Arizona's defense puts on Superman cape with two touchdowns vs Cal
Sometimes, the best offense is a good defense. Five tackles for a loss, four takeaways, two sacks and, most importantly, two touchdowns.
Quite the performance for the Wildcat defense on Saturday night as they provided the spark Arizona needed to come away with a 24-17 victory over the Golden Bears.
“That was really a gutty performance,” Sumlin said of his defense. “That’s two weeks in a row in the second half where the guys have played really, really well.”
Last week’s second-half comeback against USC fell short, but this time around the Wildcats were able to overcome a four-point deficit after 20 minutes of play and get their third win of the season.
Another second half filled with twists and turns was highlighted by an interception-turned-fumble-recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter and a pick-six in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
“Absolutely incredible. They stepped up when it mattered most and it was fun to watch,” wide receiver Tony Ellison said.
While Ellison’s first quarter touchdown reception stood as the offense’s only touchdown on the night, the defense picked up the slack and the charge was led by – to no one’s surprise – linebacker Colin Schooler.
With the ‘Cats down 14-10, Schooler intercepted Cal quarterback Brand McIlwain – one of the QB’s three interceptions of the game – at UA’s own 17-yard line late in the third quarter and started running back the other way with the ball.
Now this is where things got wacky.
Cal receiver Jeremiah Hawkins caught Schooler from behind and popped the ball in the air, but it landed right in front of UA defensive back Azizi Hearns, who scooped it up and ran it in 34 yards to the house for a touchdown.
It was a play that you couldn’t pull off in a video game, even if you tried 100 times.
“That was all planned,” Schooler initially joked. “That went from a good play to a bad play to a great play. That was a huge momentum swing and I gotta have trust in my teammates to pick up the slack sometimes.”
From head coach Kevin Sumlin’s point of view, he probably held his breath as he watched it unfold.
“When I see their running back closing in on Colin from behind, I’m like, ‘No!’,” Sumlin said. “And Azizi, those are hustle plays where a guy is just like go, go … He’s just playing hard.”
The knockout punch of the game came from safety Scottie Young Jr. The Arizona sophomore scored with just over three minutes remaining in the game and effectively ended Cal’s comeback chances.
“I just go out there every day and work for my team,” Young said.
Young missed all of fall camp and the season opener vs. BYU due to suspension but hasn’t let that affect his on-field performance and mentality.
“I put the past behind me. What can I do to help the team win?” Young said.
With two defensive touchdowns, Arizona was able to reach the midseason marker with an even .500 record (3-3), including two Pac-12 wins.
Considering Arizona’s offensive struggles, outside of the Southern Utah and Oregon State games, the defense’s continued growth will be a factor in how the second half of the year unfolds.
“The thing that gives a chance in all of these games is our effort. As long as we continue to have that effort, we’re gonna have a chance to win more games,” Sumlin said.
Arizona will have a short week to prepare for a road trip to Salt Lake City, where it will take on the Utah Utes on Friday, Oct. 12.