Coach Chip Kelly saw a look he liked from the Wildcats' defense, and the Bruins committed to pounding the rock Saturday night.
"If they were going to be devoting that much to (doubling guys), then when we needed to run the football," Kelly said. "I didn’t see the final numbers, but that’s a pretty good day."
UCLA football (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) rushed for 329 yards in its 34-16 victory over Arizona (0-5, 0-2), running the ball nearly three times as often as they passed it. Running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet both broke the 100-yard threshold and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson added two touchdowns on the ground.
It was the first time the Bruins had two 100-yard rushers in the same game since 2014, and it was their most rushing yards as a team since the 2013 season opener.
"That was the plan all week," Brown said. "We just keep this thing rolling. We got the momentum. Me and Zach, we feed off of each other. It’s good competition, we love competing against each other while going against the other team."
As much momentum as the running game had, the passing game was essentially on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Thompson-Robinson had just 3 passing yards in the first two quarters, finishing the opening 30 minutes 1-for-8 through the air. It was the fewest passing yards UCLA has had in a half since 2007. On top of that, his final attempt of the first half was a wobbling interception over the middle.
The signal-caller said Arizona gave him a lot of different looks, and that the way they rotated through them presented a difficult defense to pass against.
"It was kind of hard to get into a rhythm," Thompson-Robinson said. "But at the end of the day, I still have to execute."
Thompson-Robinson also said he was not banged up and that his injury from the Stanford game two weeks ago was not a factor in his slow start.
With Thompson-Robinson struggling through the air, his Bruins only led the winless Wildcats 14-13 at halftime.
Thompson-Robinson bounced back and went 7-for-11 for 79 yards in the second half, saving what was on pace to be the worst outing of his career. While he recovered as a passer down the stretch, it was the running game that finally gave UCLA the separation they had been unable to grasp through three quarters.
It didn’t seem like that was going to be the case as the third quarter flipped to the fourth though.
With the Bruins up 24-16, Kelly elected to run one last play before the end of the period instead of letting time run out. Brown scurried ahead for the first down in the Wildcats’ red zone, but then he had the ball punched out while he was trying to stay upright.
Arizona suddenly had the ball and a chance to tie things up to open up the fourth, when just moments earlier, UCLA had a real shot to put things away.
Three plays later, the pocket collapsed around Wildcat quarterback Jordan McCloud and the Bruins sacked him for the first time all night. Defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia also forced a fumble on the play, and his team took back over in Arizona territory.
"It was really a, in my opinion, big turning point, big momentum shift," Ogbonnia said.
Even if UCLA had to punt it away, McCloud was injured and Arizona was unable to move the ball with Gunner Cruz replaceing McCloud.
That's when the Bruins took back over and went back to the run game when the stakes were highest.
Charbonnet picked up 18 yards on four carries, and then Brown came in to relieve him. On his first carry since his ill-timed fumble, Brown broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and went 48 yards to the house to make it 31-16 UCLA.
"Coming off of the bad play I had, I was just feeling some type of way about that," Brown said. "I knew as soon as I got the ball, I was just going to punch it. "
The former Duke transfer finished the night with 146 yards on 12 carries and the former Michigan transfer Charbonnet turned his 21 carries into 117 yards. Even Keegan Jones and Kazmeir Allen joined in on the fun, combining for 38 yards on eight carries, and Thompson-Robinson had 28 rushing yards of his own.
A late field goal made it 34-16 Bruins, and what once seemed like a game that would go down to the wire suddenly became a one-sided affair. Arizona had two giveaways and two punts in the second half, scoring only a single field goal early in the third.
A week after UCLA got shut out by Arizona State 18-0 in the second half in an upset loss, they beat Arizona 20-3 in the second half Saturday to run away with the win.
"We did what we had to do, we finished them off," Kelly said.
UCLA will stay on the road and play Washington in Seattle next week.