It didn’t take long for the talk of improved tackling to look hollow.
Just over a minute into Saturday night’s 47-30 loss at Arizona, UCLA allowed the type of big play the Bruins had spent two weeks preparing to avoid.
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, whose legs were a well-known threat after his Football Bowl Subdivision-record rushing performance the week prior, broke a 45-yard touchdown run on the Wildcats’ fourth play from scrimmage and continued to toast the Bruins all night.
Tate led the way for Arizona with 230 rushing yards as the Wildcats racked up a total of 457 yards on the ground, the most the Bruins had allowed in a single game in at least 17 years.
“It all starts with tackling,” said coach Jim Mora. “We did not tackle well. You get a guy like (Tate) in the open field and he gets loose. … He got a couple down the field on us, and we were right there and didn’t make the play.”
The Bruins have allowed 313 rushing yards per game this season, the second-worst in the nation and allowed opponents to average 6.57 yards per carry, by far the worst mark in the country.
“You can’t win (any) games if you don’t stop the run,” said redshirt junior defensive back Adarius Pickett. “We just had a lot of breakdowns on the D-line, linebackers, defensive backs, everywhere.”
Much of the damage against the UCLA defense has come via big plays this year, and Saturday night was no exception. The Wildcats produced 11 different runs of 10 or more yards, including five over 25 yards.
In addition to the 45-yard touchdown early in the game, Tate also scored on a 71-yard run in the third quarter, eluding two Bruins in the backfield before taking off and outrunning the rest of the defense. He generated 150 of his rushing yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus.
“We knew how important tackling was going to be against this guy,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. “To be able to contain him, we had to tackle and be smart and do all those things, and we didn’t get it done.”
Senior middle linebacker Kenny Young, who led the Bruins with 10 solo tackles on the night, said afterward that he sensed an issue with the mentality of some players on the defense.
“Honestly, we should have beat Arizona and I felt like we were complacent a little bit tonight,” Young said. “I’m not going to point any fingers, but some of the guys that I’ve seen, I don’t think they came with the full commitment tonight and I think they know that.”
The defense has put up other duds this season, only for junior quarterback Josh Rosen and the offense to keep the Bruins in the game.
But Rosen was uncharacteristically shaky Saturday, throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns as UCLA struggled to keep pace with the explosive Arizona attack. Rosen finished 20-of-34 for 219 yards and took five sacks on the night.
“I definitely saw him off-rhythm,” said offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. “We didn’t throw the ball very well tonight. We missed some throws and we had some drops. And then we threw three interceptions.”
Fisch was most concerned with the turnovers, noting that it’s hard to win games when you have multiple giveaways, let alone four – Rosen’s three picks, plus a fumble by sophomore running back Soso Jamabo.
Mora said Rosen may have been thrown off by the hits he took throughout the game, which included a targeting call against Arizona’s Parker Zellers in the third quarter and another earlier hit that Mora said seemed like it came late.
Rosen didn’t offer any excuses, though.
“I don’t really know what to tell you guys,” Rosen told reporters after the game. “You’re asking for answers that if I had them, it wouldn’t have happened.”