Go ahead and predict the outcome of Arizona/UCLA – based on each team’s performance year to date.
I dare you.
Arizona (2-1) opened the year with a loss at Hawaii, 45-38, but was literally a yard short of sending the game into overtime as quarterback Kahlil Tate was tackled on Hawaii’s 1-yard line as time expired. Arizona then went on to beat Northern Arizona, 65-41. This game featured a solid 51-point offensive output in the first half and limited NAU to 13 first half points. But Arizona’s defense had a letdown and allowed 30 points in the second half. That can be traced to getting second and third team defensive players into the game, but Coach Kevin Sumlin said the effort in the second half was “not satisfactory.”
Two weeks ago, Arizona had a solid game on both sides of the ball, a 28-14 win over Texas Tech. In this game, Arizona seemed to finally put some of the defensive pieces of the puzzle together, but the Red Raiders (2-1) had not been severely tested prior to the September 14 contest, having played Montana State and UTEP.
UCLA (1-3, 1-0 Pac-12) opened the season at Cincinnati with a 24-14 loss, was crushed by Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, 48-14, and lost, yet again, at home to San Diego State University, 23-14. Almost unannounced, the Bruins then forged an incredible comeback against Washington State in the Palouse, scoring 50 points in a furious second half comeback to eke out a 67-63 win. Yes, that is correct, 130 total points were scored in a game that didn’t have a 3-point line!
And if you try to figure the outcome of Arizona vs. UCLA by looking at common opponents of common opponents, you’re bound to be totally confused.
Washington State lost to UCLA by 4 points, and UCLA lost to San Diego State by 9. But Washington State beat New Mexico State in their home opener, as one would expect, 58-7. Makes sense? But also consider that SDSU beat NMSU 31-10 and now try and predict the outcome of this game. Things definitely get murkier.
SDSU beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl, but only scored 2 field goals in a 6-0 win against, ahem, Weber State, in the Aztecs home opener at Qualcom Stadium. Weber State? (Pronounced Wee-ber, BTW). Is Weber State that good or is SDSU just that horrendous? They are 4-0. Then consider Washington State. They beat a solid opponent in Houston, 31-24, in their second game of the season, but apparently had a huge defensive let down in the second half against the Bruins. Or, has UCLA finally put some of the pieces of Coach Chip Kelly’s puzzle together? You tell me.
Hawaii is 2-1 against Pac 12 schools, beating Arizona and Oregon State, but losing 52-20 to Washington. Could Hawaii be competitive in the Pac 12? The results so far indicate they could be a middle of the pack, Pac 12 team.
Arizona has scored an average of 44 points and features – so far – an impressive array of running backs that help the Wildcats lead the Pac 12 with a 308 yards per game rushing average. In fact, Arizona has only 2 fewer overall rushing yards than total yardage leader Utah, 925 to 923, despite playing 1 less game than Utah. In QB Tate and RB’s Gary Brightwell and J.J. Taylor, Arizona has the 11, 13, and 15 leading rushers in the Pac 12, with 238, 226 and 208 yards, respectively.
Predicting this game based on previous performance may be one of the most difficult in many years. Arizona opened the week as a six-and-a-half-point favorite and maybe that is a pretty good call.
Keys to the Game
Which Arizona defense will show up? The one that held Texas Tech to 14 points or the one that allowed 45 points against Hawaii?
Does UCLA have a defense? So far, they’ve allowed 40 points per game (Arizona is allowing 33).
Like Arizona, UCLA has a dual threat quarterback in Dorian Thompson Robinson, but the edge in this game goes to the veteran Tate, the 8 ranked passing quarterback in the Pac 12, with a quarterback rating of 151.0 to Robinson’s 9 place ranking at 147.4. Tate has completed 63% or his passes to 57% for Robinson.
Which UCLA offense will be on the field this Saturday night? The one that scored 14 points in each of its first 3 games, losing all three, or the one that scored 67 against Washington State, 29 of them in a frenzied 4 quarter?
I’m really interested to see how other SI writers see this game unfolding. For me, the critical components of this game for Arizona is Tate’s management of the offense and keeping the Arizona defense off the field for long periods of time. I’m not a coach, but the safe bet if I was will be for Arizona to establish a running game, sustain drives and control time of possession.
It is also essential that Tate avoid his tendency to go for the “home run” passing play when his receivers are in double coverage.
Arizona doesn’t have to have the “wow” factor on offense to beat the Bruins. Be conservative, win the ground game, pass selectively, and limit turnovers.
Final Score Prediction
Arizona 44, UCLA 27 (Those are the season averages. I could have saved over 900 words!)