It’s a shame that UCLA is leaving the Pac-12 in a couple of years, because Arizona could get used to winning in Pasadena.
Jayden de Laura tallied three touchdowns, including a 17-yard pass to Tetairoa McMillan on 4th down with 6:34 left, and the Wildcat defense held just enough on the final drive to pull off a 34-28 upset of No. 9 UCLA on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
The UA (4-6, 2-4 Pac-12) earned its first win over a ranked team since 2018 and its first road win over a Top 10 opponent since 2014, snapping a 4-game skid and keeping its hopes of bowl eligibility alive. Wins the next two weeks at home against Washington State and ASU would qualify the Wildcats for their first postseason game since 2017.
It was Arizona’s first win at the Rose Bowl since 2010, but for coach Jedd Fisch it was his seventh in as many visits. He went 6-0 as part of UCLA’s staff in 2017, including a victory over Cal as the Bruins’ interim coach.
De Laura was 22 of 28 for 315 yards and two TDs and also ran for a score, while Jacob Cowing had nine catches for 118 yards and Michael Wiley had rushing and receiving TDs along with 143 all-purpose yards.
The UA was outgained 465-436 and gave up 220 rushing yards, including 181 yards and three TDs to Pac-12 rushing leader Zach Charbonnet, but it kept UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson from going off like he has most of this season. Thompson-Robinson threw for 245 yards and a TD but had only 24 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Arizona’s defense logged three sacks and seven tackles for loss, both season highs, and kept UCLA (8-2, 5-2) far below its season scoring average of 40.8. Of their 465 yards, 326 came on four scoring drives, but the Bruins only managed 47 on their last two possessions after the Wildcats re-took the lead for good.
Arizona led 21-14 at the half, an advantage solidified by Hunter Echols falling on a fumble by Thompson-Robinson with 17 seconds left in the second quarter. The Bruins quickly moved into position to tie the game on its first drive of the third before the the Wildcat defense (and special teams) came up huge.
Backup edge rushers Russell Davis II and Jeremy Mercier dragged down DTR for a loss on consecutive plays, then after an incompletion on third down UCLA went for a 44-yard field goal that Tia Savea—a UCLA transfer who had missed the previous four games due to injury—blocked.
It was the UA’s first blocked field goal since Davonte’ Neal did so at UTSA in the 2015 season opener.
The Bruins did tie it up after forcing a UA punt on 4th and 4 from midfield, with Zach Charbonnet scoring on a 1-yard run on 3rd and goal with 3:38 left in the third. UCLA kept that drive alive with a 23-yard catch by Jake Bobo on 4th and 5.
Arizona retook the lead early in the fourth quarter, but not like it wanted to. The Wildcats had 2nd and 3 from the UCLA 4 but de Laura couldn’t connect with McMillan on a fade, then on 3rd down he tried to keep the play alive and ended up taking a 14-yard loss. Tyler Loop hit a 35-yard field goal to make it 24-21 with 13:20 left.
Charbonnet put UCLA up 28-24 with 10:22 to go, scoring from five yards out after breaking off a 36-yard run on the previous play. He also converted a 4th and 3 to keep the drive going.
Arizona then put together its longest drive of the night, going 82 yards in eight plays capped by de Laura’s TD pass to T-Mac. That came after de Laura scrambled for 14 yards on 3rd and 18 to give the Wildcats a chance.
UCLA went for it from its own 36 on 4th and 6 with under six minutes to go but UA defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen—who was on Chip Kelly’s staff last season—fired up a blitz and forced a bad throw to the sidelines. Arizona drove inside the Bruins’ 10 as it milked the clock, mostly with Wiley runs, before Loop hit a 23-yard field goal to make it 34-28 with 1:11 remaining.
The Bruins got down to the Arizona 29 with about 25 seconds left after a pass interference call on Christian Roland-Wallace, but after that the Wildcats forced four consecutive incompletions to seal the victory.
After the defense forced UCLA to punt on its first drive of the game, Arizona got on the board with a 10-yard run by Wiley. That drive was extended by an 18-yard DJ Williams run on a pitch on 3rd and 1.
Another Bruins punt set up a second UA TD drive, this one ending with Wiley scoring on a 22-yard TD pass with 3:50 left in the first. Wiley was on the receiving end of one of de Laura’s patented run-around-for-a-while-to-keep-the-play-alive deals where, on 3rd and 18, he eluded multiple UCLA defenders and fired downfield for the 14-0 lead.
It was Arizona’s first 2-score lead since the Colorado game on Oct. 1 and its first 2-score lead on the road since the season-opening win over San Diego State.
UCLA’s offense finally got into gear after that, gaining 172 yards on the next two drives to even the score. Charbonnet scored on a 1-yard run early in the second, then after Arizona was forced to punt (and Kyle Ostendorp’s kick was downed at the 1) the Bruins knotted it up thanks to a pair of big plays.
Charbonnet got UCLA to near midfield with a 37-yard run, then DTR found tight end Hudson Habermehl up the seam for a 51-yard TD catch. Habermehl caught the ball at the UA 30 right before defensive backs Roland-Wallace and Christian Young collided trying to make the tackle.
Arizona retook the lead with 2:01 before halftime on a 3-yard de Laura run, taking off after not seeing an open receiver on 3rd and goal. Then the UA defense kept UCLA from getting points before the break with the late fumble recovery after Kyon Barrs knocked the ball loose from DTR.
The Wildcats head back to Tucson for their final two games, beginning with Saturday’s noon tilt against Washington State (6-4, 3-4).