As the clock ticked down to 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, it was clear that the game was decided: UCLA’s lead had swelled to over 50 and a comeback was out of the question. That didn’t stop seven of the 10 Bruins covering the kickoff for special teams from sprinting their hardest down the field, even though it was also clear that the play would not result in a return.
This play was emblematic of UCLA’s (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) overall performance Saturday night. The Bruins outplayed and outhustled the Wildcats from start to finish; they eliminated mental mistakes and turnovers and did not allow their lead to make them complacent.
The 81,000-plus fans at the Rose Bowl saw a very different team than the one embroiled in a bench-clearing brawl against Arizona in 2011.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley finished the game with 23 completions on 28 attempts, three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.
Hundley averaged just 1.6 yards a carry, but it was clear that he didn’t need his legs against an Arizona defense ranked 110th in yards allowed.
The win was the first for UCLA over Arizona since 2006, and the Bruins’ 611 yards of total offense were a sharp contrast to the 323 they put up against the Wildcats last year.
Redshirt senior running back and UCLA’s all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin, summed it up nicely: “It’s all about the now. The past has nothing to do with today.”
Payton paying off
Freshman wide receiver Jordan Payton caught the first touchdown pass of his UCLA career in the first quarter on an arching ball to the corner of the end zone from Hundley.
Payton had two other receptions on the night for a total of 37 yards and continues to improve week by week, looking more like a veteran than a rookie.
“He’s a good football player, he catches anything that’s near him. He’s got excellent hands, he’s physical, he can run after the catch, he runs excellent routes,” coach Jim Mora said.
“He doesn’t play like a freshman, and he shouldn’t because he’s nine games into his career. I think he’ll keep improving because he works hard at it.”
Payton emphasized that building an early lead was an important factor in the win.
“We wanted to control the game on offense and coming out here and scoring like that sends a message that we’re here,” Payton said.
Fall of Troy
With Saturday’s win over Arizona and losses by Arizona State and No. 21 USC, UCLA moved into first place in the Pac-12 South and No. 17 in the AP Poll.
The Bruins can thank themselves, along with both the Oregon State Beavers and Oregon Ducks, for helping get them there.
Oregon State took down Arizona State while Oregon walloped USC in the Coliseum.
If UCLA beats Washington State, USC and Stanford the team will play for the Pac-12 title.
The Bruins also moved above the crosstown Trojans in the national rankings, to the delight of Bruin fans. Whether that will be greater motivation for UCLA or USC remains to be seen.