PASADENA—Streaking down the left sideline, strutting into the end zone, Jordan Payton’s statement was made.
The UCLA receiver, whose 70-yard touchdown catch marked his seventh of the season, tied Brett Hundley with Cade McNown for the most career touchdown passes by a UCLA quarterback.
More importantly, the score gave the 22nd-ranked Bruins (7-2, 4-2 PAC-12) a two-possession lead on a night where their defense, stacked with NFL caliber talent, finally lived up to its billing, absolutely smothering the 12th-ranked Arizona Wildcats (6-2, 3-2) explosive offense en route to a 17-7 home victory.
Following an October to forget, which included home losses to Utah and Oregon followed by two narrow road victories over unranked California and Colorado, the Bruins achieved something they haven’t done often enough during Hundley’s three seasons at UCLA, winning a game they were supposed to lose.
Before a lively homecoming crowd, Hundley totaled 320 yards, passing for 189 yards and a touchdown while adding 131 more on the ground.
And while Hundley and the Bruins defense have rightfully earned a lion’s share of the praise, performances from players such as Payton and tailback Paul Perkins were instrumental in Saturday’s season-saving victory.
Payton, who leads UCLA receivers with 783 yards, put forth a 6-catch, 119-yard performance, while Perkins finished with 78 yards and a score on 21 carries.
Perkins, who has very quietly eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark after just nine games, has firmly established himself as the Bruins lead tailback, employing a decisive, one-cut running style that has forced opposing defenses to account for a Bruins running attack that has been dormant since the 2012 departure of Jonathan Franklin.
UCLA, now only a game behind Arizona State in the PAC-12 South, will continue to lean on these budding offensive stars when they travel to Washington this weekend to face the 6-3 Huskies.