And the defense didn’t rest. Kind of. Sort of. Well, it had no choice in Saturday night’s 24-17 win over California at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona’s defense scored twice -- more than the team’s offense -- and then held California in crucial situations to get its third win of the season. UA is now 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-12 South.
“That was a gutty performance,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “That’s two weeks in a row in the second half where the guys had to play very, very well.”
Last week, in a 24-20 loss to USC, Arizona gave them a chance to pull off a win. Saturday, Arizona’s defense – and California’s self-destruction -- helped UA get a mood-lifting jolt for what’s ahead.
“I feel like that,” said UA’s Colin Schooler, when asked if this win could help with confidence for a team looking for that very thing. “We got up 10-0 pretty early and if we don’t give up two rushing touchdowns in the half we go up 10-0 at halftime. That’s huge for us.”
It was big enough despite being down 14-10 at the half. Arizona, again, outplayed an opponent in the second half. It outscored California 14-3, scoring on one of the more fluky plays you’ll see in football when Schooler intercepted a Cal pass then lost it when the ball was punched it out of his hands ... only to see Azizi Hearn pick up the loose ball and run in from 34 yards out.
“That went from good play, (to) bad play, to great play,” Schooler said. “That was a huge momentum swing and I have to have trust in my teammates to pick up the slack sometimes.”
It was fluky fun for Arizona.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Tony Ellison, who had UA’s first score on the night on a 31-yard TD catch. “It was insane. It was fun to watch. I have no words for it. It was a crazy thing to happen.”
It turned out to be one of four turnovers Arizona was able to take advantage of in the second half. Another was from safety Scottie Young Jr.’s second interception of the night, as he secured the game with a 24-yard interception for a TD with 3:13 left.
Arizona’s defense no doubt played a part, but the Bears’ offense went into early hibernation.
The final five possessions went like this: an interception (Hearn’s TD), turn over the ball on downs (at the 2-yard line), an interception, a fumble and another interception for a TD (Young’s).
“We gave them two touchdowns and we can’t do that,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “We had turnovers, penalties and self-inflicted wounds.”
And Arizona’s defense took advantage, particularly on a night when the Wildcats' offense struggled again.
“Sometimes the offense takes care of the defense and the defense took care of the offense tonight,” Ellison said. “I’m very grateful for that.”
The offense did get some glimpses of the Khalil Tate from last year when he was able to run free for easy yards. Saturday night he finished with 40 yards, 17 coming on a third-down run that kept a drive alive in the second half.
“It’s something that I had to do,” Tate said of the run. “It’s something that the defense showed. Me not having run as much as I usually do that was the difference. It was to our benefit.”
And one of the rare shining moments in a game that was won by the defense.
“Absolutely incredible,” Ellison said of the team’s defense. “They stepped up when it mattered and it was great. It was fun to watch. That being said, the offense needs to pick it up next week.”