TUCSON, AZ – It was a bit of an ugly one, but the Arizona Wildcats (3-1, 1-0) were still able to hold on in a nail-biter to beat the UCLA Bruins (1-4, 1-1).
No Khalil Tate or J.J. Taylor, no problem, as the Wildcats turned to the true freshman quarterback, Grant Gunnell en route to the 20-17 conference win!
Head coach Kevin Sumlin came away impressed, as the first thing he looked at from his freshman signal caller was poise. “How he handled the situation, I thought was very, very mature,” Sumlin said. “How he handled things, how he went about his business. Second thing that’s probably the biggest plus is zero turnovers”
However, despite the 352-yard one touchdown performance from Gunnell, it didn’t start so great, as the Wildcats were only able to put up 6 first-half points. Gunnell did look decent, but was a bit inconsistent, compiling 170 yards in the first half on 17-29 passing.
What was worth noting it the running game. Early on the Wildcats did struggles as the Bruins were able to stack the box, and put together a solid performance throughout the game. “They just loaded the box and dared us to throw,” Sumlin said. “We ran the perimeter and got around early, that was our plan to stretch it out a little bit.”
Heading into halftime trailing 7-6, Arizona would need a much better performance in the second half if they were to come away victorious.
Unfortunately, it was UCLA that came out striking first to open the second half, as the Bruins connected on a 37-yard field goal from JJ Molson to make it 10-6. The drive was brutal, taking 17 plays, and eating over six minutes off the clock.
On the ensuing drive, Arizona was able to make some big plays, where Gunnell was able to find Bam Smith on a wheel route that went 75-yards to the house to make it 13-10, Arizona.
Eventually UCLA responded, scoring on a nine-play 80 yard drive that was capped by a Joshua Kelly touchdown to put the Bruins back up at 17-13.
But the Wildcats wouldn’t go away. Trailing to start the fourth, Arizona would put together a heck of a drive of their own, going 75-yards on 10 plays to regain the lead at 20-17.
UCLA would have a chance down the stretch to tie this one, but after Sumlin called a timeout to ice the Bruins kicker, Molson then missed his second attempt, allowing Arizona to secure the win!
Without Taylor and Tate, to come away with a win is big for the Wildcats. “It’s a team effort,” said Sumlin. “We worry more about us than the opponent and we’ve learned a lot about each other, coaches and players and personnel.”
In a night where most fans assumed it would be an offensive shootout, it was the defenses that shined. “I loved the way we played tonight,” said linebacker Colin Schooler. “All phases of the game we had guys stepping up, switching positions and doing everything right and executing.”
As for the Wildcats, they will travel to Boulder next week to take on Colorado, with Tate and Taylor’s status still in doubt. “We’ll see what happens on Monday,” Sumlin said. “We don’t practice tomorrow, we’ll have guys come in tomorrow and get treatment… we’ll assess them as we go.”
As for the Bruins, UCLA will return home to take on Oregon State.