Prior to Saturday, you could say the UCLA defense as something of a mostly-successful beat cop. They laid down the law most of the time, but some people got away with some things on their watch. Oregon State and Cal, for example. But if the Bruin defense was a beat cop, Saturday saw someone ask them to contain a series of explosions. Arizona came into the game the fourth-ranked passing attack in the country. They were averaging 199 rushing yards and nearly 40 points per game. And UCLA's defense took them on. They played with a speed and ferocity they hadn't so much as hinted at in their first eight games.
They held Arizona to 83 yards in the first half. They forced a pair of fumbles, Cassius Marsh and Brandon Willis were quick to scoop them up. They had four sacks, two by Eric Kendricks. Datone Jones and Anthony Barr brought pressure and got tackles for a loss while even the secondary managed to hold up. They handed the Wildcats a drive via pass interference early in the second quarter, but outside of that there were few of the usual complains about Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester.
If the defense was going to have their best game of the season, the offense didn't want to be left behind. They came out swinging, and after the first few punches connected they didn't stop. Johnathan Franklin broke off a 37 yard run on the opening drive, setting a new school record for career rushing yards and putting the Bruins up 7-0. The defense took the field, and less than a minute of game time later Arizona had its punt team on the field.
The hits kept coming. The offense didn't have a drive that didn't result in a touchdown until the third quarter. The Arizona defense was consistently leaving gaps in coverage over the middle, and Brett Hundley was taking full advantage. Joseph Fauria and Steven Manfro both had big catches. A 46 yard connection with Jerry Johnson saw the senior stopped at the one, but for the Bruin offense it was less a stop than a delay; Damien Thigpen took it over the line on the next play. Hundley finished 23 of 28 for 288 yards with three touchdowns. Franklin had 162 yards on 24 carries (6.8 ypc) with two touchdowns. Fauria had five receptions for 81 yards and another two touchdowns.
Special teams wasn't going to be left out of the fun. Jeff Locke opened the second quarter by dropping a punt in front of Richard Morrison, who couldn't get set up under it. The ball went straight through his hands, and David Allen pouncing on it, setting up UCLA for another touchdown. I don't know if it's exactly reasonable to credit Locke for putting the punt under Morrison, but I'm going to do it anyway.
The game wasn't perfect. Mora was clear on that as they interviewed him coming off the field, he made note of the pass interference calls, a 12 men on the field penalty, but he quickly changed the subject to how proud he was of the team. He had every reason to be. One of the things I loved about the game was how hard UCLA was playing in the fourth quarter. Leading by nearly 50 points, they were still flying around the field trying to destroy the Wildcats. Eric Kendricks picked up a sack with just under 11 minutes left in the game, flying off the line to maul B.J. Denker. Even Mora was hesitant to restrain the team's momentum, leaving Hundley and Franklin in the game a little bit longer than most people would say was advisable. On a night like Saturday, that's a very forgivable sin.
The struggling Washington St. Cougars are next. It's a good opportunity for the Bruins to build up some momentum heading towards USC and Stanford, but they can't look past the Cougars. The enthusiasm and respect the team picked up on Saturday (back in the top 25!) are delicate, delicate things, and a Week 11 loss would be a hard thing for the Bruins to stomach.