Saturday’s game at UCLA began poorly for No. 22 Arizona and ended worse. The Wildcats gave up as many touchdowns to the Bruins in the final 20 minutes (3 TDs) as they did in the first quarter. Arizona was outgained 611-257. Arizona, which entered the game tops in the Pac-12 in passing offense with 354 yards per game, threw for just 137. Matt Scott, one of the top offensive players in the country completed just 15-of-25 passes for 124 yards. Meanwhile, UCLA redshirt freshman quarterback Bret Hundley was 23-for-28 for 288 yards and three touchdowns. At one point, Hundley completed 16-straight passes. The Wildcats committed three turnovers, none bigger than a muffed punt return by Richard Morrison early in the second quarter that if caught would have given the Wildcats solid field position near UA’s 40-yard line. Instead, the Bruins got the ball back in Arizona territory up 21-0 and moments away from sealing the game with well over 40 minutes of football remaining.
Cornerback Shaq Richardson and the Arizona defense struggled mightily against UCLA.
On a night most would soon rather forget, some will suffer lingering effects from the loss.
Already trailing by more than 40 points, Arizona’s Scott took a viscous hit in his own end zone that resulted in Scott walking gingerly off the field. He would not return. A few minutes later sophomore linebacker Hank Hobson was carted off the field by a mobile medical crew. Fortunately, early postgame reports had Scott feeling the ills of a bruised ego more than a bruised body. Similarly, Rich Rodriguez noted in his press conference that Hobson was showing normal mobility at a local hospital.
From the press box, the game looked even worse than the final score. Hard to believe, but true.
On offense, few Wildcat receivers seemed open down the field. Rich Rodriguez and several players, including senior center Kyle Quinn, admitted that the Wildcats were “off their game”. However, it was bigger than that as the UCLA defense seemed well prepared for whatever Arizona was about to throw their way. Strangely, though, many of the plays Arizona used successfully to this point in the season seemed non-existent Saturday. Notably is when Arizona’s Scott fakes the read option to Ka’Deem Carey and then rolls flat to the right to stretch not only his field of vision, but the defense to open up passing lanes.
While one play would not have made a difference, this was not the only play missing from Arizona’s offensive attack. Granted, nothing comes easy to an offense when the defense has its ears pinned back, but the lack of execution, penalties and miscues began on Arizona’s first offensive possession and didn’t stop until the final horn sounded Saturday.
The Wildcats committed 15 penalties for 124 yards, marking the second consecutive game where penalties have become a problem for a team that just two weeks ago was near the top of the Pac-12 in fewest penalty yards. Sure, Arizona knocked off then-No.8 USC despite its mistakes, but heavily penalized teams historically lose more often than they win.
Tonight, the Wildcats not only lost, they got routed in a way that makes the 49-0 loss to Oregon earlier in the season feel like an ego boost.
Defensively, it was the complete opposite as UCLA’s offense hit its stride from the opening kickoff, scoring two touchdowns in the game’s opening six minutes. The 611 yards of offense allowed is not uncommon for this Arizona defense. However, missing was Arizona’s usual flight to the ball carrier, and its ability to bend but not break thanks to enough defensive stops and turnovers to slow opponents for stretches long enough to give its own offense a chance to rally and rattle off scores of their own.
The final outcome was even bigger than UCLA's new uniforms.
Notably, the running lanes for UCLA tailbacks were, at times, gaping. On Johnathan Franklin’s record-setting, 37-yard touchdown run three minutes into the game to establish the school's career rushing record, Franklin zigged and zagged his way through the Arizona defense nearly untouched. Watching from the press box, Franklin looked like he was running through a lateral cone drill, moving left, then dashing right, and then back to his left and up the sideline as Wildcats were hopelessly moving across his line of vision with little impact.
Similarly, for the game, many of UCLA’s plays seemed to last an eternity. Bruin running backs were incredibly patient, demonstrating tremendous vision while waiting for holes to open, sometimes moving horizontally well outside the hash marks before vertically cutting up the field. When passing, Hundley had plenty of time to survey the field before committing to a receiver. Arizona’s defense, while showing hustle throughout, had very few, if any, answers.
When asked by several reporters if UCLA had unveiled new schemes or formations that may have tricked up the Wildcats, Rich Rodriguez and linebacker Jake Fischer each said no. Bottom line, in a game of inches where success boils down to which team executes better, each admitted that Arizona did not execute its game plan well enough to compete with the well-oiled Bruins.
If there’s one thing Arizona fans can take away from this game, it’s the fact that there is no quit in these Wildcats. At game’s end when UCLA Bruins were crossing midfield for the traditional post game handshake, some Wildcats were already heading toward the locker room, which set one Arizona coach off as he shouted, “Get out there and shake their hands! Be a man and show them respect!”
In the post game presser, Rodriguez and players Quinn and Fischer took full responsibility for the loss, putting the blame squarely on Arizona, but without denying UCLA the credit it deserves. When asked if there was a point in the game where it seemed evident that this would not be Arizona’s night, Quinn dismissed the notion saying, “No, we take everything one play at a time.”
Arizona’s next play begins at 11:30 a.m. MST on Saturday when Colorado visits during homecoming weekend.
Follow me on Twitter @GaryRandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona.