Cats win 27-13. Said coach Mike Stoops after the game: “Tonight was another very good win. All the turnovers (five of them) were troublesome, but I’m glad that we were able to pull through more convincingly.”
Postgame report: UA’s running back depth takes a hit (and other injury updates)
* * *
UA can breathe a bit easier. The Cats hold on fourth-and-6 from their 31 with 8:10 left. UCLA had previously converted two fourth-down chances on the drive, including once on a pass interference penalty.
UA leads 27-13, and while there is plenty of time for the game to go south (see the Washington game), Arizona is looking reasonably good as long as it does nothing silly on offense or special teams.
* * *
With a chance to put UA up by three scores, Alex Zendejas misses a 39-yard field goal wide right with 11:36 to go. UA has no obvious options behind Zendejas, as the coaching staff has been reluctant to use punter Keenyn Crier in a place-kicking role.
* * *
Kai Forbath is human. The UCLA kicker misses from 52 yards, hitting it low and short, to keep the score at 27-13 early in the fourth quarter. Down two touchdowns, maybe the Bruins should have gone for it on fourth-and-7 from the UA 34.
* * *
Big touchdown for Arizona. Fourth-string running back Nick Booth, on his first carry of the game, goes 6 yards for paydirt on third-and-3. That 10-play, 63-yard drive puts UA ahead 27-13 with 0:34 to go in the third quarter. If the Wildcats stop turning the ball over, UCLA hasn’t shown enough offense to come back.
* * *
You can never have enough running backs. Nic Grigsby (shoulder) is out, Keola Antolin, trying to protect an ankle injury, didn’t play in the first half. Greg Nwoko just left the game, walking gingerly and slowly off the field. Antolin, who has played in the third quarter, is back in. UA could use that bye week next week.
* * *
Just because UA lost a game earlier this month when a pass deflected off Delashaun Dean’s shoe for a interception return for a touchdown doesn’t mean we have seen it all.
How about this?
UA quarterback Nick Foles, throwing a screen pass, nearly has it picked off by LB Akeem Ayers, who had nothing but green field in front of him for a touchdown. He falls to the ground in anguish over his missed scoring opportunity, and that play appears to be over. But the whistle never blew; the officials on the field called the pass a lateral. With most everybody giving up on the play, UCLA safety Tony Dye picks up the ball and runs all alone into the end zone.
The play withstood a replay review … not enough evidence to overturn? You make the call.
In any case, UA’s lead is cut to 20-13 with about 5 minutes to go in the third quarter.
That’s five turnovers for Arizona, their most since last season’s shocking loss to New Mexico.
* * *
Arizona takes advantage of the UCLA fumble, driving to a touchdown, capped by a 25-yard reception by receiver Juron Criner. He took a sideways pass from Nick Foles on the right side and then tip-toed down the sideline and into the end zone. Arizona leads 20-6 with 8:34 to go in the third quarter.
* * *
UA gets a break, forcing a fumble from RB Christian Ramirez near midfield, with CB Devin Ross recovering for Arizona. FS Cam Nelson caused the fumble, his second forced fumble of the game.
* * *
Senior Kevin Craft in at quarterback for UCLA. He was the starter last season, but his 20 interceptions didn’t give him much of a chance to win the job this spring over redshirt freshman Kevin Prince. But Craft started twice this season when Prince was out with a broken jaw. Prince has not been good today, though, going 8 of 16 for 76 yards.
* * *
After the fumbled exchange involving RB Greg Nwoko, second-string Keola Antolin, nursing a tender ankle, made his first appearance of the game, rushing twice on a drive in which UA had to punt to UCLA. Backup QB Matt Scott came in for one play on the drive as a potential wild card, but he was nearly intercepted while trying to hit a screen pass.
* * *
Arizona is doing its darndest to give this game away. Three interceptions in the first half. A missed extra point. And, then, on the first play of the second half, a bad exchange between QB Nick Foles and RB Greg Nwoko results in a fumble, which UCLA’s Datone Jones recovers at the UA 17.
The defense holds, forcing a 33-yard field goal from Kai Forbath, but UCLA moves within a score at 13-6 with 13:59 to go. UA should be well out in front and on cruise control, but is flirting with disaster against an inferior team.
* * *
The game hasn’t turned in UCLA’s favor, but Arizona has stalled and takes an uncomfortable 13-3 lead into halftime. UA quarterback Nick Foles, who entered the game with two interceptions, has been picked off three times, including one in the final minute as the Wildcats were trying to extend the lead.
Foles’ hand was hit as he threw, with the ball popping up into the air. Defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski made the interception at the UCLA 40.
Also disturbing was that Arizona running back Nic Grigsby left the game in the final minute after taking a hit on his bruised right shoulder. Backup Keola Antolin hasn’t played at all today because of a tender ankle.
All in all, it’s been a far less exciting game than last week’s thriller against Stanford. The Bruins, by the grace of those three interceptions, are hanging around despite being out-gained 260-97.
* * *
UCLA scored behind the amazing Kai Forbath. Even after a third-down sack by blitzing LB Sterling Lewis (nice job on the blitzes today from UA), the Bruins are still in field goal range for Forbath, who entered the game 8 of 9 from 50-plus yards in his career. Make that 9 of 10 after he drilled a 52-yard field goal to make it 13-3 with 7:51 to go in the second quarter.
