FINAL: Arizona beats UCLA at home 20-17

Gunnell and the Wildcats beat UCLA 20-17 at Arizona Stadium.
Gunnell and the Wildcats beat UCLA 20-17 at Arizona Stadium.(Source: KOLD News 13)
Updated: Sep. 28, 2019 at 9:13 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Arizona, fresh off a bye week, hosted UCLA in the Wildcats’ Pac-12 opener at Arizona Stadium in Tucson late Saturday, Sept. 28.

With two of their top offensive players out, the Wildcats struggled against the Bruins in the first half but turned it around after halftime.

Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin announced before the game quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor would be out with injuries. According to reports, Tate hurt his hamstring two weeks ago while Taylor is dealing with a leg injury suffered in the same game.

Grant Gunnell got the start for the Wildcats and went 29-for-44 with 352 yards and a touchdown.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 180 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Bruins. Austin Burton took a few snaps as well with 44 yards.

Arizona (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) remains perfect at home this season.

UCLA pulled off an epic comeback against Washington State last weekend, saving its season and possibly coach Chip Kelly’s job.

UCLA went 3-9 in its first season under Kelly and an 0-3 start this year put his job on shaky ground. The Bruins and Kelly seemed to be in bigger trouble after falling into a 49-17 hole against Washington State early in the third quarter last week.

Then UCLA’s dormant offense woke up. The Bruins, who had failed to score more than 14 points the previous three games, stormed back to pull off the wild 67-63 victory.

The last time these two teams met, quarterback Rhett Rodriguez made his first collegiate start. Rodriguez played well as the Wildcats picked up 520 yards of offense, but the Bruins held on for a 31-30 win in front of 54,686 fans at the Rose Bowl.

Rodriguez threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns to go with a pair of interceptions. J.J. Taylor rushed for 154 yards on 19 carries, while Gary Brightwell had 121 yards on 15 carries.

The Bruins may have won last week, but it sure wasn’t pretty.

UCLA gave up 63 points, 720 total yards and Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon broke the school record with nine touchdown passes while throwing for 570 yards.

The good news for the Bruins: they forced six turnovers against Washington State last week after managing two combined the first three games.

Arizona was averaging 43.7 point per game before Saturday’s contest, the 14th best mark in the country. Even with last week’s offensive explosion, UCLA was ranked 85th at 27.3 ppg.

The Wildcats were giving up 33.3 ppg while UCLA was even worse at 39.5 ppg. Arizona has the 105th “best” defense in the NCAA while the Bruins are almost dead last at 122 out of 130 teams.

The big difference is the Cats have hauled in a nation-leading eight interceptions through the first three games of the young season. Arizona managed only seven picks during the 2018 season.

Despite the defensive woes, the Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) topped Northern Arizona and Texas Tech in their last two games after opening the season with a heartbreaking loss at Hawaii.

Taylor was dinged up last week, when he was limited to only 11 carries.

Gary Brightwell picked up the slack when Taylor went down, rushing for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Darrius Smith also averaged 7.0 yards per carry last week and could get more touches this week.

The Wildcats’ ground game -- averaging 307.7 yards per game -- again leads the conference. Arizona averaged 202.4 rushing yards per game last year, marking the fourth straight season the program has averaged 200 or more yards per game.

Arizona is one of just eight programs nationally to average at least 200 yards rushing per game over the past four seasons. The other teams are Georgia Tech, Army, Air Force, Navy, Georgia Southern, Oklahoma and Appalachian State.

To put the Wildcats’ success into perspective, Georgia Tech, Army, Air Force, Navy, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are known for run-heavy offenses with most using the triple option.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.