Youth in effect as Wildcats take down Bruins 47-30
It has been a tough two years for Richard Rodriguez and the Arizona Wildcats. The ‘Cats have struggled through two mediocre seasons, bottoming out with a 4-9 record last year. Some observers point to a single evening as when the slide started. On September 26th 2015, the UCLA Bruins walked into Arizona Stadium and whipped the Wildcats in front of a national television audience. Saturday, the ‘Cats exorcised some demons, defeating the Bruins 47-30 in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. The victory puts the ‘Cats in the thick of the South division race and are now two wins away from bowl eligibility.
Brandon Dawkins may want to google the name Wally Pipp, for Khalil Tate has taken this offense and team by storm. Tate had another outstanding performance, tossing touchdown passes, and rushing for two additional scores. The former understudy ran roughshod though yet another conference foe, this time to the tune of 234 yards. His 15.3-yard-per carry led the team, and it was one of the highest per-carry averages in the nation this week. Tate wasn’t a one-dimensional player, he made next level passes time and time again. A play that stood out was his 44-yard toss to Tony Ellison. Tate made a touch pass that seemingly homed in on the covered receiver. While he couldn’t replicate the 10/11 performance from last week, 9/13 is more than acceptable.
With Tate taking full control of the offense, there is an obvious change in the unit. The unit has become more confident with Tate leading the way, and are now playing physical, hard-nosed football. Tailback Nick Wilson looked like the player that rushed for 1,375 yards as a freshman. Wilson ran roughshod through the Bruins, finishing the game with 135 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He finished his runs with reckless abandon, and as the game wore on, the Bruins were unwilling to tackle the senior. When asked whether he felt like he was fully back after injury, Wilson answered “Yes, for the most part.” That should be welcome news for the team, as Wilson brings a dimension to the backfield that isn’t easily replicated.
The Arizona defense wasn’t content to sit back and let the offense be the center of attention, they harassed Bruin quarterback Josh Rosen all evening. The highly touted passer couldn’t avoid the oncoming Wildcat rush, and was sacked five times. Linebacker Kylan Wilborn practically lived in the Bruin backfield, recording a career high four sacks. Wilborn noted that “We didn’t feel that they were as good at protecting movement, so we were just trying to stunt as much as possible.” Those stunts proved to be too much for the Bruins, as Wildcat defenders ran free throughout the second half.
The freshman, a California product was jubilant following the game, noting that it was “Cool to beat players that you had competed against in pop warner and high school.” Wilborn's outlook wasn’t unique, multiple Californians were excited about defeating a program in their back yard. Cornerback Jace Whittaker expressed his dislike of the Bruins by stating “I never liked them."
Whittaker was a beneficiary of the dogged Wildcat pass rush, picking off two errant Rosen passes, returning one for a touchdown. In his post-game comments, the junior corner called the return “A dream come true.” His first interception ended a promising Bruin drive, and gave the ‘Cats much needed momentum early in the second quarter. Arizona forced four turnovers, and held Rosen without a touchdown pass for the first time since 2015.
In his post-game comments, Rich Rodriguez referred to UCLA as a “Gorilla,” noting that the ‘Cats hadn’t defeated the Bruins during his tenure. That relief was also expressed by players following the contest, including quarterback Khalil Tate. With the gorilla off their backs, the ‘Cats can finally move into the heart of the conference slate with something that hasn’t been seen in Tucson in over two years, confidence and optimism.
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