Two words best describe UCLA’s showdown game with Arizona in Tucson on Saturday night:
RELIEF- That the Bruins came away with an extremely hard-fought 31-26 victory in front of a hostile Homecoming crowd, their first win over the Wildcats in their place since 2003.
PRIDE – That the Bruins played U of A so tough at Arizona Stadium after four games (spanning ten years) worth of embarrassments and disappointments, showing an impeccable sense of character as Jim Mora’s team used a complete effort to get the much-needed win and stay in the Pac-12 South race with a 4-2 record in the conference.
Rising to 13th in the BCS standings, UCLA remains tied with crosstown rival USC in the division and one game behind Arizona State.
I should have known that things would be different for the Bruins in Tucson when on their first play from scrimmage – for the second game in the row – Brett Hundley threw a 66-yard touchdown strike to Shaq Evans to get UCLA on the board.
Playing in front of the home state folks as he’s from a suburb of Phoenix and was more-or-less snubbed by the Wildcats in recruiting after he had been a fan of theirs all his life, Hundley then added a zig-zagging 15-yard scoring run later in the first quarter, upping the Bruin lead to 14-3 and silencing the rabid Arizona crowd.
For the game, Hundley accounted for a total of 283 yards – 227 of them through the air – and three touchdowns, two of them courtesy of his arm.
The battle really came in the second half as the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 in the Pac-12), led by leading rusher Ka’Deem Carey’s 149 yards and B.J. Denker’s two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
However, in the grand tradition of the little child leading them, the difference in the game was a 66-yard touchdown run by a UCLA freshman linebacker who, at least in my view, clinched the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award with that run and his eight tackles, plus a fumble recovery in the end zone just before Carey crossed the goal line in the third quarter.
Myles Jack used that 66-yard jaunt to lead the Bruins with 120 yards on just six carries, giving his team another weapon at running back in the face of Jordon James and Steven Manfro continuing to be out with injuries; neither man played on Saturday night.
Jack’s score put the Bruins up by 12. After U of A used a 14-yard TD pass from Denker to Nate Phillips – his second to him – with eight minutes left in the game, the defense stopped the last two Wildcat possessions, the first on a punt and the second on an interception by Ishmael Adams on 4th and seven to officially end Arizona’s hopes in the division race.
When asked if the 18-year old from Bellevue, WA would be more valuable on offense than defense, UCLA’s offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said,
“You’re asking an offensive coordinator who just had a guy carry six times for 120 yards? You’re asking me if I want him in there more? Well, yeah. Imagine if he carried 26 times?”
Personally, I feel that even though Jack did a great job carrying the ball, the Bruins shouldn’t make a habit of playing the young guy both ways as it may tire him out and (God forbid) expose him to injury – which this team does not need at this point of the season.
I think that linebacker should remain Jack’s primary position as he is sorely needed there. He can be used at running back in certain situations, but I will grow concerned if he’s used for ten carries or more.
After all, as everyone knows defense wins games, and Myles Jack can help UCLA more at linebacker than at running back, as he has done all year.
Now that this first game of the Bruins’ stretch run is in the books, with their overall record now at 7-2, three contests remain.
Unlike when playing teams that they should clearly beat, where performance and style points count, these next three weeks will be like the NCAA Basketball Tournament’s “March Madness”…
SURVIVE AND ADVANCE, meaning that this UCLA football squad needs to take the mentality of their basketball counterparts in March and just win out.
How they win and how ugly the win may look will not matter; the Bruins just need to win as the alternative will be the end of their aspirations for a third straight appearance in the Pac-12 title game.
That quest to avoid elimination in the Pac-12 South race will continue under the Friday Night Lights when the Bruins, while debuting their special black uniforms, will host this next adversary:
Washington Huskies (6-3, 3-3 in the Pac-12)
PLACE: Rose Bowl
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 15, 6:00 p.m.
LAST MEETING: Washington won, 24-7, in 2010
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 38-30-2
Although the Bruins have won nine of the last 11 games against these Huskies from Seattle, the Rose Bowl has seen some exciting battles between these teams in recent years.
And any series that has the number of games won be as close as it is after 70 meetings, dating back to 1932, gets much merit and respect from me.
A full preview of this game will appear on this website this Thursday.