TUCSON, Ariz. -- There will be no more jokes.
Linebacker Myles Jack, UCLA’s do-everything freshman, kept telling teammates that he was a running back at Bellevue (Wash.) High.
“They would make jokes, tell me, ‘Yeah, that was in high school, you can’t do that here,’ ” Jack said.
Oh yes he can. That was clear by the time Jack was done with a night of iron-man football Saturday in the Bruins’ 31-26 victory over Arizona.
There was hardly a lack of star power on the field at Arizona Stadium.
On one side was UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who carried the Bruins at times with no little amount of swagger. On the other side was Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona’s relentless running back who pushed a second-half rally.
But anyone calling them the best players on the field Saturday didn’t know Jack.
That the Bruins were able to exhale and leave Tucson with a victory had a lot to do with Jack. It wasn’t enough to use him to chase down Carey. UCLA coaches unveiled him as a running back in a special package guaranteed to keep Pac-12 defensive coordinators up late at night.
Jack had 120 yards in six carries, including a 66-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that gave UCLA a 34-19 lead. UCLA’s defense held off Carey and Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker from there. It gave the Bruins a lynchpin victory in their effort to win the Pac-12 South for the third consecutive season.
The Bruins (7-2 overall, 4-2 in Pac-12) are tied with USC for second in the South Division, a game behind Arizona State.
It took a village. Jack played the role of mayor.
“We keep getting him in shape so he can go both ways, and we’re talking Heisman Trophy in a couple years,” linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said.
There were other headliners.
Carey gained 149 yards rushing, his 12th consecutive 100-yard game.
Denker threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and pestered the Bruins until Ishmael Adams intercepted a pass to clinch the victory with two minutes left.
Hundley threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns. His serpentine 15-yard touchdown run, where he ran through two would-be tacklers, was the highlight of the game ... until Jack took the field on offense.
“We’ve always talked about it,” Coach Jim Mora said. “It is just a matter of how much do you give young players to do? At what point do they become saturated and lose their effectiveness?”
Those are questions that still have to answered.
Jack was brought in during a second-quarter drive, flanked by defensive end Keenan Graham and Zumwalt in an inverted Wishbone formation. He went 29 yards on a third-and-one play.
It was only a prelude.
Jack had 25 yards rushing during a 90-yard touchdown drive late in the first half. Hundley finished things off with a four-yard touchdown pass to Shaquelle Evans for a 21-10 halftime lead.
But Jack’s spotlight moment came in fourth quarter, with UCLA clinging to a 24-19 lead. He swept right, cut up field, leaving Arizona players trying to read the name on the back of his jersey.
“I expected him to break it,” Hundley said. “We were getting four, five yards each time in that package. Eventually he was going to bust it.”
UCLA coaches had considered using Jack in the backfield since training camp. It took offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to put it into a plan this week.
“Noel is kind of a mad scientist,” Mora said. “It might be five minutes before we take the practice field and he’s up on the board drawing something up.”
Jack was hardly unfamiliar to playing running back, though he prefers defense.
“I’d rather hit people than get hit,” Jack said.
But Mazzone felt the Bruins needed a beefed-up backfield.
“We need something to make third-and-one and fourth-and-one,” Mazzone said. “What I’m angry about is I only put in two plays. If I was smart I would have had more.”
Jack also had eight tackles and recovered a fumble as a linebacker.
Mazzone joked, “During the game, [linebacker coach] Jeff Ulbrich said, ‘You’re wearing my guy out.’ I said, ‘Too bad.’ ”
At one point, Mora wanted to have Jack to a break from defense.
“I was gassed,” Jack said. “But we were in a dog fight. I was staying out there.”
It was an exhausting evening for both sides.
The Bruins rolled up 476 yards, 249 on the ground. They also fumbled once and botched a fake punt, which led to 10 Arizona points.
Arizona had 425 yards, 328 in the second half. But Carey fumbled on the goal line in the third quarter … with Jack recovering the ball in the end zone.
“I need to call his mom and see if he has a younger brother,” Mazzone said.