TUCSON, Ariz. — A few years ago, five turnovers would have doomed Arizona.
Meet the new Wildcats.
Backed by a rugged defense, they overcame their blunders to defeat UCLA 27-13 on Saturday and remain in the Rose Bowl race, one game back of frontrunning Oregon.
“It shows how far we’ve come, and how far we can go,” wide receiver Terrell Turner said.
Arizona tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Nick Booth each ran for a touchdown. Grigsby, the team’s leading rusher, left with what was later described as a sprained right shoulder.
The Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 Pac-10) did all they could to let the Bruins (3-4, 0-4) hang around on an 83-degree afternoon in the desert.
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles had a good-news, bad-news performance in his fourth college start.
Foles threw for 247 yards and hit Juron Criner for two touchdowns. But Foles also had a hand in all five of Arizona’s turnovers.
The Pac-10’s leading passer threw three interceptions, had a fumble returned for a touchdown and botched a handoff that led to a fumble.
It was an uncharacteristic performance for Foles, who had only two interceptions coming in. Coaches said Foles may have been ill.
“At some point, he was going to have to come back to earth,” Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. “Tonight, he did. It was humbling. The good thing is he was tough enough to overcome it and make enough plays for us to have a chance to win.”
An athletic department spokesman said Foles would not speak to the media after the game because he was ill.
The Wildcats were so careless with the football that coach Mike Stoops lost track of their turnovers.
“To be able to overcome, what, four or five turnovers and still win pretty convincingly was good to see,” Stoops said.
UCLA’s defense tried to keep the Bruins afloat. All 13 UCLA points resulted from turnovers.
UCLA free safety Rahim Moore, the national interception co-leader, picked off his sixth and seventh passes of the season, and strong safety Tony Dye returned a fumble 28 yards for a score.
“It’s a disappointing game because we made enough plays on defense to be in the game,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel tried three quarterbacks — starter Kevin Prince, Kevin Craft and Richard Brehaut — with discouraging results.
Prince went 6 for 17 for 75 yards, Craft was 7 for 15 for 60 yards and Brehaut was 2 for 3 for 11 yards. They threw no interceptions.
Neuheisel indicated he and offensive coordinator Norm Chow would re-assess the offense, but the quarterback position figures to receive extra scrutiny.
“From top to bottom, we have to evaluate,” Neuheisel said. “We have to ask ourselves why we’re struggling.”
The Wildcats jumped ahead 7-0 late in the first quarter on a 41-yard pass from Foles to Criner, who was all alone after a deft play fake froze the Bruins.
On the next possession, Arizona’s Cam Nelson sacked Prince, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Wildcats’ Apaiata Tuihalamaka at the UCLA 23.
Three plays later, Grigsby scored on a 6-yard run to put the Wildcats up 13-0. Alex Zendejas’ extra point was blocked.
Arizona appeared ready to take command early in the second quarter, driving to the UCLA 11. But Moore picked off a pass near the goal line to kill the threat.
“I swear that kid has a guardian angel over him,” Dye said of Moore. “He always seems to be in just the right place at the right time.”
UCLA’s defense came up with another big play midway through the third quarter.
Foles tried to hit Turner near the line of scrimmage when UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers stepped in front of the apparent pass.
Ayers juggled the ball, then dropped it, and players on both sides pulled up — except for Dye, who scooped up the football and raced 28 yards into the end zone, where an official gave a touchdown signal.
“When I picked up the ball, I saw the ref running, so I figured I should run too,” Dye said.
The ruling stood up on video review, bringing groans from the Arizona Stadium crowd of 51, 440.
The play brought back memories of Arizona’s 36-33 loss at Washington two weeks ago, when a Foles pass deflected off receiver Delashaun Dean’s shoe and was picked off by the Huskies and returned for the decisive touchdown.
Arizona never recovered in Seattle. This time, the Wildcats responded quickly.
They marched 63 yards in 10 plays, with Booth scoring on a 6-yard run to push the lead back to 27-13 late in the third quarter. The Wildcats weren’t tested the rest of the way.
“All the turnovers we had were troublesome, but I’m glad that we were able to pull through this so convincingly,” Stoops said.