Arizona vs. Cal final score: Defense makes up for miscues

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats avoided a letdown with two late interceptions and used another big day behind B.J. Denker and Ka'Deem Carey to hold off the California Golden Bears.

Ka'Deem Carey met his match Saturday. The California Golden Bears filled the inside holes and prevented the Arizona Wildcats running back from getting outside.

The gameplan to stop Carey also didn't make the Golden Bears too vulnerable in the passing game or otherwise. But the plan that seemingly worked ended with Carey averaging 4.8 rush yards and taking 32 totes for 152 yards.

For perspective:

Quarterback B.J. Denker had four total touchdowns and owned the red zone in a sketchy 33-28 Arizona victory at Berkeley. The Wildcats won their third road game in a row and, skimpy schedule or not, moved to a bowl-eligible 6-2 on the season.

The defense and offense each had their issues, but two second-half interceptions seemingly gave Arizona the slight edge.

For Jeff Casteel's group, it was about penalties early and late.

The first hurt a bit. SWAT defender Anthony Lopez picked up a passing interference penalty on a 3rd-and-20 on the first possession, and the Golden Bears stretched Arizona's defense by opening the day with a 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown. The Wildcats answered in a 2:19 minute drive from 73 yards out, and Denker scored on a nine-yard rush, his first of three touchdown runs on the day.

Later in the first quarter, the Wildcats found themselves in a 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, but Cal stuffed Carey on a touchdown attempt and the Golden Bears took over. Cal back Darren Ervin took a handoff in the end zone and was tackled for a safety to give UA a 9-7 lead.

Arizona seemingly had control. It scored on a Jake Smith field goal from 53 yards early in the second quarter -- the longest UA field goal since Nick Folk hit one from the same distance in 2004 -- and Denker found Nate Phillips for a 21-yard touchdown pass for a 19-7 advantage.

The Golden Bears quickly answered with a touchdown drive with six minutes left in the first half, and the Wildcats couldn't tack on another score through three more possessions in the half.

Cal went to the locker room with a 19-14 game and confidence. It only helped them to begin the third quarter, when Arizona seemed ready to go three-and-out. But on a reasonable third-down reverse receiver screen call, Denker found Terrence Miller for the first down and then some. Miller turned, broke a few tackles and got another 20 yards  of a 60-yard run as two Cal defenders fell over one another. That set up Denker's second touchdown run from the 1-yard line, and the momentum briefly swung Arizona's way.

Behind quarterback Jared Goff, Cal went 80 yards -- a chunk thanks to UA safety Jourdon Grandon picking up a late hit on a sliding Goff -- to cut into the 26-14 lead from a highlight reel, twisting, diving, one-handed catch from Kenny Lawler, and immediately the Golden Bears were back in business.

The Wildcats, however, were forced to punt with a 26-21 lead. That's when the defense made up for its questionable penalties that aided two of the Golden Bears' scores.

Jonathan McKnight picked off a Goff pass at Arizona's 27 and Denker finished off the miscue with his third touchdown jaunt of the day. Another drive put Cal in a 4th-and-2 at the Arizona 20-yard line, but Grandon made up for his earlier penalty with a pick in the end zone.

Cal scored on Lawler's third touchdown catch late, but the Wildcats fielded the ensuing kickoff then wound the clock to victory.

Perhaps because of play-calling, Arizona's offense struggled to stretch Cal vertically even though Denker went 24-for-38 for 261 yards. And the line didn't open many holes for Carey, despite the running back's numbers.

The defense often played back with only its three down lineman rushing the passer. It was a bend-but-don't-break look that resulted in Goff having a lot of time, but the Wildcats will probably not rely upon that style against UCLA in a homecoming showdown next Saturday night.

In the end, the Wildcats played down to their competition. Rich Rodriguez said his lines were getting whipped during his halftime interview. Bad news with a good team visiting Tucson next week.

And at the end of the day, penalties and a lack of execution nearly led to a loss to a team that's now 1-8.

The box score looked even. Both teams went 4-for-16 on third downs, there were only 30 yards of difference in total offense and each racked up a bit of penalty yardage. Arizona came out on top thanks to two turnovers.

It could be worse. Sonny Dykes knows what worse feels like.

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