Arizona Football

Arizona Wildcats Football: Top 5 greatest games between Arizona and UCLA

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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.


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— Arizona is 4-1 against UCLA in the last five games at Arizona Stadium with an average margin of 18.4 points, by far the UA’s most successful mark.
— The UA’s 12.8 margin against Washington is second-most in the last five meetings.
— Interesting that Arizona has played Cal at home by far the least of the original Pac-10 teams with only five games in a span from 1997-2010. By comparison, Oregon has played at Arizona Stadium nine times in that span.


Dick Tomey pulled a surprise on UCLA in 1989 by revamping Arizona's offense during a bye week before facing the Bruins

Dick Tomey pulled a surprise on UCLA in 1989 by revamping Arizona’s offense during a bye week before facing the Bruins

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.

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.

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