Leading up to its homecoming game against UCLA, the UA dubbed the event “Saturday Night Live with the Arizona Wildcats.”
Of course, they weren’t counting on UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Myles Jack to serve as guest hosts.
Hundley threw a 66-yard touchdown strike on his first pass of the game and Jack, a true freshman linebacker, played both ways, tormenting the Wildcats for 60 minutes.
The Bruins left Tucson early Sunday morning with a 31-26 win before 51,531 fans at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Pac-12) could be labeled what Saturday Night Live’s cast was originally called — “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”
But just barely.
“We kept fighting; we kept fighting,” senior defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka said. “A loss is always hard. We have to learn from it and keep moving. We can fall down, but we always have to get up.”
Said quarterback B.J. Denker: “They were asking for us to take the game and we couldn’t.”
Hundley got the party started on UCLA’s first play when he hit receiver Shaq Evans for a 66-yard score over UA cornerback Jonathan McKnight.
After he used his arm to burn the Wildcats on the first drive, Hundley hurt the UA with his legs on the next drive when he scored on a 15-yard run.
Before Hundley scored his two touchdowns, Arizona’s Jake Smith hit a 44-yard field goal on the UA’s opening drive to give the Wildcats a very early lead.
It was the only time Saturday the UA led.
Ka’Deem Carey, who went over 100 yards for the 12th straight game, scored from 4 yards on the UA’s next possession to close UCLA’s lead to 14-10.
And then just when it looked like Arizona was starting to slow Hundley down, the redshirt sophomore from Chandler, starting making plays again.
Hundley connected with Evans again on a 4-yard touchdown pass that McKnight tipped.
That score gave UCLA (7-2, 4-2) a 21-10 lead, which was the halftime score.
“It’s ridiculous you can’t tackle the quarterback,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “You have to tackle better, you have to get off blocks better.”
UCLA hit a field goal early in the second half to go up 24-10. After the field goal, the UA responded and it looked like they were going into score to make it a one-score game.
Instead, Carey fumbled as he was trying to stretch the ball over the end zone and Jack, of all people, recovered for a touchback.
The freshman from Bellevue, Wash., was far from done dominating the Wildcats.
UA’s Smith connected on a 27-yard field goal to close it to 24-13 and then Nate Phillips caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Denker to make it 24-19. The UA went for a two-point conversion, but didn’t get it.
The Bruins then got the ball with just under 12 minutes left in the game and turned to Jack.
On a third-and-one, the linebacker, who didn’t have a single rush coming into the game, scored on a 66-yard carry. That gave the Bruins a 31-19 lead and, as it would turn out, be all the Bruins needed.
Rodriguez, who tried to recruit Jack to come to Arizona as a running back, was similarly surprised by the breakout game.
“What are you gonna do, say ‘30’ is coming into the game, so you change your defense?,” he said. “We didn’t tackle him. He’s really good.”
Phillips caught his second touchdown of the game with 8:02 left to make it 31-26, but that was it.
Arizona got the ball with 6:06 to play, but went three-and-out and punted with 4:57 left.
The UA’s defense held UCLA and gave the offense one final chance.
Arizona took over with 2:33 and no timeouts, but after a 3-yard rush from Denker, he threw two incompletions and then was intercepted by Ishmael Adams with 1:57 left to ice the game.
Hundley finished 18 for 25 for 227 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. He added 56 yards on the ground on 14 carries and a rushing score.
Jack had an amazing 120 yards on six carries. He also had eight tackles, one tackle-for-loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Carey finished with 149 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Denker was 20 for 33 for 186 yards, two touchdowns and a pick.
Phillips led the team with eight catches for 97 yards and his two touchdowns.
Arizona will host Washington State on Saturday at noon.
“We played poorly and we had a chance at the end,” Rodriguez said. “When we watch the film, we’re not going to be very happy. How many plays are you going to watch and say ‘Jeez, that one play would have made the difference?’”