By Jon Gold
They had this one, they thought, had it in their eyes, had it in their hearts, had it on their hands.
Nine days after a back-alley whooping at No. 1 Oregon, a 60-13 loss that was worse than the final margin, the UCLA football actually seemed more depressed in the locker room on Saturday afternoon.
Here’s the funny thing: The Bruins never led No. 15 Arizona on Saturday. They came in on an embarrassing two-game losing streak while the Wildcats had won six-of-seven.
Yet UCLA felt like it let one slip away, succumbing to the Wildcats, 29-21, on Saturday at the Rose Bowl in front of 53,408.
Only they didn’t just let one slip away, but the whole Wildcat offense.
Backup quarterback Matt Scott was the greasiest of the Arizona bunch, a bar of Dial in a waterfall.
Scott accounted for 390 yards of offense and a touchdown, getting the start in a game-time decision over Nick Foles, who was out with a sprained knee.
Scott had 319 yards passing on 24-of-36 attempts, with a 41-yard touchdown to Juron Criner and an interception, and added 71 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Scott had 279 total yards in the first half as the Wildcats built a 19-7 lead.
“He can hurt you with his legs or with his arms, and he made a lot of great passes to compliment his running,” Criner said of Scott. “He let us know how bad he wanted to be in there, and he showed it. He played balls to the wall, and he stepped up when we needed him to.”
UCLA (3-5, 1-4) mounted a comeback behind Richard Brehaut in the second half, with Brehaut starting to find some of the rhythm that the Bruins have lacked all season in the passing game.
Brehaut lofted a beautiful pass to a streaking Randall Carroll down the right numbers for a 68-yard touchdown – the Bruins’ longest touchdown throw since 2007 – on the team’s first possession of the second half.
Arizona (7-1, 4-1) responded with a Greg Nwoko one-yard touchdown run that capped an 80-yard drive, and after the team’s traded possessions, Brehaut again struck the Wildcats deep.
Brehaut hit junior wide receiver Josh Smith on a flawless flea flicker on the second play of the fourth quarter, a 49-yard touchdown connection that cut the Arizona lead to 26-21.
And that was it, the last time the Bruins capitalized on an opportunity.
And there were opportunities.
Sophomore cornerback Aaron Hester intercepted a Scott pass in the end zone on the Wildcats’ next possession, and then a UCLA three-and-out.
The Bruins forced a relatively short drive on the Arizona possession, a six-play, 15-yard drive that resulted in a punt to UCLA that returner Taylor Embree coughed up, directly into the hands of teammate Christian Ramirez, who advanced the ball to the 50-yard line.
Five plays, eight yards, Jeff Locke punt.
“It’s tough when you’re so close, and you have all those opportunities in that fourth quarter to drive down and score,” Brehaut said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t take advantage of those opportunities and finish like we need to. I’m just as upset as I was at the Oregon game. But obviously it is real tough when you get that close, and you have it in your fingertips and you can’t finish it.”
On Arizona’s next possession, the Wildcats got the Bruins back for their flea-flickery trickery.
On 4th-and-3 from the Arizona 27-yard line, Wildcat linebacker Jake Fischer took a fake punt 29 yards to the UCLA 44-yard line, a field position shift that the Bruins could not overcome.
“I thought it was the right time to change the momentum,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “We thought it was there all day, and they took the bait and doubled our receivers. That’s when you have to call those plays.”
While UCLA ultimately forced a punt on the drive, the Bruins could not capitalize on the ensuing possession, with Brehaut sacked on third down – the first sack allowed by UCLA all game – and an incomplete pass on fourth.
After an Arizona field goal, the Bruins had a final possession, but Brehaut was sacked and fumbled the ball.
“It’s much tougher, especially because we left some key plays out there on the field today,” UCLA junior safety Tony Dye said. “There was never a doubt in my mind we weren’t going to lose this game. We were going to win. … It hurts a little bit more having that kind of confidence, and then losing at the last minute.”