The Arizona Wildcats still haven’t earned the right to win.
Self-inflicted wounds doomed the UA once again on Saturday night, falling 34-16 to UCLA before a crowd of 43,258 Arizona Stadium for their FBS-worst 17th consecutive loss.
Arizona (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12) committed 12 penalties, their most since 2018, while once again settling for too many red zone field goals. The Wildcats got inside UCLA’s 20-yard line four times but only scored one touchdown, and that came on a trick play with a former quarterback throwing the ball.
They also lost their most effective QB to a potentially serious injury, as Jordan McCloud was injured early in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the field. McCloud threw for 182 yards on 21-of-30 passing, most of his incompletions coming on throwaways after being intercepted five times at Oregon, and he got the UA into the red zone on four of its first five drives.
As much as its own mistakes hurt Arizona, the inability to slow down the UCLA run game was just as impactful. The Bruins (4-2, 2-1) ran for a season-high 319 yards while only throwing for 82.
The UA is allowing 208.6 rushing yards per game.
Arizona trailed 14-13 at the half but could have taken a lead into the locker room after Gunner Maldonado picked off a pass near midfield with 23 seconds left. Instead, the Wildcats ran two plays and let the clock run out.
UCLA got the ball to start the third quarter and was immediately in scoring position after a 75-yard kickoff return by Kazmeir Allen. The Bruins got to the UA 3 before going backward, settling for a 23-yard field goal to lead 17-13 with 13:17 left in the third.
The Wildcats got within 17-16 with 8:18 left in the third on a 46-yard Lucas Havrisik field goal, but like its first two drives in the first half it had to settle for three after getting into the red zone and going backwards. The key play was an illegal low block called against receiver Boobie Curry, which negated what would have been a conversion on 3rd and short inside the UCLA 15.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scored on a 4-yard run—his second rushing score of the game—to make it 24-16 with 4:06 left in the third.
After punting for the first time, Arizona forced a second takeaway when Kenny Hebert popped the ball away from UCLA’s Brittain Brown and Treshaun Hayward fell on it at the UA 18, taking over as the third quarter ended. The Wildcats couldn’t capitalize, though, turning it over themselves when McCloud lost a fumble and was injured on the play.
Gunner Cruz came in and showed the same tentativeness that caused him to lose the starting job, going 3-and-out with a sack on his first drive, which was followed by a back-breaking 48-yard TD run by UCLA’s Brown to make it 31-16 with 7:48 left. Arizona turned it over on its next possession when Michael Wiley was stripped on a 23-yard reception and the Bruins added a late field goal to cover the 16-point spread.
The UA finished with 362 yards, 310 of which came before McCloud was injured. It has failed to top 19 points in eight straight games, the longest stretch since failing to reach 20 in the final eight games of the 1965 season.
Arizona’s first two drives were a microcosm of the offensive struggles during the losing streak, with both getting into the UCLA red zone, but as has been the case so many times the past two years it sputtered when close to the goal line. The Wildcats had to settle for field goals each time, a 28-yarder by Tyler Loop and a 46-yarder from Havrisik, while in between UCLA scored a touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Thompson-Robinson to Greg Dulcich.
It was the only pass DTR would complete in the first half, going 1 for 8.
The Wildcats’ third drive ended just outside the red zone when McCloud was stuffed on a sneak on 4th down, and the Bruins responded by running on eight of nine plays to go up 14-6 on a 2-yard DTR run with 3:01 left in the first half.
Arizona pulled within one just before halftime thanks to some trickery, with quarterback-turned-wide receiver Jamarye Joiner tossing a 10-yard TD pass to Wiley with 30 seconds left in the second quarter. That drive was aided by a pair of UCLA face mask penalties.
The Wildcats hit the road for their next game, taking on 1-4 Colorado at 12:30 p.m. PT Saturday in Boulder, Colo. The UA has won four consecutive games at Folsom Field, including its last actual victory on Oct. 5, 2019.