In front of one of the worst crowds in the past five years, the Arizona Wildcats played one of the best halves of Pac-12 football in its history. It also happened to be the team's first action without Mike Stoops at the helm of the program in nearly eight years.
Scoring touchdowns on all six of its first-half possessions, the Wildcats dropped 42 points on the UCLA Bruins in Tucson. See similarities to Oregon State's romp on UA in the first half two weeks ago, before Arizona canned Stoops? I think, yes.
Arizona cruised to a 48-12 victory after taking its foot off a gas pedal of what appeared to be more muscle car than speedy Porche. Under first-time head coach and interim Tim Kish, the Wildcats dropped a pass-heavy attack to roll up 254 rush yards on the Bruins.
Meanwhile, a defense that had been maligned -- it was statistically in the bottom 10 of the nation in many categories -- held the Bruins with a revamped, blitz-happy attack. The Wildcats were all over, forcing two turnovers and holding quarterback Kevin Prince to under 50 percent in completions (though he could hardly hit the open passes they gave him).
Mostly, Thursday's ESPN-televised contest was plain weird. Nobody got the memo beforehand, but it's pretty clear Thursday was opposite day. Here's why:The streak and brawl
Fun? Sure, Tim Kish wanted that. Fights? Uh, not exactly the idea.
With seconds remaining in the first half, a man dressed in a referee uniform approached an officials huddle and pretended to call a penalty. As the officials realized he was, well, not one of them, the man bolted, dropped his pants, and was soon tackled by security.
Based on tweets from people at the game who said the man had his Twitter handle painted on his back, the man was this guy, but I'm not here to confirm that. Look familiar to the pantless referee?
Meanwhile, with the refs distracted by the pseudo-zebra a skirmish broke out that saw UA cornerback Shaquille Richardson and UCLA receiver Taylor Embree get the yank. Both teams cleared the benches and it's likely the league (if not the respective ADs and coaches) will implement more suspensions following review of the tape.
Why didn't they try this before?
So Option A and Option B don't pan out. Apparently, that means go with Option A again ... wait ... no?
Mike Stoops should probably have been a little better with his decision-making, because by God, John Bonano isn't half bad. Bonano was spotless on the evening, handling his usual kick-off duties but impressing by making all six of his PATs and kicking two field goals, the long being a 41-yarder.
Bonano got his first start after Kish realized that Alex Zendejas and Jaime Salazar just weren't capable of getting the job done.
Run, run, pass?
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles was his usual self, going for 291 yards on 26-for-39 passing. However, the run game, with much help from heavy use of a two and often three-player backfield, played with ferociousness.
Keola Antolin ran eight times for 77 yards, freshman Ka'Deem Carey picked up 67 yards on nine rushes, and Daniel Jenkins pushed for 43 yards on 10 touches. The running game had 254 yards on a 5.4 average.
Receiver Juron Criner returned to his old self, posted 10 catches and 101 yards for three touchdowns. Gino Crump also put in some good work, posting 103 yards on nine grabs.
Here's a look at the play of the game: Criner's behind the defender's head grab on a touchdown.
This wasn't the usual lax and soft Wildcat defense. Kish used what commentators at ESPN said was a similar defense to the Desert Swarm days, loading the box with four defensive linemen and often times, four linebackers and/or safeties in the box.
That forced UCLA's usual bread-and-butter RB duo of Derrick Coleman and Jonathan Franklin to struggle. UCLA put up a mere 37 rush yards with a 1.5 average. While Prince's struggles at quarterback did them no favors, the Wildcats won that battle.
More importantly, UA trusted its corners and safeties on islands, playing the Bruin wideouts tough in one-on-one situations.
The game ball? Freshman Tra'Mayne Bondurant, who played some weird hybrid that I guess we could call nickelback (though he was in the box A LOT).
What's it all mean?
It's hard to say. UCLA looked flat-out bad, but there's nothing but good things to take away from the Wildcats' point of view. However, the score and overall domination probably reflects more on the Bruins struggles than Arizona's success.
In the end, the win means Arizona perhaps found a swagger and mojo to finish this season without further embarrassment. While winning out will be extremely difficult, it's a step in a positive direction that could give fans and the team itself some confidence.
The only negative? UCLA could soon be competing against Arizona for a top-notch head coaching hire, and that could now possibly happen during the season -- all thanks to Arizona's domination on Thursday.