When Arizona took the ball for the first time Saturday night, it controlled its destiny in the Pac-12 South race.
But the Wildcats never controlled UCLA and rarely controlled themselves in their most sloppy game under coach Rich Rodriguez, turning in 60 minutes of frustrating football that reset the expectations in the final few weeks of the season.
“It’s embarrassing,” Rodriguez said on in his postgame radio interview on 1290-AM (KCUB0 after a 66-10 loss to the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
“It starts with me. We thought we had the guys ready, and they weren’t. We didn’t respond well. It was just a long night all the way around.”
Oregon’s victory at USC across town at the L.A. Coliseum had provided a window of opportunity for Arizona in the league race, but that’s basically slammed shut now. UA is 5-4 overall — still ahead of most preseason predictions — but is 2-4 in the conference.
What’s worse is that quarterback Matt Scott left in the third quarter after taking another shot to the head, and linebacker Hank Hobson had to be taken from the field on a cart.
Rodriguez told reporters that Scott “got dizzy” after his helmet hit the thigh of UCLA defensive end Datone Jones as he was being tackled from behind after a throw from his end zone. Expect another round of concussion questions about Scott this week.
The details of the game hardly seem to matter. UCLA scored first and never seemed to stop. That’s about it.
Here it is in overall numbers: The Bruins, 611 yards. Arizona, a season-low 257.
“We didn’t block them. We didn’t get off of press coverage. We didn’t get open. We didn’t throw it right. We didn’t run it right. We didn’t call the plays right. There was not anything we did well,” Rodriguez told reporters.
The Wildcats, who feasted on turnovers in upset wins over Oklahoma State (four) and USC (five), lost the turnover battle 3-0.
Arizona, which committed 14 penalties a week earlier against the Trojans, were flagged 15 times vs. the Bruins.
Rodriguez said in his postgame radio interview that he didn’t see this coming.
“Didn’t see it at all,” he said.
“Not during the week or anything in preparation leading up to it. In the locker room before, the guys seemed really focused. I didn’t sense that at all.”
After a week of excitement following the 39-36 upset of USC, Arizona came out flat … and got flattened. The themes of last week — the Cats staying level-headed, being resilient through adversity — vanished in a blur of UCLA’s new navy blue “L.A. Nights” uniforms.
Not even in a 49-0 loss at Oregon, did Arizona play so poorly in all phases, which included a fumbled punt by Richard Morrison early in the second quarter. He dropped the ball while running forward and trying to make a diving catch, and UCLA recovered at the UA 39.
The Bruins quickly scored for a 28-0 lead.
For the fifth time this season, Arizona allowed more than 600 yards in a game.
“We’re hanging on at times anyway and all that, but we’ve been able to hang on and overcome and be more resilient,” Rodriguez said. “This evening, we weren’t able to do that, and that’s disappointing.”
The Cats return home Saturday for an early Homecoming kickoff against Colorado (11:30 a.m., FOX). The Buffs have been outscored 261-51 during a five-game losing streak, so Arizona, no matter Scott’s injury situation, should get the sixth victory it needs for bowl eligibility.
After that, the outcomes of games at Utah and vs. Arizona State are anybody’s guess.