* * *
For as well as things have gone for Arizona so far, they could be better. UCLA came up with a first-quarter interception in the red zone off a tipped pass, and Nick Foles just threw his second INT of the day … and this one just looked to be a bad pass. On third-and-9 from the UCLA 11, Foles threw over the middle and right into the arms of Rahim Moore, who made his second interception of the game.
Moore returned the ball 37 yards to the UCLA 38. UA could be up by 21 or 24 or even 28, but it’s 13-0 with about 13 minutes to go before half.
* * *
End of first quarter. Stat of the game so far: UA receivers have rushed for 60 yards. The coaching staff has seen something in the UCLA defense, and have called four end arounds (or “fly sweeps,” if you prefer) with gains of 20, 10, 14 and 60 yards.
* * *
The UA defense has gotten nastier after last week’s debacle (of course, the Bruins aren’t very good on offense), and free safety Cam Nelson has two sacks off blitzes. His second sack jarred the ball loose from quarterback Kevin Prince, with defensive end Apai Tuihalamaka falling on it at the UCLA 23. The UA offense takes care of business and punches it in for the touchdown on a 6-yard toss to Nic Grigsby.
One piece of bad news: Alex Zendejas missed his third extra point of the season. It might not matter today, but someday . . .
Anyway, UA leads 13-0 late in the first quarter and has all the momentum.
* * *
It’s Arizona on the board first, as Nick Foles shows he can go deep as well as make all the screen passes in the offense. With a little play-action to Nic Grigsby, Foles has plenty of time in the pocket to wait for Juron Criner to slip 5 yard past the UCLA defense (nice stop-and-go move from Criner to fool CB Courtney Viney). Foles throws deep and hits Criner in stride for a 42-yard TD pass and a 7-0 lead with 4:39 to go in the first quarter.
* * *
Nick Foles is the victim of another tipped pass for an interception. Unlike the bounce off the shoe (or the turf) from the Washington game, this one against UCLA was more of a conventional deflection, as the ball went off the hands of David Douglas, reaching up for a catchable pass over the middle. The ball went right into the hands of free safety Rahim Moore at about the UCLA 10-yard line. Moore, who entered the game tied for the national lead in interceptions, now has six.
* * *
Bug Wright, who has missed games because of a knee injury, is back at punt returner for Arizona. He might be a bit rusty, considering he dropped his first attempt at a catch, but he quickly recovered the ball. Wright, because of his elusiveness and speed, gives UA a chance in the return game that David Douglas doesn’t. UA, in fact, has three punt returns all season for a negative 1 yard.
* * *
Arizona begins on defense. Starting defensive end Brooks Reed has missed his fourth consecutive start because of an ankle injury. D’Aundre Reed is starting in his place. We’ll see if Brooks Reed plays at some point.
* * *
Three thoughts about this afternoon’s game:
1. How about that no-huddle offense?
It’s not often that Arizona goes into a game wanting to get into a shootout, but this should be one of them. Play fast, create more possessions in the game, take advantage of UCLA’s lack of explosion plays. The Bruins, unlike last season with Kevin Craft at quarterback, can threaten teams deep with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, but this is a UCLA offense still finding its way. The Bruins still start eight players on offense who are either freshmen or sophomores.
Meanwhile, UA liked what it saw in the second half of last week’s win over Stanford, as the Cats went to a no-huddle offense. Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said getting a touchdown late in the first half against Stanford gave the team the confidence it needed to come out in a hurry-up offense. “I had the idea at halftime as I was coming down the elevator, ‘Maybe we should just go no-huddle because it limited a lot of looks they could give us,’” Dykes said. “So, when I asked the offensive players at halftime … everybody was like, ‘Yes!’ It was unanimous excitement.”
2. Can the Cats run?
UCLA has given up a staggering 684 rushing yards in the past three games, which is surprising for a team that has All-American candidate Brian Price at defensive tackle and Reggie Carter at middle linebacker. Granted, the Bruins have played Stanford, Oregon and Cal in that stretch — that’s a combination of good running teams with a couple of superstar backs — but 684 is a lot of yards no matter how you look at it. In fact, it’s more yards than Arizona has given up in six games (644 yards).
Question is, can Arizona attack that rushing defense or will it rely on the quick screen passes that have been so successful in the past two weeks. Much will depend on how the Bruins scheme against UA. “They’re going to do what they do,” UCLA sophomore safety Rahim Moore was quoted as saying in the L.A. Daily News. “They might keep it simple when they run the ball, but it’s the best group of receivers I’ve seen in the Pac-10 since I’ve been playing.”
3. Hope it doesn’t turn into a kicking contest.
UCLA’s Kai Forbath is the best kicker in the country, hitting 17 of 18 field goal attempts this season, with a long of 52. (The 18 attempts in six games tells you that the Bruins are having some red-zone issues similar to Arizona’s.) The most amazing thing about Forbath is that he has made 8 of 9 attempts from at least 50 yards in his career. He has not missed in his past 27 attempts from inside 50 yards. Arizona has marginal confidence in Alex Zendejas, who has made 10 of 12 field goals, none longer than 37 yards, however. He has missed two extra points, often kicking the ball low.
Why wait until Sunday to get your notebook fix? Check out Saturday’s “Nothing but the Notes” from TucsonCitizen.com partner wildaboutazcats.com.