Last night, the UCLA Bruins were 8-1 and were in for what was expected to be a tune-up game against Arizona before the big showdown against USC. Instead, on a day when Washington upset Oregon on the road, Arizona shocked the world with a 34-28 win at the Rose Bowl. It’s a loss for UCLA that puts their Pac-12 Championship hopes at risk and all but eliminates any chance they had at competing in the College Football Playoff.
It certainly seemed like the Bruins were looking ahead to next week’s game. Arizona clearly came into this game ready to play, quickly jumping out to a 14-0 lead. UCLA was able to tie things up at 14, and it seemed that they would put it together from there. But Arizona simply looked like the better football team on this day. The Bruins only held the lead once in this game, and it didn’t come until the fourth quarter.
I absolutely give a ton of credit to Arizona in this game. UCLA was likely expecting a walk in the park with Arizona coming in with a 3-6 record on the year. But really only one of those losses was to a bad team; Cal. The rest were to Mississippi State and to four of the best teams in the Pac-12 in Oregon, Washington, USC, and Utah. They’ve been a feisty team all year, and they’re clearly building something under Jedd Fisch.
Arizona played well in pretty much every phase of the game, but it starts and ends with the QB, Jayden De Laura. He played a nearly perfect game, going 22/28 for 315 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rushing touchdown. He was every bit as good as the numbers say, if not better. He has a big arm, an aggressive mindset, and an insane playmaking ability when it comes to avoiding the rush and extending the play. The dude is for real.
Defensively, Arizona did a good job of pressuring Dorian Thompson-Robinson and staying tight on the receivers. The Bruins passing game was just okay. DTR went 26/39 for 245 yards and 1 touchdown (and only ran for 24 yards on 11 carries). He made some nice throws but also had some misses. The Arizona defense forced him to hold onto the ball at times. The offense clearly missed Kazmeir Allen, who was sidelined with injury–although even without him- they should have been able to put up more points.
Arizona absolutely earned this win. Having said that, there’s still no excuse for UCLA losing a game where they were 19-point favorites at home.
UCLA had quite a few errors and miscues in this game. They converted a 4th and 2 before the end of the half, but the play was called back due to too many Bruins in the backfield. They went for it again on 4th and 7 and DTR converted, only to fumble the ball resulting in a turnover to the Wildcats.
The next time UCLA was in scoring position, Nicholas Barr-Mira had his 46-yard attempt blocked. After UCLA eventually took a lead in the 4th quarter, the Bruins defense gave up a clutch touchdown throw from De Laura in the red zone on 4th down. On the next Bruins possession, Zach Charbonnet dropped a wide-open pass on third down. On 4th down, DTR’s throw was high. UCLA was only 2 for 5 on 4th down on this day, which seemed to be the real difference maker.
Following the 4th down stop, Arizona bled 4 minutes and 40 seconds off the clock and forced UCLA to use all their timeouts before kicking a field goal to extend their lead to six. The UCLA defense continued to be a liability in this game. The Bruins got it back and had to drive the length of the field with a minute left and no timeouts. They got it to the plus side of the field, and DTR missed on a couple of would-have-been miracle throws. The clock ran out, and just like that, it was gameover.
The End Result
The biggest impact of this loss is that UCLA is no longer in control of its own destiny when it comes to the Pac-12 Championship game. They’ll have to beat USC next week and hope that Oregon beats Utah. If they lose, they’re definitely out. If they win and Utah wins, they might be able to get in if a tiebreaker goes their way. Of course, they’ll have to win their remaining two games. Oh, and obviously, they’re out of the playoff race, although that was a bit of a longshot given the committee’s seeming dislike for the Bruins.
At the end of the day, this is still a good year for the Bruins–their best in a while. They still can win the Pac-12, although they might need a bit of help to get there. And the Victory Bell Game will still be good, even if the stakes aren’t quite as high as before.
But this was a bad loss and a reminder that winning is never a given in this sport. Hopefully, UCLA can learn its lesson and come out better from it.