UCLA football comes up short against Arizona after back-and-forth battle
Coach Chip Kelly attempted three fourth-down conversions Saturday night against Arizona, but sent senior kicker JJ Molson out to tie the game on 4th-and-6 with 40 seconds remaining. Molson missed the kick and UCLA football lost to Arizona. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sam Connon
September 28, 2019 11:32 pm
This post was updated Sept. 29 at 11:32 p.m.
TUCSON, Ariz. – Dorian Thompson-Robinson left the game and so did the Bruins’ late-game magic.
UCLA football (1-4, 1-1 Pac-12) lost to Arizona (3-1, 1-0) 20-17 late Saturday night, despite having a field goal attempt to tie the game with 40 seconds left. Senior kicker JJ Molson pushed the 39-yard try far right, despite making one from that same distance a minute earlier.
The only problem – the make didn’t count.
Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin called a timeout right before the snap to ice Molson, and coach Chip Kelly said he wasn’t going to talk to the kicker between the two crunch-time attempts.
“(Molson’s) had a lot of big kicks in a lot of big games, so I’m not going to go over there,” Kelly said. “He actually has a really good prekick routine, so I didn’t want to inject during that whole thing. So just, he knows how to get himself ready for a kick and it’s unfortunate it comes down to a kick at the end of the game.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Burton led the Bruins on a 70-yard drive to get the Bruins into tying position, but he only stepped in when UCLA’s regular signal-caller went down.
Thompson-Robinson – who threw for over 500 yards in UCLA’s Sept. 21 victory over then-No. 19 Washington State – was taken down outside the pocket late in the third quarter and did not return, despite leaving the field under his own power.
“(Burton) gave us an opportunity to tie the game and go into overtime, so I thought he did his job,” Kelly said. “In the limited snaps he had, I thought he did a nice job.
Thompson-Robinson had kept the Bruins ahead for the entirety of the first half – opening the game’s scoring with a touchdown pass to redshirt junior quarterback-turned-tight end Matt Lynch in the first quarter – and he even led a lead-extending drive to start the second half.
The Bruins opened the second half on a 17-play drive that went 56 yards and ended in a field goal by Molson. Thompson-Robinson connected with junior receiver Jaylen Erwin to bring the ball down to the Arizona 13, but a facemask and eventual false start pushed UCLA back to the Arizona 35.
UCLA took a 10-6 lead on the 37-yard make by Molson, but it didn’t last long.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, quarterback Grant Gunnell zipped a 75-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Smith, putting the Wildcats up 13-10 – their first lead of the night.
“Miscommunication between us – it definitely sucks,” said senior linebacker Krys Barnes. “We want to come out there and get a stop. We didn’t.”
Gunnell was starting in place of Khalil Tate, one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Tate and running back J.J. Taylor were ruled out with injuries prior to kickoff.
After the two teams switched off punting, Thompson-Robinson led the Bruins into the Wildcats’ territory but injured his leg while trying to throw the ball away. Redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley capped off the drive with 36-yard and 3-yard carries to bring UCLA back ahead 17-13.
“(I) finally did something right today,” Kelley said. “Tonight wasn’t my best game at all, I didn’t play really well. I think the stats are very misleading.”
Kelley finished the night with 127 yards and 27 carries – both of which were season-highs – but eight of his first 17 carries went for two or fewer yards. Following Thompson-Robinson’s injury, Kelley got 10 touches for 79 yards from scrimmage.
Arizona was marching downfield facing a four-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, but redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods dragged down Gunnell to bring up 4th-and-short in UCLA territory. The Wildcats went for it and converted leading to a 10-yard touchdown run by running back Gary Brightwell four plays later.
Barnes, however, said he disagreed with the referees’ spot after the fourth down attempt.
“We for sure thought they were down,” Barnes said. “They were behind the fourth-down marker.”
With the Bruins then down by a field goal, Burton had his first chance in the spotlight. Kelley got the bulk of the carries – picking up 20 yards on five carries – but UCLA nearly broke out a chunk play on Burton’s first career pass attempt.
Burton wound up and bombed a pass 40-plus yards downfield, but Erwin dropped it. The drive stalled, the Bruins punted and they didn’t get the ball back until there were 2:52 left in the game.
Burton finished 5-of-9 with 48 yards on the night, while Thompson-Robinson was 17-of-33 with 180 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a career-high 63 rushing yards before leaving the game. Erwin and redshirt freshman receiver Kyle Philips co-led UCLA with 63 receiving yards apiece, combining for 13 catches on 18 targets.