What could’ve been: Arizona Wildcats 15 minutes vs. UCLA in 1998 from potentially going 13-0



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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 18 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.

Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com posted a debate yesterday about which Arizona team was better, the 10-2 team in 1993 or the 12-1 team in 1998?
— Earlier in this countdown to kickoff, this site posted a debate about which era in UA football was better: The 1980s or 1990s?

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If Arizona held on the beat UCLA in 1998, the Wildcats might have been featured in the Rose Bowl program instead

If Arizona held on the beat UCLA in 1998, the Wildcats might have been featured in the Rose Bowl program instead

As part of the 100 Days ‘Til Kickoff 2013 series, this site will rank the top five games for Arizona against each of their Pac-12 rivals. This installment includes the Wildcats’ best encounters with UCLA. Series record: UCLA leads 20-15-2. The UA is 6-2 against UCLA in the last eight years. The Wildcats are 4-0 against the Bruins in Tucson during that span. Their average margin of victory in those games: 23.8 points. Interesting to note: Arizona is 4-1 against UCLA in their greatest games (from a UA perspective) with all of the games in Tucson. UCLA travels to Arizona Stadium on Nov. 9.

One of the games listed below is Arizona’s 52-28 loss to UCLA in 1998, the only loss suffered that season by the Wildcats. Before we look at the top five games between Arizona and UCLA, imagine what could have been if Arizona held on to its 28-24 lead over UCLA with only 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium.

— A potential 13-0 record, meriting national championship consideration, providing the Wildcats still won their last six regular season games as they did in 1998 after losing to UCLA

— The school’s first trip to the Rose Bowl

— Enhanced recruitment of top-level talent and faster development of a football facility

— Arizona coach Dick Tomey would have been placed on a pedestal similar to Lute Olson. He would have left Arizona on his own terms and not get forced out as he did in 2000. That would have meant no John Mackovic and a drastic decline in Arizona football.

5. Arizona 42, UCLA 7, Arizona Stadium, Oct. 14, 1989

The Wildcats had significant wins earlier in 1989 — triumphs at home against No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 11 Washington — but coach Dick Tomey was not satisfied with the 3-2 start. Arizona averaged only 246.6 total yards in its first five games, ranked last in the Pac-10 in total offense and passing offense, and scored only six touchdowns.

Unbeknownst to Arizona’s sixth opponent — UCLA — Tomey used the bye week before the game against the Bruins to dispatch two of his assistants to Boulder, Colo., to study Colorado’s Option-I offense. He decided this after the Wildcats mustered only 161 total yards in a 16-10 loss at Oregon.

UCLA practiced for Arizona’s triple-option offense, which included the wishbone and run-and-shoot, and did not spend any time on the I formation, according to coach Terry Donahue and his Bruins.

The Wildcats rushed for 480 yards, setting a record for a UCLA opponent and were only 12 shy of the Arizona school record. The 27 first downs rushing remains a UA record. Tailback David Eldridge ran for 205 yards and two touchdowns in 20 carries, quarterback Ron Veal rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns in 11 carries and running back Errol Sapp ran for 77 yards and a touchdown in 12 carries.

4. Arizona 27, UCLA 24, Arizona Stadium, Nov. 12, 1983

Arizona’s dream start of 1983 — 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation — turned into a nightmare by the time red-hot UCLA came to Tucson for the 10th game of that season. The Wildcats, derailed in Week Five by a 33-33 tie at Cal, in which the Golden Bears rallied from a 26-3 deficit in the second half, lost three consecutive games before they played the Bruins in this classic.

Arizona fans became restless with head coach Larry Smith, although the Wildcats lost those three consecutive games by a total of only 19 points to Oregon, Stanford and No. 20 Washington. A crowd of only 42,640 showed up for the 10:30 a.m. kickoff, scheduled that early to accomodate the national television broadcast on CBS.

Those who attended were thankful they did not stay home because the finish was as good and improbable as any that has occurred at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats survived against a UCLA team quarterbacked by Rick Neuheisel that had won five straight games (after starting the season 0-3-1) and needed only a tie to punch its ticket to the Rose Bowl. Arizona wide receiver Jay Dobyns caught an 8-yard pass from Tom Tunnicliffe for the decisive touchdown with 61 seconds left, and UCLA All-American place-kicker John Lee — impeccable from within 40 yards — missed wide right on a 37-yard field goal attempt and a chance to tie the score on the final play of the game.

3. Arizona 52, UCLA 14, Arizona Stadium, Nov. 5, 2005

UCLA was ranked No. 7 in the country with eight victories without a loss in 2005. Arizona, meanwhile, under second-year coach Mike Stoops, had only won five games in two seasons in the post-John Mackovic era heading into this game.

The Bruins became the highest-ranked team to lose to Arizona since the Wildcats beat No. 1 Washington 16-3 in Tucson on Nov. 7, 1992. UCLA, however, was not as invincible as their record suggested.

