(Editor's note: This piece was written before the Star confirmed that Arizona QB Jordan McCloud will miss the remainder of the season because of injury.)
Every week throughout the season, we take a look back at the Arizona Wildcats’ previous game after re-watching it via the TV broadcast. Here are five key takeaways from the UA’s 34-16 loss to UCLA on Saturday night:
1. IF IT WEREN’T FOR BAD LUCK ...
Arizona finally found its quarterback. Now Jordan McCloud is out indefinitely. What a brutal turn of events it was early in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats had first-and-10 at their 43-yard line. They trailed by eight points. Jedd Fisch called a shot play with a play-action fake. That type of play, by its nature, takes time. McCloud dropped to pass and waited for the play to develop. Tight end Alex Lines tried his best to lock up UCLA defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia. Ogbonnia eventually freed himself and grabbed McCloud, whose body and leg folded awkwardly as Ogbonnia – who’s listed at 6-4, 320 – and others landed on top of him. McCloud lost the ball and his helmet. Fisch didn’t have a precise diagnosis after the game but said it didn’t look like a short-term injury. McCloud re-emerged on the sideline with crutches and an ice pack on his right knee. He was playing well. He was playing smart. Six of his nine incomplete passes were throwaways, per Pro Football Focus. He didn’t hesitate when opportunities arose to throw downfield or take off and run. Now Fisch and the Wildcats are back where they started, hopeful that Gunner Cruz learned from his time on the sideline, as McCloud did. We’ll see.
2. EYES NOT ON THE PRIZE
You didn’t have to watch the game a second time to realize that UCLA gouged Arizona with its ground game; that was obvious the first time around. How did the Bruins do it? What did the Wildcats do wrong? Linebacker Anthony Pandy said missed tackles were the primary culprit, and that undoubtedly was a factor; PFF tagged Arizona with 13 of those. But there was more to it than that. The Bruins ran out of a variety of formations and utilized motion and zone-read concepts to flummox the UA defense. On UCLA’s first drive, the Bruins sent a receiver in motion to the right and ran to the left. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson also held the ball in tailback Zach Charbonnet’s belly just long enough to lure Christian Young, who followed Thompson-Robinson to the right as Charbonnet chugged the other way. Charbonnet gained 12 yards and a first down. The Bruins ran the same play later in the possession, and you could see that linebacker Treshaun Hayward and others were preoccupied with Thompson-Robinson. On Brittain Brown’s 48-yard TD run that put the game away, safety Gunner Maldonado seemed to be tracking Thompson-Robinson. Did the Wildcats pay too much mind to DTR, who had only 28 of UCLA’s 329 rushing yards? Perhaps.
3. TRICK AND TREAT
Let’s talk about something positive – Arizona’s lone touchdown. It was an exquisitely executed trick play. The Wildcats faced first-and-goal at the 10 late in the second quarter. Michael Wiley motioned from the right side into the backfield. Bryce Wolma motioned from left to right, then went back to the left, essentially giving Arizona a trips look on that side; Jamarye Joiner and Stanley Berryhill III were split wide to the left. Joiner was behind the line of scrimmage by 2 yards. At the snap, which was taken from under center, Wolma drifted farther to the left to provide protection for Joiner, who received McCloud’s backward pass at the 15. Joiner dropped back to the 18. With two defenders closing on him, Joiner – a former quarterback – fired a dart to Wiley, who was virtually uncovered in the end zone on the opposite side of the field. The play was so effective that 10 Bruins were one side of the field – the offense’s left – when Joiner released the ball. What we liked about it most was that Fisch had faith in Joiner and Wiley to execute it after those two failed to properly execute a lateral on a kickoff return against Oregon. That’s how you earn your players’ trust.
4. THIS TIME IT’S PERSONNEL
Each week we provide some notes on individual players, so here goes … We continue to marvel at RB Drake Anderson’s ability to dodge defenders in the backfield and gain positive yardage. ... Wiley was playing well before his late fumble, which resulted from a brief lapse in technique – carrying the ball too low and not quite tight enough. ... Freshman RB Stevie Rocker Jr. has proved to be a versatile weapon; he made plays vs. UCLA as a runner, receiver and blocker, the latter out of the fullback position on a pitch to Anderson. ... WR Boobie Curry continues to progress, but we’d still like to see more YAC from him. It took Berryhill a few years to develop that part of his game, and now he’s excellent at it. ... OG Donovan Laie appeared to be much healthier than earlier in the season; his mobility was vastly improved, enabling him to get to the second level. ... Fisch praised young DL Paris Shand earlier in the week, and he flashed in his handful of snaps, especially when it came to setting the edge. ... Much respect to Pandy for continuing to play hard when the game was out of reach; that’s how cultures are built. ... Props to second-year CB Treydan Stukes, who stepped in for Isaiah Rutherford (strep throat) and played extremely well. Stukes allowed only one catch in four targets. The one was a TD, but it was more a product of good play design than Stukes blatantly blowing his assignment.
5 WIN(S) ON THE HORIZON?
Based on the way McCloud was playing – and how poorly some of Arizona’s upcoming opponents have been performing – it was reasonable to project a couple of victories for the woebegone Wildcats. The end of the losing streak, which is now 17 games long, appeared to be in sight. Colorado, which is 1-4 and has the worst offense in the Pac-12 (yes, even worse than Arizona’s), certainly appears to be beatable. Cal, which comes to Tucson for homecoming on Nov. 6, is also 1-4, including a 21-6 home loss to Washington State. But with McCloud injured and likely out a while, a sense of uncertainty has resurfaced. The Wildcats have myriad problems; they wouldn’t be in this predicament if they didn’t. But they finally seemed to have solved perhaps the biggest one with the playmaking McCloud. If he’s out for the season – we’re not reporting that, but it didn’t look good – will the losing streak end before 2022? Arizona will have to improve in other areas to give Cruz and/or Will Plummer the support they need to get it done. The running game must continue to be functional. Penalties must be cut down. The Wildcats have zero margin for error.