By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat
PASADENA, Calif. Ÿ When the Arizona football team left the field after losing 17-10 to UCLA Saturday night, it was apparent the Wildcats knew they had let one get away.
"In a game like this one where the defenses on both teams dominated, the winner will be the one who makes the big play," UA head coach Dick Tomey said. "Nothing's very pretty, so a great catch or big run might be the difference."
With 7:52 remaining in the game, UCLA (4-2 overall, 1-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) made the big play. Facing third down at the Arizona 14-yard line, Bruin quarterback Ryan Fien completed a short pass to running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar. What resulted after that was, as UCLA head coach Terry Donahue put it, "the best and worst run I've ever seen."
After avoiding a pack of three unblocked Wildcats, Abdul-Jabbar ran about 21 yards the opposite direction Ÿ zigzagging laterally across the field while dodging three tackles, including an apparent wrap-up by cornerback Derrick Stewart Ÿ then turned around and ran 35 yards into the end zone to complete a 14-yard touchdown pass. That score, which was Fien's first career touchdown pass, put the game out of reach at 17-0 with just under eight minutes remaining.
"On that play it looked like we had knocked UCLA out of field position, but (Abdul-Jabbar) made a great play," Tomey said. "Nobody blocked anyone to set it up, it was just a great individual effort by (Abdul-Jabbar)."
Up to that point Arizona (3-3, 1-2) had resembled the Desert Swarm of old, as it held a potent UCLA offensive attack to just three points. But more importantly was the fact that the Wildcat defensive front had dominated one of the nation's top offensive lines.
"Going into the game we knew they were a good offensive line, but we weren't scared of them," Arizona defensive end Tedy Bruschi said. "Just like any other game, we expected to shut them down. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't, but we always go in thinking we will."
In fact, aside from a 47-yard field goal and the Abdul-Jabbar touchdown, the only other UCLA score came while the Arizona offense was on the field. Wildcat tailback Gary Taylor fumbled the ball after a four-yard run and Bruin linebacker Tommy Bennett picked it up and ran 29 yards to put UCLA up 7-0.
"We just stopped executing halfway throught the first quarter," Taylor said. "Some people were getting down on themselves and causing a little more chaos in the huddle."
Even with the fumble, Taylor was still the best offensive weapon the Wildcats had. He ran 20 times for 86 yards and caught three passes for 30 yards. His numbers were solid considering the poor play of Arizona's Achilles heel, the offensive line. With two linemen playing out of position and a backup center in, the Arizona offensive line not only allowed six sacks, but also had five illegal-motion penalties, putting a damper on a couple drives.
"Offensively, it wasn't a matter of adjusting, it was just a matter of everybody being responsible for their man," Taylor said. "I got the ball a couple times and it seemed like some of the defensive guys were at the handoff before I was. It was kind of frustrating."
The Wildcats' best chance in the first half came after backup quarterback Brady Batten entered the game. After a nine-play, 56-yard drive, Arizona appeared to be on its way to scoring. But on third-and-three at the Bruin 18-yard line, Bennett struck again by sacking Batten and forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Bruin lineman Danjuan Magee.
"We missed some opportunities to make some plays in the first half," Tomey said. "But we had a major problem with our pass protecting and couldn't sustain anything."
Arizona did manage a scoring drive with five minutes left in the game. With their best field position of the night, the Wildcats ran three seemingly predictable running plays for minus-six yards before kicker Jon Prasuhn booted a 42-yard field goal.
After stopping the Bruins on the next possession, Arizona took some chances on offense. On the second play of the drive, Batten connected on a 51-yard pass to Kevin Schmidtke, the Wildcats' biggest gainer of the game. On the next play, Batten threw a 17-yard fade to Cary Taylor, making the score 17-10 with four minutes remaining. Despite a tough performance by Batten in their final possession, the Wildcats could not reach the endzone and fell to the Bruins one more time in the Rose Bowl.
"We waited a little long to start fighting," Taylor said. "If we would have started in the third quarter instead of the fourth, I think we would have won it."
While Arizona lost the game, the team did take away some positives.
The Arizona defense returned to its old form, holding the Pac-10's top rusher, Abdul-Jabbar, to only 67 yards on 30 carries and gave up just 254 yards total offense. The Swarm also pressured Bruin quarterback Cade McNown, forcing him to complete only three of 18 passes and an interception.
"This was the toughest line we've faced all season," Arizona defensive tackle Chuck Osborne said. "Our front four overcame some injuries and really stepped it up."
While Tomey is still undecided about starting assignments, it looks like Batten is settling in at quarterback. He has shown a good deal of mobility that will be necessary while the offensive line is injured and out of position. He also threw 129 yards and a touchdown while leading an apparently dead offensive team to within seven points with four minutes remaining.
"I think Brady gave us the best chance of winning in the game," Tomey said. "It seems like we've had more luck with him in the game."
Gary Taylor showed the ability to create at running back and looks to be a potent weapon on offense. He might help lessen the blow of losing top receiver Richard Dice to injury.
And on the subject of injuries, they have hampered the line all season. If the Wildcats can get offensive guard Frank Middleton back soon, that will allow Mani Ott and David Watson to return to their natural positions at center and tackle, respectively.
There is still half of the season left, but the frustration is starting to set in.
"I can't even remember the last time we were at .500 at this point in the season," Taylor said. "But the important thing is for us not to write ourselves off."
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