PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Nine games and two months deep in a thoroughly unsatisfying season, UCLA’s defense finally put it all together and shut down powerful Arizona.
Even Brett Hundley had to marvel at his teammates’ defensive dominance in a win that preserved the Bruins’ postseason dreams for another week.
Hundley passed for 189 yards and ran for 131 more, and No. 25 UCLA pulled its season back from the brink with a 17-7 victory over No. 14 Arizona on Saturday night.
UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12, No. 22 CFP) held the Wildcats scoreless for the final 57 minutes and limited them to 255 yards — nearly 287 below their season average. It wasn’t flashy, but it was incredibly effective.
“Today was the first game that I felt defensively like we did what we were supposed to do on every play,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “Don’t pop a gap. Just do your job. Trust your teammate. We did that. You saw the result. … It was a big win for us, and it keeps us alive, and that’s what we’re after.”
Arizona (6-2, 3-2, No. 12 CFP) hadn’t scored fewer than 26 points in any game this season, but the Bruins finally turned into the defensive powerhouse that Mora hoped they could be — even if the Wildcats blamed themselves for the least productive offensive performance in coach Rich Rodriguez’s three seasons.
“The offense was poor,” said Rodriguez, who hasn’t beaten UCLA in three tries. “It was poorly called, poorly executed, poorly played. You can start with the coaching staff.”
Paul Perkins rushed for a touchdown and Hundley threw a 70-yard TD pass to Jordan Payton during the decisive third quarter for the Bruins, who stayed in the Pac-12 South race with their first home victory in nearly two months.
Hundley tied Cade McNown’s UCLA career record with his 68th TD pass, while Perkins became the 13th rusher with a 1,000-yard season in school history.
Yet both offensive stars knew they owed the win to a defense that limited Anu Solomon, Arizona’s freshman quarterback, to an 18-for-48 effort for 175 yards and a touchdown pass to Cayleb Jones on the Wildcats’ opening drive.
Hundley noted that two UCLA penalties were the only thing keeping Arizona’s opening drive alive.
“It could have been a doughnut,” Hundley said. “To do that against this type of offense in this type of game at this type of moment, that says a lot.”
Hundley hurt the Wildcats repeatedly with his feet, including a brilliant 19-yard scramble up the middle for a key first down in the fourth quarter. also gave a chance to Arizona by fumbling with 4:32 to play, but Eric Kendricks blocked Arizona’s short field-goal attempt, and Anthony Jefferson returned it to midfield.
“He’s shifty,” Arizona safety Jared Tevis said. “If we do our assignments and play a little more disciplined, we could have contained him a lot better than we did.”
After falling out of the national title race with consecutive home losses to Utah and Oregon last month, UCLA eked out back-to-back road victories before this impressive defensive effort against Arizona. The Bruins even overcame 11 penalties for 118 yards in the latest head-scratching display by the FBS’ most-penalized team in each of the past two seasons.
With the Bruins trading in their traditional blue jerseys for the debut of grey “L.A. Steel” alternate uniforms, the large Rose Bowl crowd watched an ugly first half in which both teams struggled with most of football’s basics.
The Wildcats’ struggles were due to their inefficient offense, and the Bruins’ woes were pretty much all about penalties: They committed 45 yards in penalties in the first 5 1/2 minutes and finished the first half with nine flags for 98 yards.
Myles Jack committed two 15-yard penalties on the Wildcats’ opening drive, twice negating third-down stops by the UCLA defense. Solomon hit Jones with a 14-yard fade for the first half’s only touchdown.
UCLA had scored on its first 30 drives inside the red zone this season before Ka’imi Fairbairn missed an early field goal. He made a 24-yarder in the second quarter after UCLA failed to take it in from the Arizona 1.
Arizona starting safety Jourdon Grandon was ejected in the first half on a targeting penalty.
Perkins put the Bruins ahead with a short TD run in the third quarter to cap their first relatively smooth scoring drive of the night. On the first snap after another UCLA defensive stop, Hundley uncorked a 70-yard dart down the Bruins’ sideline to Payton for his record-tying score and a 17-7 lead.
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