Week 10: Arizona at UCLA Preview

Arizona (6-1) at UCLA (6-2) Nov. 1, 10:30, ESPN 

Here’s The Deal: It’s a battle of ranked Pac-12 teams, with major South Division implications at stake in the Rose Bowl. UCLA has been a massive underachiever in 2014, typified by last week’s need for double-overtime to defeat 2-6 Colorado. If the Bruins have any designs of rebounding and remaining in the divisional hunt, holding serve at home this week is an absolute must. Doing so will require beating an upstart Arizona squad that’s been the surprise of the league so far in 2014. The Wildcats have only one loss, a two-pointer to USC, and they’ve already beaten No. 5 Oregon in Eugene. Longshot though it might be, ‘Zona has to be considered a playoff contender for as long as it remains a one-loss team. 

Why Arizona Might Win: The offense is getting into gear, which is going to be a problem for the erratic UCLA D. The Bruins have individual talent. Lots of it. They also have problems, both schematically and in fundamentals. Basically, UCLA is soft and poorly prepared. Enter Rich Rodriguez, whose versatile attack will challenge the Bruins with the running of Terris Jones-Grigsby and the passing of Anu Solomon to Cayleb Jones and Anu Solomon. Arizona is bringing a lot of playmakers and precision to the Rose Bowl for UCLA to attempt to contain. 

Why UCLA Might Win: As much as Arizona has surprised this fall, its defense has remained predictably unpredictable. The ‘Cats have been especially vulnerable to the pass, yielding more than 300 yards per game. That’s good news for QB Brett Hundley as well as his favorite targets, Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller. UCLA is also properly balanced, thanks to this year’s emergence of Paul Perkins, who’s rushed for 996 yards and five touchdowns. For all of its issues, UCLA has thrived in tight spaces, going 5-1 in games decided by eight points or less. 

Who To Watch Out For: The gang at the Butkus Award ought to be paying close attention late Saturday night, because the linebackers will be everywhere. Looking to stop Jones-Grigsby will be the dynamic duo of Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. Arizona will counter with Scooby Wright, who’s authoring an outstanding season in Tucson. Testament to his versatility, he shifted from middle linebacker to rush end versus pass-happy Wazzu last week, notching three sacks and three forced fumbles in an epic performance. 

What’s Going To Happen: Sleep late on Saturday. Load up on dark roast. Do whatever is necessary to witness all four quarters of this duel between the Bruins and Wildcats. Bank on lots of points and momentum swings, with the outcome in doubt in the final minutes. UCLA is going to survive a shootout on the strength of its more experienced quarterback, home-field edge and urgency to remain viable in the Pac-12 South race. 

Prediction: UCLA 45 … Arizona 38 
Line: UCLA -6.5 o/u: 70.5 
Must Watch Factor: 5: Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown – 1: Mike Tyson Mysteries … 4