The Bruins were 5-0 in the Pac-10, but in four of those games, they won by a combined 17 points, including overtime wins over Washington State and Stanford. The Bruins had come from behind in the fourth quarter to win in three of their previous four games, including erasing a 21-point deficit a week previously against a Stanford team that finished 5-6. UCLA lost 66-19 two weeks later against No. 1 USC for the Pac-10 championship.

Arizona, which lost 19 of its previous 21 Pac-10 home games, rushed for 320 yards against the Bruins. Mike Bell had 153 yards in 16 attempts, including an 8-yard touchdown run. Gilbert Harris added a career-best 116 yards in 16 attempts, one of them a 17-yarder for a score. Willie Tuitama, an 18-year-old freshman in his second college start, threw for two early touchdowns and Arizona rolled for 519 yards.


WSU Cougars

Series record: Arizona leads 25-13
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Washington Huskies

Series record: Washington leads 18-10-1
Oregon State Beavers

Series record: Arizona leads 21-14-1
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Oregon Ducks

Series record: Oregon leads 24-14
Stanford Cardinal

Series record: Tied 14-14
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Cal Golden Bears

Series record: Tied 14-14-2
Utah Utes

Series record: Utah leads 19-16-2
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Colorado Buffaloes

Series record: Colorado leads 11-2
USC Trojans

Series record: USC leads 28-8
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UCLA Bruins

Series record: UCLA leads 20-15-2

NEXT: Arizona State Sun Devils

2. UCLA 52, Arizona 28, Arizona Stadium, Oct. 10, 1988

The Wildcats were ranked No. 10 in the country, with a 5-0 record overall, winning four of those games on the road to start the 1998 season. The UA did not lose a home game against UCLA in 10 years, winning by scores of 42-7 in 1989, 23-3 in 1992, 34-24 in 1994 and 35-17 in 1996 during that stretch.

Arizona took 28-24 lead with 6:15 left in the third quarter. In the previous four games in Tucson, the Wildcats pulled away from the Bruins in the second half. Not this time. UCLA turned the table on the Wildcats, scoring 28 consecutive points in a devastating 6-minute, 10-second span to end their Tucson jinx and put itself in a position for the national title game.

UCLA tailbacks DeShaun Foster and Keith Brown each rushed for a pair of touchdowns. Cade McNown, off the mark much of the night, still passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as UCLA won its 14th in a row, the longest winning streak in Division I at the time after Nebraska’s 19-game streak was ended by Texas A&M earlier that day.

The game-breaking touchdown in the game came early in the fourth quarter when McNown executed a perfect play fake, that fooled All-American cornerback Chris McAlister, then hit wide-open Danny Farmer over the middle on a 64-yard scoring play that put UCLA up 38-28 with 11:18 to play. It was McNown’s 50th career touchdown pass, tying Tom Ramsey’s school record.

1. Arizona 23, UCLA 17, Arizona Stadium, Nov. 1, 1980

Top-ranked Alabama lost earlier in the day to Mississippi State 6-3, opening the door for UCLA to claim the No. 1 spot. The second-ranked Bruins, however, competed against a Wildcat team that “was wild-eyed”, UCLA coach Terry Donahue was quoted as saying in an Associated Press article.

Arizona upset the Bruins, claiming its first victory over a team ranked in the Top 10 in the program’s history. The Wildcats, 0-14 previously against Top 10 teams, lost twice already at home that season to second-ranked teams — USC and Notre Dame. They were 0-4 in Tucson and 2-4 overall entering the game against the Bruins (6-0 overall).

“That’s the greatest upset I’ve been a part of,” first-year UA coach Larry Smith was quoted as saying by the Associated Press after the game. “The offense finally put it together with the run and pass and big play when we had to.”

The Wildcat offense, which had only three touchdowns in the previous four games, got on track behind Arizona freshman quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe, only 18 and in his second collegiate start. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

The best Arizona player to wear No. 18, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, is wide receiver Theopolis “T” Bell (1972-75): He caught 30 touchdowns with the Wildcats and enjoyed a 10-year NFL career included Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Last year, this site and TucsonCitizen.com ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December, which landed as No. 38 on the list. Note, after clicking on the link, you will notice last year’s ranking. The list on this page is the current ranking.

No. 18: Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968

No. 19: Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie

No. 20: Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter

No. 21: Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure

No. 22: Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil

No. 23: Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football

No. 24: UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach

No. 25: Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma

No. 26: UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch

No. 27: Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU

No. 28: UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats

No. 29: Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era

No. 30: Arizona’s win on last-second FG over ASU ends Frank Kush’s dominance in the series

No. 31: Arizona reaches its zenith under Mike Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl

No. 32: Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run

No. 33: Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts

No. 34: ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight

No. 35: Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game

No. 36: Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU

No. 37: USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson

No. 38: Arizona Wildcats’ comeback against Nevada No. 38 in Top 50 games list

No. 39: Arizona shows signs of life under Mike Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA

No. 40: Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns

No. 41: Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time

No. 42: Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU

No. 43: Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA

No. 44: Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics

No. 45: Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally

No. 46: Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason

No. 47: “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish

No. 48: Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech

No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State

No. 50: Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal

Dropped out: Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians

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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.


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