Looking to end a program-worst nine-game losing streak, the Arizona Wildcats decided the best course of action was to avoid the kind of slow starts that have plagued them the past three seasons.
So instead of falling behind big early, this time Arizona scored first and then basically called it a night.
UA quarterback Grant Gunnell was knocked out of the game on the first offensive snap, landing hard on his right shoulder and not returning. In his place was true freshman Will Plummer, who was 17 of 34 for 151 yards with two interceptions while also running for 49 yards on 12 carries, second to leading rusher Gary Brightwell‘s 57 yards on 17 carries.
Arizona took a 7-0 lead—only the second time in the past 10 games it scored first—less than five minutes into the game on a 3-yard run by Michael Wiley. That came a few plays after UCLA opted to go for it on 4th and short from its own 25, only to have Trevon Mason stuff Demetric Felton for a 3-yard loss.
That would be one of the few times Felton would be slowed, as the senior ran for 206 yards on 32 carries, with 134 of that coming in the first half.
UCLA got a 31-yard field goal from Nicholas Barr-Mira on its second drive, but Arizona held that 7-3 lead going into the second quarter to mark only the third time during the skid it was ahead after one period.
The lead lasted another three minutes before UCLA’s Chase Griffin found Brittain Brown for a 16-yard TD pass to make it 10-7 Bruins. The scoring drive was aided by officials not stopping play to review an apparent fumble by Brown—and subsequent recovery by Arizona’s Jaxen Turner—a few plays earlier.
Turner was 30 yards downfield racing to the end zone before the play was whistled dead, marking the second consecutive game the UA possibly had its first takeaway of the season denied.
Arizona turned it over on downs on its next possession, with Plummer getting stuffed on a sneak attempt on 4th and short, and UCLA needed only six plays to make it 17-7 on a 1-yard Felton run with 8:23 left in the second quarter.
The Bruins added a 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left before halftime to make it 20-7, ensuring the Wildcats would go into the break trailing for the ninth straight game. The last halftime lead the UA held was 17-13 over Washington last October, a game it would lost 51-27 to start the losing streak.
A run of five consecutive punts to start the third quarter was snapped when Arizona went 65 yards in 11 plays, getting down to the UCLA 8-yard line before Plummer was way off on an out route to Brian Casteel in the end zone. The Wildcats settled for a 26-yard field goal from Lucas Havrisik to cut the two-score deficit to a two-score deficit at 20-10 with 1:15 left in the third.
Arizona forced another punt and again got down inside the UCLA red zone, yet after again stalling inside the 10 and settling for another short field goal try the snap was muffed by holder Jacob Meeker-Hackett. He tried to run with it but was stopped for a 1-yard loss with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats forced another punt, but after Plummer threw his way out of the shadow of his end zone a miscommunication with receiver Stanley Berryhill III led to his pass getting picked off by UCLA’s Stephan Blaylock near midfield with 3:22 left.
UCLA added a 2-yard Brittain TD run with 1:38 left to cap the scoring (and cover the spread), finishing with 281 rushing yards.
Plummer was picked again on Arizona’s final drive.
The UA returns home for the remainder of its scheduled games, beginning with a visit from the 3-0 Colorado Buffaloes next Saturday at Arizona Stadium before hosting ASU for the Territorial Cup on Dec. 11.