You could sense something was brewing at the Rose Bowl Saturday night. For Arizona, it was something special.
It scored first … then scored again and by the time you looked had a 14-0 lead on No. 9 UCLA.
Was this the night Arizona put everything together to get Jedd Fisch his first signature win in college football. And Arizona’s first in, well, forever?
Indeed, it was as UA won 34-28 vs. UCLA behind a scrambling and poised quarterback, a strong running back in Michael Wiley and a surprising up-to-the-task defense that was perhaps has aggressive as its been all season.
It proved to be a recipe of success – or at least good enough for Arizona’s fourth win of the season. This one was most improbable of them all, after all UCLA was considered one of the best teams in the country.
“I thought (the game) was the epitome of great complimentary football, offense, defense, kicking game,” said Fisch on his postgame radio show on 1290 KCUB. “Defense made some big-time stops when needed, really did a great job holding this team down to 28 points. I can’t imagine there’d been many games this year that they’ve had less than 30 points. So pretty, pretty good day for our defense and for our football team.”
UCLA had scored more than 30 points in each of the last 12 games. It took Arizona’s defense – who would have ever thought that – to stop that streak? Arizona had allowed 45 points numerous times this season, but …
They were dancing in the locker room, later, apparently, going back on the Rose Bowl field for photo ops, given this might be the last time Arizona will play there. Well, at least for awhile given UCLA’s eventual departure to the Big Ten.
So this is what winning in the Rose Bowl feels like? Arizona hadn’t done that since 2010.
“It’s pretty cool. It was really cool,” Fisch said of the players celebrating. “And I’m excited for our players, and it was great. Their smiles make all the difference in the world. It’s why you coach college football, so you can go and look at the smiles of 18- to 22-year-olds that absolutely were ecstatic when the game ended.”
All the stars were aligned late Saturday night. UA quarterback Jayden de Laura was masterful with his feet and arm, getting out of jams with each.
“I think we ran into a really good quarterback,” Chip Kelly told reporters back in LA when asked if his defense finally caught up to it. “I think our guys played with great effort, but he extended plays like nobody we played against this year and I can’t recall since we’ve been here.”
It was a game for the ages – at least for Arizona.
UA scored on all six of its redzone opportunities. It’s running game proved to be capable. It’s passing game remained strong. It picked up a turnover. It had a blocked field goal.
Fisch called it a “fun game” but aren’t all or most big wins “fun?”
“Well, that was a big win,” Fisch told reporters in LA. “That was a big win for the program, it was a big win for Arizona football. That meant a lot to our team today, meant a lot to our Southern California players, which we have I think 26 of them. Meant a lot to our staff, meant a lot to every player on our team. Meant a lot to Jayden, to come back after the game he played a week ago, and go 22 for 28 and 315 yards, 6 for 6 in the red zone and no turnovers. Meant a lot for our defense to get the stops they got.”
What does it all mean? Arizona is 4-6 overall and two wins from a possible post-season bid. At least it will be qualified to be in one.
Arizona is rising … indeed.
“I just think that we’re in the middle of a build that we’ve been talking about all year round,” Fisch said. “We’ve said from the very beginning, I believe this is year one. I think last year when we got here, we did a lot of different things structurally just to get back to ground zero. And then this year, we felt like it was year one, and we’ve won four games.
“We would like to win two more, but we’re going to just continue to build and grow and look at getting better every week rather than focusing in necessarily on the final outcome and just know that if our team continues to get better, more recruits will want to come here. And if more recruits want to come here, our team will keep getting better.”