Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 46 days away. To go along with the countdown to kickoff, this site will publish the Top 50 games in Wildcat football history.
SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 52, UCLA Bruins 14
DATE: Nov. 5, 2005
SITE: Arizona Stadium, 55,775 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: 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.
Some would argue this game deserves to be rated higher in the Top 50 list because UCLA was the highest-ranked team to lose to Arizona since the Wildcats beat No. 1 Washington 16-3 in Tucson on Nov. 7, 1992. The Bruins, however, were not as invincible as their record suggested.
They 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 also had a significant win before that with Stoops, winning in Tucson against No. 18 ASU 34-27 to end his first season in 2004. The Sun Devils were also not overwhelmingly great, either, losing to USC and Cal by a combined score of 72-7 that season.
From the Press Box — Anthony Gimino
“I recall UCLA being vastly overrated at that point of the season, but the totality of the victory was still stunning and it led to one of the great mob scenes at Arizona Stadium after the game. At least for that moment, there was so much hope, which had been in short supply for UA fans in recent seasons. It all led to a great snapshot — true freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama, who had just made his second career start and looking like a program savior, leaving the field on the shoulders of wildly happy fans.”
The rout over UCLA in 2005 is worth rating at No. 40 because it signaled a rebirth in Arizona football under Stoops, who took over a program that went 11-24 in three seasons under Mackovic and interim coach Mike Hankwitz (who led the Wildcats for the last seven games of the 2003 season after Mackovic was fired).
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.
Tuitama was supposed to sit the season as a redshirt, but Stoops decided to activate him after starter Richard Kovalcheck threw 11 interceptions in eight games. The team was 2-0 in Tuitama’s two starts, including the win over UCLA, after that decision. He completed his first seven passes against the Bruins, two of them for touchdowns. His 48-yarder over the middle to Mike Thomas, after checking off the play at the line of scrimmage, put Arizona ahead 21-0 with 1:41 left in the first quarter.
Thomas, a freshman, caught five passes for 104 yards. In addition to the 48-yard touchdown catch, he had a 17-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
“It’s not an upset,” Wildcats safety Darrell Brooks told reporters after the game. “We knew we were going to do this all along. You can ask anyone in this locker room.”
Arizona, which finished 3-8, would lose its last two games against Washington and ASU, but the Wildcats appeared to be turning the corner under Stoops.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.