Arizona Wildcats vs. Cal Golden Bears college football

“Words can’t describe it,” the UA’s JB Brown, bottom, said of his first sack, which caused a fourth-quarter fumble by Cal.

As he’s smothered by teammate PJ Johnson, top, the UA’s JB Brown roars after a quarterback sack forced a fumble.

JB Brown lined up across from Cal tight end Ian Bunting. Brown, a sophomore defensive end for the Arizona Wildcats, expected what he has come to expect on almost every play at his newish position: a violent collision.

Except Bunting didn’t engage Brown. Bunting took a step to the inside, tripped over the left foot of tackle Patrick Mekari and stumbled into a double team of UA nose guard Abraham Maiava. Brown suddenly was presented with a dream scenario: an unabated path to the quarterback.

“So I had to hit him with all my might,” Brown said Tuesday.

Brown smashed into Cal quarterback Brandon McIlwain, tackling him just before he could release the ball. It fell to the turf, where Brown’s teammate, Dereck Boles, cradled it. The Wildcats had their second takeaway of the fourth quarter.

Brown had his first career sack.

“Words can’t describe it,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”

Arizona would take the ball away four times in all during Saturday’s 24-17 victory over Cal. The Wildcats will be seeking a similarly spirited defensive effort Friday night at Utah, where they are double-digit underdogs.

Brown is an underdog of sorts. He isn’t the most famous football-playing sibling in his family; that would be older brother Jayon, who played at UCLA and has made 10 tackles each of the past two weeks for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

JB Brown, whose given name is Joshua, came to Arizona as a middle linebacker. Classmate Colin Schooler’s emergence didn’t leave much in the way of playing time for others at the “Mike.” With the defense in dire need of pass rushers, the coaching staff moved Brown to defensive end early last season.

“Middle linebacker, you kind of see what’s unfolding in front of your face,” Brown said. “Defensive end, they’re right there in your face. So you’ve gotta be ready.”

The product of Southern California powerhouse Long Beach Poly High School likes the view from the edge. Brown has become a rotation regular, alternating with PJ Johnson on a defensive front that has become increasingly disruptive.

Brown finished with four tackles against Cal, matching his total against Southern Utah. He had a career-high six stops against Oregon State.

Brown and Johnson have taken over the defensive end spot previously manned by Justin Belknap. Belknap suffered a broken foot in practice last month and could miss the rest of the season.

Belknap has been exempt from UA coach Kevin Sumlin’s policy that restricts in-game sideline access to healthy players. Crutches and all, Belknap has been around to counsel Brown the past two weeks.

“That’s my boy,” Brown said. “When he got hurt, he pulled me to the side. ‘You gotta step up. There shouldn’t be (any) drop-off.’

“He’s very vocal. He helps me out throughout the game. I’m pretty sure that’s why he’s there.”

Brown also carries with him the wisdom of his older brother. Jayon plays linebacker, but he has experienced everything JB is going through as a Pac-12 student-athlete. They text each other regularly and talk when they can find the time.

Jayon’s main message for his youngest brother?

“It’s just football,” JB Brown said. “You’ve been doing this your whole life. You don’t have to be scared or nervous or nothing.

“At the end of the day, they put their stuff on just like you put it on. So just go out there and have fun.”

Defending Tate

Redshirt-junior receiver Cedric Peterson is among Khalil Tate’s confidantes. That makes Peterson a trusted source to assess the low-key quarterback’s physical and mental well-being.

Tate has been playing through an ankle injury since the first quarter of Week 2. Although he hasn’t missed a start, he hasn’t run the ball with the explosiveness he displayed last season.

“If you really want to be (part of) a winning team, your body’s not going to be a hundred percent. I feel like he’s really coping with it well,” Peterson said. “It is what it is. We’re all nicked up, banged up.

“It all comes down to how mentally tough you can be. I feel like he’s really mentally tough.”

Tate brought the Arizona Stadium crowd to its feet with a 17-yard run in the fourth quarter against Cal. It was a rare glimpse of the speedy, aggressive Tate who dominated the Pac-12 at times in 2017.

“I thought he was going to take off, just like how he did at Colorado,” Peterson said, alluding to Tate’s breakout performance in Boulder last October.

“People haven’t been really happy with him not running the ball. It’s not really a bad thing to me. It’s just a part of the offense.

“Last year, not too many people were ready for his running capabilities. Now a lot of people are kind of keying on it. He’ll take it when he gets it.”

Peterson said Tate has been concentrating more on improving his passing skills. Last week marked just the second time in his career he has completed at least 60 percent of his throws while attempting more than 20 in a game.

“I feel like this year he’s mainly trying to focus on his arm,” Peterson said. “We all know what he can do with the ball in his hands, running-wise.”

Extra points

  • Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Arizona’s offense: “They are getting about 450 yards a week offensively, so they are very productive. Their quarterback is playing more from the pocket than he has in previous years, but he is still a huge threat to run the football. As the coaching changes take hold and get some traction throughout the season, I think you start to see more of what their true capabilities are.”
  • Despite the four takeaways and limiting Cal to three points in the second half, no UA defenders made Pro Football Focus’ All-Pac-12 team for Week 6.

Reporter

Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.