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Arizona vs. UCLA final score: Five takeaways from Wildcats’ 45-24 loss to the Bruins

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What in the world just happened?

NCAA Football: Arizona at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I think the best word to describe the Arizona Wildcats’ loss at the UCLA Bruins is ludicrous.

So many bizarre things happened throughout the night. Jim Mora gave the Cats a free first down thanks to a temper tantrum. Brandon Dawkins was hurt, so we saw Zach Werlinger play quarterback. Then in the third quarter, the coaching staff decided to burn Khalil Tate’s redshirt. He was even running the read-option with Samajie Grant as the running back.

Tate showed some promise, as he ran over UCLA defenders and connected on a couple of passes, including his first career TD pass to Shun Brown. But there was no coming back against the Bruins, and now Arizona has a 2-3 record, the first time the team has had a sub-.500 record in the Rich Rodriguez era.

So, what can we actually take away from that game? Well....

1. No amount of coaching can overcome this particular set of injuries

Arizona ended up playing its fourth-string quarterback, and used two wide receivers at running back on Saturday. Nick Wilson did start, but limped off after reaggravating his ankle injury after getting six carries. Brandon Dawkins looked good at the beginning of the game, but suffered a rib injury that hampered him throughout the second quarter.

The Wildcats also saw Gerhard de Beer go down with an injury yet again, and Freddie Tagaloa was replaced by Christian Boettcher in the starting lineup. Combine that with the existing injuries of DeAndre’ Miller, Parker Zellers, Anu Solomon, J.J. Taylor and Shawn Poindexter, and you’re going to have issues no matter who you are.

2. But the corner play certainly hasn’t helped things

If there’s one part of Arizona’s team that isn’t injured at this present moment, it’s the secondary. But they play like a third-team unit. DaVonte’ Neal is possibly one of the biggest busts as far as five-star guys being able to perform. Dane Cruikshank is not completely healthy, and he struggled when he was in the game. And then Jace Whittaker gave up a couple big plays as well.

This is not a group of corners that will keep you in games against good offensive teams.

3. The conditioning program isn’t working

As UCLA started driving the ball with relative ease in the third quarter, the overwhelming sentiment was that the defense had been on the field for too many plays. The problem with that stance? Arizona had run more offensive plays than the Bruins for a majority of the game.

When Khalil Tate is coming in without having played a game and looks absolutely gassed at the end of his first career drive, something is wrong with the conditioning program. When players are getting hurt at an alarming rate, there’s something wrong with your training program. These are things that need to be reevaluated by the administration during the 2016 offseason.

4. Justin Belknap needs a scholarship

Arizona’s defensive line is overacheiving big time, and it starts with the walk-on from Henderson, NV. Belknap is just killing it, and it’s time to reward him with a scholarship. Also, I don’t think it’s an accident that Auilua Fanene and Sani Fuimaono, both LDS mission guys, are starting to come into their own. Having the older guys up front has really given the defensive line a boost.

5. The return game remains the worst aspect of the team

UCLA benefited from really good field position on a couple of kickoffs that Arizona just couldn’t cover well. The Bruins had two 50+ yard returns, while Arizona averaged 19 per return with Cam Denson handling those responsibilities. If there is one coach that needs to be reassigned to something else, it’s Charlie Ragle. There’s no getting around it anymore. He’s here for recruiting purposes, let him just do that from now on. Special teams and tight ends are not at the point where they should be, and that’s on him.