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What we learned from Arizona’s loss to UCLA

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Arizona v UCLA Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats suffered their program-record 10th straight loss on Saturday, falling to the UCLA Bruins 27-10 at the Rose Bowl.

The Wildcats are notorious slow starters on the road, but actually scored first before allowing 20 unanswered points.

Here is what we learned from the defeat, which dropped the Wildcats to 0-3 on the season. (Our full recap can be found here.)

No QB is going to be successful behind this offensive line

It’d be easy to say the Wildcats would have won this game if their starting quarterback was healthy. They only mustered 300 yards after Grant Gunnell was knocked out with a shoulder injury on the very first play of the game.

True freshman Will Plummer replaced him and put up poor passing numbers in his college debut, going 17 of 34 for 151 yards with two interceptions.

But neither he nor Gunnell—whose injury will be evaluated Monday—had a chance to be successful through the air. UCLA defenders were in Arizona’s backfield all night. The Bruins had two sacks and close to 20 hurries on 36 pass attempts.

Plummer missed some reads and throws, yes—such as when he overshot Brian Casteel in the end zone on a key third down in the third quarter—but he also made lots of plays with his legs to avoid the rush. He’s more mobile than Gunnell, so it could have been an even uglier night had the pocket-passer been behind center.

Meanwhile, the running game couldn’t get anything going until the fourth quarter. Arizona finished with 147 rushing yards on 3.9 yards per carry. Gary Brightwell and Michael Wiley combined for just 94 yards on 25 carries.

The Wildcats were without starting left tackle Jordan Morgan because of an injury, forcing walk-on Tyson Gardner to take his spot and Paiton Fears to step into Gardner’s place at right tackle. It was a disaster.

The defense is better than the offense

Has it really come to this? Even after we hyped Arizona’s offense all offseason? Yes.

The defense turned in its best quarter of the season in the third, holding UCLA to just 36 yards on 13 plays, as well as just seven points in the entire second half. That kept the score close even though it felt like a blowout.

And, remember, this was a UCLA team that just dropped 35 points in Oregon last week.

“We shut them down until that last drive,” said senior linebacker Anthony Pandy. “But going into halftime, we realized our problem, why we were down. It’s because we were missing tackles. So we emphasized that, made our adjustments, Coach (Paul) Rhoads made the adjustments that we needed. He’s a great DC and we came out and played hard.”

One problem still remains, though: Arizona is still the only team in the Pac-12 that hasn’t created any turnovers. Cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace saw another potential interception slip through his hands, while safety Jaxen Turner got robbed of a forced fumble. (We’ll discuss that in a sec.)

But the unit played well enough to win, and the offense almost made a comeback feel possible by finding a little bit of rhythm in the second half. Red zone inefficiency and special teams errors doomed them.

Arizona had to settle for a field goal late in the third after that errant throw by Plummer to Casteel—then attempted another field goal early in the fourth to try to make it a one-score game, but holder Jacob Meeker-Hackett couldn’t control the snap and was pushed out of bounds short of the stick as he tried to run for the first down.

Arizona’s margin for error is way too thin to leave points on the field like that.

You could even argue the Wildcats should have been more aggressive and gone for it in those situations, knowing scoring chances were going to be scant. The first field goal was kicked on 4th and 4 at the UCLA 8. A touchdown would have made it a one-score game instead of 20-10.

The second field goal attempt came on 4th and goal at the UCLA 7, though in that case three points would have made it a one-score game, so kicking it was probably the right call.

Pac-12 refs are still bad, but Arizona didn’t have to stand back and let them change the momentum of the game

A huge play happened in the second quarter when Turner stripped UCLA running back Brittain Brown in the red zone. The Wildcats recovered the fumble, but the officials ruled on the field that Brown was already down when the ball was jarred loose.

It was not, as you can see from this video:

Two plays later, Brown caught a checkdown and made a few defenders miss for a 16-yard TD to put the Bruins up 10-7. So the missed call was, at least, a seven-point swing.

But wait, there’s more!

On Arizona’s ensuing drive, Casteel caught a short pass on 3rd and 3 that was easily enough forward progress for a first down. However, he was spun behind the line to gain and the ball was spotted for a 4th and 1.

Plummer was stopped short on a QB sneak, UCLA took over near midfield, and Demetric Felton, who killed the Wildcats all night, plunged in for a one-yard touchdown six plays later to make it 17-7 Bruins.

While those calls are frustrating, you have to place some of the blame on Kevin Sumlin for not bothering to challenge them.

The first one probably would have been overturned. The second one would have been iffy. Officiating expert Dean Blandino joined the broadcast to say the refs spotted the ball correctly since Casteel was not driven back behind the line of scrimmage, rather he went there on his own volition.

Sumlin said he didn’t consider challenging that play for that reason, but he did think about challenging the fumble. UCLA just snapped the ball too quickly.

“Pretty much, but right there from where we were, we were holding it as quickly as we can,” he said. “We just didn’t get it done.”

What’s the opposite of elite company? Because that’s what Arizona is in right now.

The only FBS teams with longer losing streaks than Arizona are Kansas (12), New Mexico (13) and Akron (19). Yikes.

And not only has Arizona been losing, it hasn’t been competitive. The Wildcats have been outscored 394-187 during their losing streak and have only led for 51 of 600 game minutes.

Arizona hosts an undefeated Colorado team and ASU the next two weeks, so this losing streak could very easily carry over into 2021. Whether Sumlin will even be coaching the team then is looking more and more questionable by the week.

Another week, another bright spot in the receiving corps

Last week, freshman Ma’jon Wright had a breakout performance. This week it was redshirt junior Drew Dixon, who caught three passes for 46 yards, matching his career high.

Two of them were intermediate catches over the middle in which he created a ton of separation and Plummer hit him in stride.

Ironically, though, Dixon’s two best grabs yielded the fewest yards. The 6-foot-3 target caught a three-yard pass in traffic for a critical first down to begin the fourth quarter.

He also leaped over a cornerback to snatch a pass out of bounds near the the end zone, flashing an impressive catch radius:

NCAA Football: Arizona at UCLA Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The red helmets with the whiteless Block A need to be retired

I don’t know who designs Arizona’s gear, but they consistently do a poor job, whether that’s for football or basketball. Please never wear those helmets or use the whiteless Block A ever again.