Wilton Speight’s first two passes Saturday found their way into some of the surest hands on UCLA’s roster.
They were grabbed by tight end Caleb Wilson, who was just getting started.
By the time he was finished, Wilson had logged season highs in catches (11), yards (164) and touchdowns (two), a pleasing development during the Bruins’ otherwise dispiriting 31-28 loss to Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium.
“Today was one of those days where I was able to make some plays,” Wilson said in his typically understated manner.
Wilson benefited from an early injury to Arizona State safety Jalen Harvey, forcing the Sun Devils to go with a reserve that UCLA coach Chip Kelly decided to test on play after play. Most of them worked out.
“They’re going with a backup and we’ve got a seasoned veteran like Caleb,” Kelly said. “That was a matchup we thought we could exploit.”
Speight had spent part of his week studying the defensive tendencies that Arizona State coach Herm Edwards’ teams liked to run when he worked for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The payoff was a litany of completions to Wilson, many of them coming on third down.
Wilson had four catches that helped UCLA convert third downs, including a 33-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Wilson’s most impressive play might have come on a 32-yard catch and run earlier in the third quarter in which he delivered a mean stiff arm.
Speight said Wilson reminded him of former Michigan teammate Jake Butt, who won the John Mackey Award in 2016 as the nation’s top tight end.
“He’s not a freak, he’s not gifted more than anyone else on the field, like a lot of times guys are,” Speight said of Wilson. “He’s just shifty and he’s sneaky and he understands the game of football and you can tell when he runs his routes, even when he’s in his blocking techniques, the game is just slow to him. It’s not too much for him to handle and that was awesome today because he and I were kind of on the same wavelength.”
Wilson has 101 receptions, becoming the 26th Bruin to reach the 100-catch mark. He also recorded his fourth 100-yard receiving game and his second of the season after getting 102 yards against Washington.
Kelly wasn’t engaging in gamesmanship when he called a timeout with 17 seconds left in the first half and Arizona State backed up at its nine-yard line while running out the clock.
The coach said he just wanted to give his assistant coaches enough time to make the lengthy trek from the press box to the locker room.
“With the long walk in the building,” Kelly said, “if we don’t call timeout, we don’t see our coaches at halftime, so that’s why I called a timeout.”
Krys Barnes started at linebacker for UCLA after wearing a yellow noncontact jersey in practice last week and finished with 11 tackles, including one tackle for loss.
Linebacker Keisean Lucier-South returned from the elbow injury that had knocked him out of the game against Oregon last weekend, finishing with two tackles.
Receiver Kyle Philips and tailback Kazmeir Allen did not play because of injuries after having been limited in practice during the week.