October 9th, 2021
The 3-2 UCLA Bruins made the trek out to Arizona Stadium in Tucson in order to play the lowly 0-4 Arizona Wildcats, a team struggling out of the gates. UCLA, having fallen from the AP Top 25 after an upset loss to Fresno State at home 40-37 in week 3, followed it with a solid road win against Stanford in week 4 and a tough loss at home to #22 Arizona State in week 5, 42-23. Coming into the game, UCLA were 16 point favorites, and that wasn't hard to see why with Arizona coming off a bye week and a blowout loss to now #8 Oregon in Eugene 41-19.
Something felt different though. Despite all of the expectations, with the stands full of white shirts for the Family Weekend White Out Game, it felt like there was potential in the air.
Arizona won the toss and elected to receive to start the game, swirling winds overhead showing it could be a tough kicking game. Jordan McCloud was once again the starter for Arizona, and in the first series, he showed potential. The Wildcat offense drove 65 yards on 14 plays to start, taking 5:57 off the clock before stalling out and being forced to kick. Tyler Loop, the backup kicker, took the 28-yard kick and put it through the uprights. It was 3-0 Arizona now with 9:03 left in the 1st.
UCLA got the ball and proceeded to try and respond. Taking 13 plays to drive 75 yards, the Bruins pushed in for a touchdown as QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson hit his top TE Greg Dulcich in the endzone for a 3-yard TD. The extra point was good and now with 3:48 left in the 1st, UCLA led 7-3, using strong running to attack Arizona's struggling run defense.
By the time the first quarter ended, both teams had put up respectable, fast-paced drives. For UCLA though, something concerning was being seen as Thompson-Robinson had only passed for 3 yards over 15 minutes, while McCloud for Arizona passed for 88. For Arizona, penalties began to show off their impact, 3 penalties for 20 yards ultimately killing a possible touchdown drive late the 1st.
Arizona started the 2nd driving, ultimately putting together a solid drive that spanned 47 yards in 12 plays and getting Lucas Havrisik into field goal range. From 46 yards out, Havrisik nailed it down the middle, making it a one-point game, 7-6 UCLA with 14:18 left in the half.
Getting the ball back, Chip Kelly began to hard dial the run for his Bruin offense. Running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet began to find holes, working against the Wildcat defensive line and taking advantage of opportunities. After a scoreless middle of the 2nd, UCLA began to drive downfield. Taking 9 plays to cover 72 yards with a heavy run focus, the Bruins wound up capping off the drive with a 2-yard keeper by Thompson-Robinson, extending their lead to 14-6 with 3:01 left in the half. A good deceptive sweep run by WR Kazmeir Allen ultimately set up the score.
With little time to go, the Wildcat offense executed a phenomenal 2-minute drill. Covering 75 yards in 9 plays and only taking 2:31 off the clock, McCloud picked his passes right and helped push the offense into scoring position, alongside UCLA kicking itself with 4 penalties for 50 yards in the quarter, multiple facemasks and a pass interference being key. With 30 seconds left in the half, Jedd Fisch and his offensive coordinator drew up a fantastic trick play, handing it off to RB Drake Anderson who then tossed it to WR Jamarye Joiner, who found an open RB Michael Wiley in the back of the endzone for a touchdown. Just like that, it was now 14-13, Arizona not lying down yet.
To finish the half, UCLA decided to be aggressive, overly so. Thompson-Robinson proceeded to throw an interception right to safety Gunner Maldonado in double coverage. While Arizona couldn't capitalize, it sent a message. Thompson-Robinson ended his half with a woeful 1 completion - 8 attempts, 3-yards, 1 TD to 1 INT stat line while his team's run game had bailed him out with 165 yards on the ground. On the flip side, Arizona finished with only 62 rushing yards but 157 yards in the air, McCloud 16-23 for 147 of them.
Starting the second half, the entire stadium felt that an upset could be in the works. Things didn't go as planned. UCLA started with a fantastic return by Kazmeir Allen, covering 73 yards to set UCLA up in great field position. In 5 plays though, the Bruin offense sputtered out, covering 15 yards and accepting a 23-yard field goal from K Nicholas Barr-Mira to make the lead 17-13 with 13:17 left in the 3rd.
Arizona looked to respond, knowing they needed to keep pace. The first drive of the half started well but sputtered to a stop due to multiple penalties. In the end, after 11 plays and only 48 yards gained, Havrisik booted a 46-yarder through the uprights to make it a 1-point game again. 17-16 UCLA with 8:18 left in the 3rd.
Chip Kelly, likely sensing that Thompson-Robinson needed a confidence boost, began to mix plays a little more, hoping his QB could find some consistent passes. His push would pay off as Thompson-Robinson helped orchestrate a 9 play, 75 yard drive that ended in a 4-yard touchdown run by himself to extend the lead to 8. With 4:06 left in the 3rd, UCLA now led 24-16, a score that would remain to the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter began, and the wheels soon came off the bus for Arizona. The quarter was uneventful for the most part until midway through. Jordan McCloud, looking at options to pass to in the shotgun but unable to find any was swallowed up in a sack. What seemed normal enough in real-time became evidently worse. Replays showed that a Bruin ended up landing on his leg, extending it to a degree that left McCloud in tears on the turf. Unable to continue, he was helped off the field, done for the game. Gunner Cruz would come in as a substitution the next drive as McCloud fumbled in the play, UCLA recovering.
The Bruins began to take advantage of the injury and the seeming loss of energy in Arizona. A 6 play drive covered 69-yards as Brittain Brown cracked a 48-yard TD run open, extending the lead to 31-16 with 7:48 left. The defense couldn't find an answer.
On offense, the Wildcats lost their spark, sputtering on one drive, and losing another to a fumble that essentially iced the game.
The final scoring drive came for UCLA on 12 plays that only covered 35 yards, but it killed 5:24. Getting the benefit of a fumble play blown dead early, UCLA burned the clock. With 1:43 left in the game, Barr-Mira booted a 43-yard field goal to make it 34-16 UCLA. Wildcat fans had begun to leave in droves by this point, another loss secured.
In the end, a winnable game had slipped past the Wildcats. UCLA was beatable, their star QB humbled with a night ending 8-19, 82 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. UCLA's run game was too much to handle, however, mustering 329 yards on the ground. Both Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet passed 100 yards, 146 and 117 respectively.
For Arizona, their offense pushed 240 yards in the air with 122 on the ground in total. McCloud ended his night 21-30, 182 yards while Gunner Cruz mustered a 4-7, 48-yard finish. Once again, the Wildcat offense couldn't finish it off.
Both sides were terrible with penalties, UCLA giving up 8 for 95 yards and Arizona 12 for 81 yards. In the end, Arizona's happened in much more crucial situations, often turning managebale situations into extremely tough ones.
With the win in hand, UCLA improves to 4-2 on the year, their next game on the road again in Washington to play the 2-3 Huskies. Arizona, unfortunately, continues to seek their first win in the Jedd Fisch era, dropping to 0-5 as they head out to Boulder to play the Colorado Buffaloes, who sit at 1-4.
Just when the QB carousel might have ended, it begins again. The final score, unfortunately, doesn't tell the whole story either.