Well, that happened.
A week after one of the most thrilling comebacks in UCLA Bruins history, the team went on the road for the second week in a row and looked lost, losing a winnable game to the Arizona Wildcats by the score of 20-17.
First off, let’s address the striped elephant in the room. Yes, the Pac-12 refs were terrible and they gifted the Wildcats two first downs that directly led to points. But the Pac-12 refs are always terrible. They aren’t the reason UCLA only scored 17 points in this game.
In fact, let’s focus on that first. A week after putting up 50 points in 20 minutes, UCLA could only manage 17 points in this one. In fact, the Bruins could only drive past midfield on five of their eleven drives, which is hilariously inept. They failed to convert two fourth down attempts in their own territory, which gifted Arizona great field position. Marcel Yates, who is a bad defensive coordinator, was able to run circles around Chip Kelly in this game, which is as big an indictment as anything I can think of.
The worst part is this was clearly a play-calling issue because, for the most part, the offensive players were fine! Dorian Thompson-Robinson backslid a bit, as was expected after last week’s performance, but was still fine, going 17 of 33 for 180 yards and a touchdown, while also running for 63 yards on eight carries. He was hurt late in the 3rd quarter, which led to the debut of Austin Burton, who was more than capable in relief. Joshua Kelley did his best trying to carry the load, running for 127 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown.
But more baffling was who didn’t play. Demetric Felton, the hero of last week’s game, was noticeably absent for a majority of this game. Same with Chase Cota, who blew up last week but only saw three targets in this game. Jaylen Erwin was the go-to receiver, which was unfortunate as he dropped a few passes. This team needs the return of Theo Howard in the worst way, but he almost seems destined for a redshirt year at this rate.
The bigger culprit was the offensive play calling, which was totally uninspiring. UCLA struggled to scheme to get receivers open downfield and the run game in the 1st half was carried more by DTR scrambling than anything the Bruins tried to do, especially on short yardage situations where Arizona seemed to clue in that the Bruins wanted to run inside zone and routinely blew that play up. The Arizona defensive backs had seven pass breakups in the game, which is a sign of just how little separation they were able to create.
Let’s not leave the defense out of this. Arizona was without starting quarterback Khalil Tate. So, of course, true freshman QB Grant Gunnell was able to throw for 352 yards and avoid making any kinds of mistakes. Frankly, UCLA was lucky to even be close in this game considering they made it inside the Bruin 25 on six of their twelve drives, but Arizona offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was determined to keep the Bruins in the game with some questionable short field play calling.
Of course, because this is 2019, UCLA still had a chance to tie the game at the end, but Kevin Sumlin was able to successfully ice JJ Molson. It has been pointed out that UCLA changed holders on Molson this offseason, which if his production this season is any indication, should be reverted yesterday.
In any case, this was a bad loss. The Bruins really should have won this game, but refused to play anything resembling good football. Now, they have to turn their attention to an Oregon State team that almost pulled off the upset over Stanford today. That should be a fun time for everyone.