On game night at Arizona Stadium, seven video wizards sit in a windowless control room at McKale Center, punching up content for the stadium’s big board.
Not all of it is scripted. Sometimes, in a three-hour game, you get a bit ahead of yourself.
So it was after Ka’Deem Carey scored early in the second quarter Saturday night, slicing UCLA’s lead to 14-10. The old place was electric, rocking the way it seldom does, wired with anticipation.
Someone in the control room cut to a cameraman scanning the Zona Zoo. As if on cue, a guy held up a sign that said, “I CAN SMELL ROSES.”
The capital letters seemed appropriate.
Who draws up a sign like that when you’ve still got Oregon and ASU on the schedule? Who thinks that way at a school that hasn’t gone to the Rose Bowl forever?
But that’s the beauty of college football, here and everywhere. You think big until someone lands on his head, the ball comes loose and the stadium empties out in the fourth quarter.
With the cameras rolling in the third quarter, Ka’Deem the Dream took a handoff at UCLA’s 4-yard line and ran for glory. This time he was met at the 1-yard line by UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt.
Carey did a full somersault and landed on his helmet. Somewhere between takeoff and touchdown, Zumwalt separated Carey from the football.
UCLA recovered. Arizona lost 31-26.
All that was missing was a “WAIT ’TIL NEXT YEAR” sign.
This time, much like 1985, 1986, 1993 and 1998, when the Bruins manufactured some fourth-quarter magic to detour Arizona from its most bold attempts to win the league title, UCLA was the most resourceful team on the field.
This time a true freshman linebacker, Myles Jack, who had never carried the ball in a college football game, gained 120 yards the first six times he touched the ball.
Myles Jack? Jack Myles? Who knew?
Jack’s sixth run covered 66 yards. He outran everybody, pulling away when he reached the end zone. UCLA led 31-19.
Had not UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. been daring enough to convert his precocious linebacker to an emergency running back — Jack entered the game with 54 tackles and has been touted as the Pac-12’s top freshman defensive player — it’s fully likely Arizona would have overhauled the Bruins and won.
It was as if the Bruins were using 12 players, not 11.
One guy. That’s how close it was.
After the Cats were torched for two early touchdowns generated by Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley — a human pinball wizard at times — UA defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel seemed to figure it out. After yielding a sixth touchdown pass of the year in excess of 60 yards, the Wildcats mostly contained Hundley in the final three quarters.
The Bruins became conservative, began to self-destruct, and all those from the original crowd of 51,531 who had departed early — probably 10,000 of them — missed the final act.
If you’re an Arizona fan, it was predictable, if not entertaining.
And that doesn’t take into account the Bruins’ failed fake punt in the first half when they were leading 14-3 and sailing. It would be the first of many UCLA unforced errors, the same sort of trouble the Bruins encountered when losing on consecutive weeks to Stanford and Oregon last month.
No one is putting Arizona in that category. Not even close. Not yet.
To get into Saturday’s skirmish as the Las Vegas oddmakers’ listed favorite, Arizona had merely bumped off the league’s Motley Crue, Cal, Colorado and Utah, a group whose cumulative conference record is 2-16.
But one of the advantages of playing a back-loaded schedule is that you can develop some confidence, gather momentum, when no one with a Top 25 vote is paying attention. By the fourth quarter Saturday, the Wildcats appeared to realize the Bruins weren’t that good.
It wasn’t a make-game for the Wildcats, and neither was it a break-game. It was more like a dress rehearsal for the day Rich Rodriguez shows up at the ballpark with a roster comparable to that of a Los Angeles school, possibly 2014 or 2015.
It was a signal that he is on track to deliver.
As the clock ticked inside of three minutes Saturday night, with Arizona burning its timeouts, hopeful it could get one more possession, it forced a punt and faced an 88-yard field with 2:33 remaining.
How often do you win a game when you’re in a jam like that? At Arizona, almost never.
On a night UCLA was vulnerable, the Wildcats were 88 yards and one
lost fumble from stepping onto a national stage against a few heavyweights.
Heaven can wait.