No. 14 — UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1by Javier Morales on Aug. 18, 2012, under Sports
In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, TucsonCitizen.com and its affiliate WildAboutAZCats.net will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 14 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 14 days away.
SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 23, No. 2 UCLA Bruins 17
DATE: Nov. 1, 1980
SITE: Arizona Stadium, 42,876 fans in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Top-ranked Alabama lost earlier in the day to Mississippi State 6-3, opening the door for UCLA to claim the No. 1 spot. The second-ranked Bruins, however, competed against a Wildcat team that “was wild-eyed”, UCLA coach Terry Donahue was quoted as saying in an Associated Press article.
Arizona upset the Bruins, claiming its first victory over a team ranked in the Top 10 in the program’s history. The Wildcats, 0-14 previously against Top 10 teams, lost twice already at home that season to second-ranked teams — USC and Notre Dame. They were 0-4 in Tucson and 2-4 overall entering the game against the Bruins (6-0 overall).
“That’s the greatest upset I’ve been a part of,” first-year UA coach Larry Smith was quoted as saying by the Associated Press after the game. “The offense finally put it together with the run and pass and big play when we had to.”
The Wildcat offense, which had only three touchdowns in the previous four games, got on track behind Arizona freshman quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe, only 18 and in his second collegiate start. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona’s defense and special teams, namely junior walk-on punter Sergio Vega, provided a balanced attack that was too much for the Bruins.
UA freshman linebacker Ricky Hunley was selected the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance for the Wildcats. Hunley registered 14 tackles, seven unassisted, and got to UCLA quarterback Tom Ramsey for losses three times.
Vega had seven punts for a school-record 54.9-yard average. His punts, including an 80-yarder, consistently put UCLA in difficult field position.
“He kept us backed up,” Donahue noted in an Associated Press article.
The Bruins were informed at halftime, when they led 17-14, of Alabama’s loss against Mississippi State earlier that day. The Bruins should not have learned of that score because what they knew probably hurt them.
Tunnicliffe drove Arizona for an immediate touchdown after halftime, hitting tight end Neil Nettling over the middle for a 39-yard touchdown connection that gave the Wildcats a 21-17 lead. The UA never trailed again thanks to a stifling defense.
Smith changed Arizona’s defensive formation before the game, which he told the Associated Press, “amounts to an overshifted 4-3 (formation).”
“We used three linebackers in addition to the noseguard, and I think that confused them,” Smith said.
The Arizona defense, led by Hunley, tackle Mike Robinson, cornerback Marcellus Greene and safety Dave Liggins, kept Ramsey off balance in the second half. Ramsey was intercepted twice in the second half by Liggins and passed for only 58 yards.
Sacks by Hunley on third down plays in the third quarter and fourth quarter stalled UCLA drives. Greene knocked down two Ramsey passes in the fourth quarter, including one that prevented a touchdown. With less than two minutes left, Robinson sacked Ramsey in the end zone for a safety and the final victory margin.
UCLA had the ball one last time but a desperation pass into the end zone by Ramsey from the Arizona 46 was picked off by Liggins as time expired.
Arizona finished 5-6. UCLA ended the season 9-2.
Smith was in his first year, replacing Tony Mason after Mason coached the Wildcats to the 1979 Fiesta Bowl, which it lost to Pitt 16-10. Mason’s job was terminated in April 1980 following a series of investigated reports by The Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen which alleged Mason and some of his assistants were involved in irregularities in recruiting and expense-account practices.
The standing “A” red helmet pictured was only used in 1980, a departure from the running “A” red helmet used by Mason. You can get a closer look at Arizona’s red uniforms and helmet in this YouTube video showing USC’s 27-10 win over Arizona three weeks before the Wildcats’ upset of UCLA.
No. 15 — L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 16 — UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 17 — Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 18 — Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968 (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 19 — Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 20 — Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 21 — Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 22 — Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 23 — Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 24 — UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 25 — Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma (WildAboutAZCats.com)
No. 26 — UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 27 — Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 28 — UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 29 — Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 30 — Arizona win on last-second FG over ASU ends Kush dominance in series (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 31 — Arizona reaches its zenith under Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 32 — Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 33 — Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 34 — ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 35 — Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 36 — Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 37 — USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 38 — Arizona shows signs of life under Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 39 — Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 40 — Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 41 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 42 — Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 43 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 44 — Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 45 — Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 46 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 47 — Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 48 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 49 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 50 — Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians (TucsonCitizen.com)