May 19, 2024

It was the sort of loss that left UCLA longing for something else, like basketball season.

Two quarterbacks were lost to injury. Two field goals went astray, including one that was blocked. Three chances in the red zone came up empty.

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers stays down on the field after sustaining an injury in the fourth quarter against Arizona.

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers stays down on the field after sustaining an injury in the fourth quarter against Arizona.

(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Fittingly, the Bruins’ final drive against Arizona on Saturday night ended with a third-string quarterback throwing a fourth-down pass that fell incomplete, giving the ball back to the Wildcats.

About the only countermeasure UCLA could employ from there was calling a timeout to momentarily stop the clock inside Arizona Stadium. That just delayed the inevitable frustration that followed the No. 19 Bruins’ 27-10 loss that dropped them into seventh place in the Pac-12 standings and likely out of the national rankings.

“I told them it stings and it hurts,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, “and it stings and it hurts because they put so much into it.”

UCLA finished the game with Collin Schlee at quarterback after starter Ethan Garbers left early in the fourth quarter with an apparent right leg injury and backup Dante Moore departed two series later after hitting his head on the artificial turf.

None could get in much of a rhythm with the exception of one hurry-up drive to end the first half.

Even so, UCLA (6-3 overall, 3-3 Pac-12) was clinging to faint comeback hopes after Kain Medrano blocked a punt early in the fourth quarter, giving the Bruins the ball at Arizona’s 31-yard line while trailing 24-10.

Moore converted one third down before facing a fourth and 19. His pass under pressure was snagged by running back T.J. Harden with one hand for a five-yard gain and a turnover on downs. Moore hit his head on the play, forcing him to go to the locker room.

Arizona (6-3, 4-2) tacked on a field goal on the way to becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2017. Fans stormed the field in celebration of the Wildcats’ third consecutive victory over a nationally ranked team that coach Jedd Fisch said was sparked by his team’s heartbreaking loss to USC.

Masterfully executing a quick-passing attack, Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita completed 25 of 32 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Fifita got some help early in the fourth quarter from wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, who planted his left foot inbounds on a 12-yard touchdown pass to provide a 24-10 lead.

Arizona running back Rayshon Luke breaks away from UCLA linebacker Ty Lee for a 66-yard reception in the fourth quarter.

Arizona running back Rayshon Luke breaks away from UCLA linebacker Ty Lee for a 66-yard reception in the fourth quarter.

(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Everything tilted Arizona’s way in the final meeting between the teams as Pac-12 rivals. The Wildcats outgained the Bruins 429-271 in total yardage and converted 11 of 16 third downs, with Fifita repeatedly escaping pressure on critical plays to extend drives.

His Bruin counterparts weren’t nearly as effective. Garbers completed 13 of 21 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown before getting hurt. Even though Schlee was already warm at that point, having been in the game since the second play, Kelly went with Moore off the bench.

“We talked about a lot of things,” Kelly said, “but we knew what we had to do to get back in the game there a little bit, so went with Dante.”

Moore completed four of seven passes for 14 yards during his two drives.

UCLA stumbled its way to a 14-7 halftime deficit that it salvaged only with a touchdown drive courtesy of an uptempo offense that drove 75 yards in 87 seconds.

Garbers’ 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Carsen Ryan in the front of the end zone with three seconds left in the second quarter was practically the only thing that went right for the Bruins in the first half.

The list of what went wrong was far more exhaustive.

Arizona's Montana Lemonious-Craig scores a touchdown against UCLA's Jaylin Davies and Laiatu Latu.

Arizona wide receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig scores a touchdown against UCLA defensive back Jaylin Davies (24) and defensive lineman Laiatu Latu during the first half.

(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

UCLA mixed in Schlee liberally, often for just one play on a drive, with limited success. Schlee fumbled a snap during one especially hideous second-quarter sequence that concluded with Garbers getting sacked and kicker Blake Glessner having a 41-yard field goal blocked.

The Bruins pivoted to Glessner after R.J. Lopez had struggled mightily, missing five of his last eight field goals and losing an open competition between the kickers in practice this week. But the change led to similar results, Glessner also missing a 42-yard attempt wide left in the first quarter.

Glessner finally made a 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter after Garbers was sacked on third down, sparing him an interception because his knee was down before he released the ball.

“We’ve got to convert when we have the ball in the red zone,” Kelly said. “You know, we’re trading threes for sevens and you can’t trade threes for sevens against a good offensive team like they have.”

Another culprit was UCLA edge rusher Grayson Murphy, whose unsportsmanlike conduct penalty extended one Arizona drive late in the second quarter. The Bruins eventually stuffed the Wildcats for losses on back-to-back plays, only for Fifita to beat a blitz with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Cowing on a quick slant to give his team a 14-0 lead.

More Bruins blunders followed. Edge rusher Carl Jones Jr. gave the Wildcats a first down with a facemask penalty. Left tackle Bruno Fina committed a horribly timed false start, turning a fourth-and-14 into a fourth-and-19.

“Mostly mistakes on us,” said UCLA running back Carson Steele, part of a rushing attack that averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. “The runs, the routes … pass protection.”

There wasn’t much else to say. Basketball season starts Monday.

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