line, and Franklin ran it into the end zone on the next play.
There will be lots of second-guessing after this game, and not just among those who doubted UCLA after a pair of season-opening losses. The Associated Press pollsters who moved Houston into the rankings have some questions to answer. The Cougars beat two nobodies to start the season and gave up an average of 26 points in the process.
The Bruins have exposed Houston for what it is: a middling team from Conference USA. But is UCLA a team that can contend in the Pacific 10 Conference? It's still hard to say.
UCLA 24, Houston 3 (early in the third quarter)
With Kai Forbath's 42-yard field goal on its first drive of the third quarter, UCLA has already scored more points in fewer than 35 minutes against Houston than it did in 120 minutes against Kansas State and Stanford.
Most impressive, the Bruins are converting most of their third-down plays after largely failing in their first two games. UCLA has converted five of its first seven third-down chances against the Cougars.
And UCLA has a formidable running game, led by Johnathan Franklin. He had 63 yards in the first half and added 23 on the Bruins' first drive of the second half.
Cotton Turner is in at quarterback to start the third quarter for Houston, meaning injured starter Case Keenum probably won't return.
UCLA 21, Houston 3 (halftime)
It's not quite North Carolina State over Phi Slamma Jamma, but nationally ranked Houston appears on the verge of being upset by a largely unheralded team if the first half is any indication.
UCLA's long-dormant offense finally found a rhythm, with quarterback Kevin Prince guiding three consecutive touchdown drives and the Bruins' defense mostly containing Cougars quarterback Case Keenum before he was injured late in the second quarter.
The Bruins have mounted a formidable rushing game, gaining 145 of their 228 yards on the ground, and Prince has completed seven of 12 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown with one interception. Tailback Johnathan Franklin has two touchdown runs.
Keenum, the driving force behind an offense that averaged 61 points during victories over Texas State and Texas El Paso, has completed 10 of 18 passes for 83 yards with two interceptions.
Left for dead after last week's 35-0 disaster against Stanford, UCLA has not just displayed a pulse but a swagger not seen for a while around the Rose Bowl, thoroughly outplaying the No. 23 Cougars.
With Keenum's status unknown for the second half, Houston is in a world of trouble.
UCLA 21, Houston 3 (late in the second quarter)
Houston, you have multiple problems.
Just when the Cougars appeared on the brink of getting back into the game, quarterback Case Keenum had a pass intercepted at the goal line by UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers, who returned the ball all the way to the Houston 23.
Keenum was also hurt attempting to tackle Ayers and had to be helped off the field by trainers. Cotton Turner is now playing quarterback for the Cougars after a Malcolm Jones fumble gave the ball back to Houston at its own 16.
But a dynamic offense that averaged 61 points in its first two games has been stifled so far and figures to only become more conservative with a No. 2 quarterback at the helm.
UCLA 21, Houston 3 (midway through the second quarter)
The offense that couldn't score suddenly can't be stopped.
Shut out last week by Stanford, UCLA has scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives to take a 21-3 lead over No. 23 Houston with 7 minutes 40 seconds left in the second quarter.
Johnathan Franklin scored the Bruins' latest touchdown on a two-yard run. He also had a nifty nine-yard reception earlier in the drive in which his second effort almost led to a first down.
The drive was set up by UCLA defensive back Rahim Moore's interception of a Case Keenum pass, only three plays after Moore had been called for a horse-collar tackle that resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Moore returned the interception to the Houston 42-yard line, and the Bruins scored seven plays later.
UCLA 14, Houston 3 (early in the second quarter)
UCLA 14, Houston 3 (early in the second quarter)
Call him the Prince of the Arroyo Seco.
Maligned after a pair of season-opening losses, UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has engineered back-to-back touchdown drives to give the Bruins a 14-3 lead over No. 23 Houston with 11 minutes 49 seconds left in the second quarter.
One play after scrambling for 14 yards, Prince bulled into the end zone from two yards. He also completed a 22-yard pass to Ricky Marvray, who made a leaping catch and spun away from a defender to put the ball inside the Houston 20-yard line.
UCLA, which had converted only four of 22 third-down opportunities in its first two games, has converted its last four in this game and would have converted a fifth had one of Prince's passes not been dropped.
UCLA 7, Houston 3 (late in the first quarter)
UCLA 7, Houston 3 (late in the first quarter)
Mark the moment. Who knows when another like it might come again?
UCLA scored its first points of the season at the Rose Bowl when running back Johnathan Franklin bounced off a defender and rambled 11 yards for a touchdown to give the Bruins a 7-3 lead with 5 minutes 54 seconds left in the first quarter.
It was UCLA's first points since Kevin Prince connected with Ricky Marvray for a 29-yard touchdown with 1:19 left in the Bruins' season opener against Kansas State. Stanford shut out UCLA last week at the Rose Bowl, 35-0.
Prince ran for 24 yards on the scoring drive against the Cougars and Franklin converted a third-and-one situation when he ran for seven yards. The Bruins only had to go 51 yards for the touchdown, however, after Houston's onside kick attempt failed.
Houston 3, UCLA 0 (midway through first quarter)
It's starting to become clear why there was so much drama involving whether Houston quarterback Case Keenum would play against UCLA.
Keenum made several nice plays during the Cougars' first scoring drive, including a 26-yard pass to Tyron Carrier on a third-down play during which Keenan averted a sack near the Houston goal line. The Cougars also used some trickery, with Carrier completing a 48-yard reverse pass to James Cleveland to put the ball at UCLA's 12-yard line.
The drive stalled there and Matt Hogan kicked a 29-yard field goal to give Houston a 3-0 lead. A subsequent onside kick failed.
UCLA 0, Houston 0 (early first quarter)
Not much doing for either team on their first drives.
UCLA at least mustered a first down behind a steady diet of Johnathan Franklin, who carried the ball on the Bruins' first four offensive plays for a combined 16 yards. But on third and six, tight end Cory Harkey dropped a pass from quarterback Kevin Prince.
Houston could muster only three net yards on its first possession with Case Keenum at quarterback.
At least UCLA still has this going for it: The Rose Bowl remains among the most beautiful settings in college football.
The mountain range that juts prominently into the background, the trees that ring the bowl, the late-afternoon sun reflecting off the seats ... if only one didn't have to look onto the field below.
Things have been unsightly for the Bruins in their first two games, particularly during a galling 35-0 loss against Stanford here last week. But in No. 23 Houston, UCLA might have found an opponent with a defense leaky enough to keep things interesting. The Cougars have allowed an average of 26 points in victories over Texas State and Texas El Paso - -hardly a pair of offensive juggernauts.
Maybe this is the night that UCLA's "pistol" offense finally hits its target. Kickoff is in about 80 minutes.
Photo: UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin picks up yardage against Houston in the first quarter Saturday. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times