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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Defense slams the door

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The No. 15 Wildcats took on the UCLA Bruins in a Pacific 10 Conference college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Arizona held off a late fourth-quarter push to beat the home team 29-21.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The No. 15 Wildcats took on the UCLA Bruins in a Pacific 10 Conference college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Arizona held off a late fourth-quarter push to beat the home team 29-21.

PASADENA, Calif. — As the saying goes: offense wins games, defense wins championships.

No. 15 Arizona was far from perfect against the Bruins on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, but the defense flexed its muscles when it mattered most to preserve the Wildcats’ 29-21 victory — something it will need to do if it wants to return to this very field on New Year’s Day.

“”Arizona football is all about defense,”” said senior defensive end Ricky Elmore. “”Coach always tells us we can’t win a championship without good defense. So if we want to get where we want to be, we got to play each week sound.””

Behind a career-high 319 passing yards and 71 yards on the ground from Matt Scott, the Arizona offense set the tone and built a 19-7 halftime lead. But when Scott and the offense began to sputter in the fourth quarter and UCLA cut the score to 26-21, the Arizona defense stepped up.  

The Wildcats denied UCLA on its final four possessions, allowing only 14 net yards, two first downs and picking up two sacks and a fumble along the way.

So while the offense had a big day collecting more yards than it had all season (583), it was the defense that showcased its championship prowess to deny the Bruins’ fourth-quarter push.

“”We came up with the stops (down the stretch). I said it will always come down to making stops in games to win,”” head coach Mike Stoops said. “”I had a feeling they were going to have an opportunity to win, and they did, and we came up with the stop.””

The defense wasn’t exactly flawless all game, however, as it yielded 228 passing yards to quarterback Richard Brehaut and a UCLA offense that entered the game ranked 117th out of 120 in passing yards per game.

The Bruins hit Arizona on two big plays through the air — a 68-yard touchdown pass at 13:31 in the third and a 49-yard flea-flicker 36 seconds into the fourth. The Wildcats were caught completely off guard on both plays.

“”It’s kind of just like, slap yourself in the face, ‘Wow, wake up,'”” Elmore said. “”But those are the plays that when you’re not paying attention, they’ll get you on those.””

Arizona ultimately held off the Bruins to win its fifth road game in a row, but Saturday’s contest was a lot closer than it had to be.

The Wildcats were in control for the majority of the game thanks to a monster first half from Scott and the offense. The junior quarterback “”made tons of plays throughout the course of the game,”” Stoops said, highlighted by a 41-yard touchdown to Juron Criner, who finished with eight catches for 128 yards, on the first drive of the game.

“”I thought Matt played well the whole game. I thought he ran the ball well. He adds a dimension (by) scrambling,”” Stoops said. “”They came with a lot of pressure, and he did a good job running.””

UCLA answered Arizona’s opening score with an 11-yard touchdown run from Derrick Coleman, but the second quarter was all Wildcats. Running back Keola Antolin, who finished with 111 yards on the ground, scored from two yards out 42 seconds into the second.

“”Keola ran great again,”” Stoops said.

Alex Zendejas tacked on two field goals to close out the quarter and put the Wildcats in the driver’s seat at the break.

But the second half was underwhelming for both the offense and the defense, and Arizona “”just couldn’t put the game away,”” according to Stoops. UCLA cut Arizona’s lead to 19-14 with the aforementioned 68-yard pass from Brehaut to Randall Carroll. The play was UCLA’s longest through the air since 2007.

Running back Greg Nwoko answered back for the Wildcats scoring from one yard out with 6:45 left in the third, but Arizona’s offense was stagnant from that point on.

The drive after Brehaut hit wide receiver Josh Smith on the flea-flicker, Scott threw a red zone interception on a fade intended for Criner that he was “”baited into,”” according to Stoops.

UCLA had a ton of chances late in the game to take advantage of the Wildcats’ mistakes, but Arizona’s defense wouldn’t give in and the offense’s big first half was enough to hold off the Bruins.

“”We kind of let them stick around in the game come third quarter, but when it was time for us to make the plays we made the plays,”” said cornerback Robert Golden, who collected an interception in the first quarter.

 

The fake punt

UCLA struck first with trickery as they hit big on the flea-flicker, but Stoops answered back with a fake punt in the fourth.

The Bruins were gaining momentum and expected to take over possession as Arizona punted from its own 23-yard line. But Stoops opted for a fake on a direct snap to linebacker Jake Fischer, who took it for 29 yards.

The Wildcats ultimately punted and the Bruins received the ball on the 20, but it was a momentum changer nonetheless.

“”The last couple times we punted, they were trying to get a return, and that’s when you have to call those plays,”” Stoops said. “”You have to have enough courage and toughness to make them and execute them, and I thought that was big in flipping the field during the fourth with six minutes to go in the game.””

Fischer, who played running back in high school, added: “”Me and RJ (Young) are always giving coach (Jeff Hammerschmidt) a hard time about it, like ‘When are you going to call it?’ He finally called it and we did a good job.””

 

Grigsby dinged up

Running back Nic Grigsby didn’t return in the second half after injuring his ankle in the second quarter. Grigsby’s injury isn’t expected to be too serious.

“”He sprained his ankle,”” Stoops said. “”I don’t think it’s too significant. He didn’t feel like he could burst like he wanted to.””

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