LOS ANGELES – The granddaddy of ‘em all. There isn’t a place quite as majestic as the concrete football cathedral that rests its old and storied bones against the hills of Pasadena.
But on Saturday night that wasn’t exactly the case. UCLA and Arizona, two of the cellar dwellers in the Pac-12 South, squared off in the historic venue in front of a half-full stadium. The Bruins came out on top with a score of 31-30, moving to 2-5 on the season as Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin suffered his second-consecutive one-point loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, going back to his time at Texas A&M.
The Wildcats now fall to 3-5, and their dreams of going bowling in December took a major hit on Saturday night.
The furious comeback that Arizona valiantly attempted was cut short when UCLA stopped a crucial Wildcat drive with just under seven minutes left. The Bruins forced the visitors into an uncomfortable third and medium that resulted in an unsuccessful fade route from Rodriguez to his favorite target of the night, Shawn Poindexter. Poindexter, who had himself a game and finished the night with six catches for 116 yards and two scores, came up empty handed as the back-shoulder throw just sailed wide.
This forced the Wildcats to kick a field goal, cutting the lead to just one, but that was all the cushion Bruins needed. UCLA never gave Arizona the ball back and proceeded to run the clock out with a few first downs.
"Nobody in that locker room is happy. One point or 21 points, it all feels the same way," Sumlin said. "When you're in these type of games, and we've been in a bunch of them, but for whatever reason, recently, we haven't been able to close them out."
The Bruins opened the game by scoring on their opening drive, moving through Arizona’s defense with ease and leaving many Arizona fans at home uneasy from the get-go.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ unit responded, as the Arizona defense put together one of the best halves they have had this season, racking up nine tackles for loss in just the first half alone and still walking into halftime down 10 with seven points. This was all despite the Wildcat offense spending the entire first half spinning in the mud as they relied on the backup quarterback who was being protected by a depleted offensive line that was missing its leader and anchor in Layth Friekh.
The carnival-esque first half, which included J.J. Taylor’s seemingly sure-fire, 55-yard touchdown run-turn-fumble, turned into a back-and-forth affair that came down to the last possession. The halftime adjustments that were made for the Wildcats paid dividends, as they scored 13 unanswered points after the break from a dire first half that saw only seven points get put on the board.
"There wasn't any huge adjustments, just some minor things, some stuff up front," said sophomore quarterback Rhett Rodriguez who got his first career start. "We kind of noticed how they were playing us in certain formations, so we knew we just saw some formations that we could really take advantage of."
Both teams went out swinging, leaving it all on the field as both programs were desperately trying to use this game as a jumping-off point for a season, that quite frankly, hasn’t gone the way both programs envisioned, as both programs made flashy coaching hires this past offseason.
The seasons didn't go as rehearsed for these two teams, but they did not fail to entertain on one of the biggest stages in football.
Arizona will return home to Tucson to face the Oregon Ducks on Oct. 27.
Follow David Skinner on Twitter