Reporting from Tucson -- A man dressed as a referee waved a play dead, walked in from the sidelines and then tried to disrobe as he ran across the field.
UCLA and Arizona players squared off at midfield, bringing teammates charging from both sides.
Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson and UCLA’s Taylor Embree were ejected.
Four seconds still remained in the first half and what the Bruins had hoped would be a defining moment under Coach Rick Neuheisel had been reduced to an embarrassing one.
By the time the Wildcats wrapped up a 48-12 victory and were done kicking desert sand in Bruin faces, there was little evidence that UCLA belonged in the Pacific 12 Conference race.
“I’m disappointed and at loss for words in respect to the fact that this thing got out of hand so quickly,” Neuheisel said.
“This was definitely a step in the wrong direction. But I still hold out my feeling that we can and will turn the corner.”
The Bruins walked into Arizona Stadium with a chance to slip into a first-place tie for the South Division lead with Arizona State and USC. They stumbled out embarrassed and downcast.
“Leaving the hotel, I absolutely felt we were prepared to play,” a pensive-looking Neuheisel said. “I had zero worries about our ability to come out and play.”
UCLA (3-4 overall, 2-2 in Pac-12) faces California on Oct. 29, a game that the Bruins hoped would add momentum. Instead, it now looms as a rehabilitation game after the Bruins suffered their third-worst defeat since Neuheisel became coach.
Arizona, meanwhile, had lost to sixth-ranked Oklahoma State, seventh-ranked Stanford and ninth-ranked Oregon this season, then lost coach Mike Stoops, who was fired last week. The Wildcats (2-5, 1-4) took out those frustrations on the Bruins.
There was little doubt where the weight of responsibility rested. UCLA’s defense, and defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, were left with a game tape that is part comedy, part tragedy.
Asked if there were fixes to the Bruins’ problems, Tresey said, “I don’t know now. I thought we were headed in the right direction.”
Arizona scored on its first six possessions and finished with 573 total yards.
“The outplayed us in all facets,” linebacker Sean Westgate said.
Nick Foles completed 22 of 27 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Gino Crump and Juron Criner had eight receptions, three of Criner’s for touchdowns. The Wildcats, who were 119th out of 120 in rushing offense, had 174 yards on the ground.
And that was in the first half.
But before the Wildcats walked off the field with a 42-7 lead, things got worse.
The would-be streaker was wrestled to the ground. As that insanity ended, UCLA and Arizona players were involved in a series of skirmishes.
“I was watching the guy running around with no clothes on and didn’t see what happened,” Neuheisel said.
Embree and Richardson exchanged shoves. UCLA’s Randall Carroll and Shaquelle Evans became involved in the altercation, which quickly escalated. Players from both sides sprinted onto the field.
“I’m not allowed to talk about it,” Carroll said.
Neuheisel said, “It was two youngsters getting into it. I don’t know how started, I know it is not conduct we expect from our team.”
Disciplinary action probably will come from the conference office.
The meltdown came during a week when Athletic Director Dan Guerrero addressed Neuheisel’s job situation in his weekly blog on the athletic department website.
Guerrero said that Neuheisel’s job hinged on several “steps” besides getting to a bowl game. He also wrote, “based on what I have seen in the first three conference games, the 2011 team has improved over last year.”
That part might need a rewrite after Thursday.
“Arizona unshackled themselves from whatever was bothering them,” Neuheisel said. “Now it is up to us to unshackle ourselves.”