TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Nick Foles threw for 291 yards and connected with Juron Criner for three touchdown passes in the first half, helping Arizona overwhelm UCLA 48-12 Thursday night in its first game under interim coach Tim Kish.
With nine days off since coach Mike Stoops was fired on Oct. 10, the Wildcats (2-5, 1-4 Pac-12) looked unstoppable, getting surprising lifts from their running game and defense to end a five-game losing streak.
Arizona ran for 254 of its season-high 573 yards and Taimi Tutogi ran for a pair of TDs as the Wildcats built a 35-point halftime lead.
The Bruins (3-4, 2-2) couldn’t withstand the emotion of a team playing under a new coach and may have put theirs in jeopardy with a lackluster effort. On the hot seat before the season started, Rick Neuheisel may have taken big blow with a loss that puts a serious dent in UCLA’s bowl chances.
Within a half-game of Arizona State and USC in the Pac-12 South heading into the game, the Bruins came out flat against Arizona in front of a national TV audience.
One of the nation’s best rushing teams, UCLA had 37 yards on 25 carries against a team that was 100th in the nation at 196 yards per game. Kevin Prince was mostly ineffective in his return to the starting lineup, hitting 17 of 35 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown.
The Bruins also lost a pair of fumbles in the first half and the defense had no chance at stopping the Wildcats — ground or air — as the game quickly got out of hand.
Frustration boiled over in the closing seconds of the first half, when a wild brawl spread about 60 yards across the field after a streaker dressed like an official ran onto the field.
Players pushed and shoved, a few wild punches were thrown and two players were ejected: Arizona defensive back Shaquille Richardson and UCLA receiver Taylor Embree.
The streaker? He got down to his underwear before a security person made a crushing tackle — one as good as any UCLA made in the entire first half.
One of Kish’s main goals was to make football fun again for the Wildcats, who had lost 10 straight games against FBS opponents and eight straight in conference.
They certainly enjoyed themselves against UCLA, scoring on all six of their first-half drives while scoring 42 points, their most in a half in Pac-10/Pac-12 play and more than any of their previous six games.
Keola Antolin ran for 77 yards on just eight carries, freshman Ka’Deem Carey had an 18-yard TD run and Criner finished with 10 catches for 101 yards to give Arizona its first win over an FBS opponent since beating UCLA 29-21 last Oct. 30 in Pasadena.
Neuheisel was concerned about Arizona’s passing game and rightly so after Foles had thrown for more than 2,200 yards and 15 touchdowns the first six games.
Foles did what he expected, hitting 26 of 39 passes while connecting with Criner on TD passes of 4, 7 and 25 yards in the first half.
What Neuheisel didn’t anticipate was getting run over by the Wildcats.
One of the nation’s worst rushing teams, Arizona carved out huge holes in UCLA’s defense that Antolin, Tutogi and Carey had no trouble racing through. The Wildcats surpassed their season average of 71.8 yards per game after one quarter and had 174 by halftime.
Arizona also had been plagued by slow starts, left scrambling after being outscored 41-3 in the first quarter in its previous five losses.
No such problem this time.
Foles hit Criner on a 4-yard TD pass on the Wildcats’ opening drive. Carey followed with a juking, dive-for-the-pylon score from 18 yards out.
Criner added his second touchdown by snatching the ball away from UCLA’s Aaron Hester early in the second quarter. UCLA fumbled, Tutogi scored on a 1-yard dive, then Foles and Criner connected again, this time from 25 yards. Another Bruins fumble, another Tutogi touchdown run, this one from 8 yards out to make it 42-7 just before halftime.
And, to think, Kish was the defensive coordinator under Stoops the past eight seasons.