Arizona Wildcats vs. UCLA Bruins: Complete Game Preview
The UCLA Bruins and Arizona Wildcats enter Saturday night's Pac-12 South Division showdown with similar records, but the teams have reached that mark in very different ways.
UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) just ended a two-game losing streak with a 45-23 home win over Colorado, shaking off the cobwebs of having to play at Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weekends.
Arizona (6-2, 3-2) is back home for just the second time since mid-September and is riding a three-game win streak that includes wins at Colorado and California over the past two weeks.
The winner of this game will keep themselves within reach of Arizona State for the South Division lead, while also strengthening their bowl prospects.
There's also the revenge factor to take into consideration, as UCLA walloped Arizona 66-10 in Los Angeles last November.
When: Saturday, Nov. 9, 10 p.m. ET
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: Arizona IMG Radio Network; UCLA IMG Radio Network
Line: UCLA is getting a slight edge as a road favorite, between 1.5- and 2.5 points, according to VegasInsider.com.
Arizona's Keys to Victory
Though it hasn't happened the last few years, Arizona has a history of pulling off some major upsets at home in November. These have included a win over No. 2 Oregon in November 2007, No. 7 UCLA in November 2005 and even top-ranked Washington back in November 1992.
Add in the fact that Arizona has only played one home game since Sept. 14—which resulted in a mini-upset of Utah, 35-24, on Oct. 19—and both the Wildcats and their fan base are hungry for a win.
Arizona can feed off that crowd energy, as past teams have.
UCLA is 10th nationally (and leads the Pac-12 Conference) in third-down efficiency, getting the necessary yardage 52 percent of the time. However, Arizona is on the better side of third-down defense, allowing a conversion 35.9 percent of the time.
If Arizona can take this weapon away early, UCLA might find itself taking more risks on first- and second-down, which could lead to mistakes.
UCLA's Keys to Victory
Avoid the flags
UCLA has committed 75 penalties for 645 yards in eight games. Both of those figures are worst in the Pac-12, and 23 of those flags have led to opponents' first downs.
The Bruins are shooting themselves in the foot with all of the violations, either knocking their offense out of rhythm or giving opponents extra life when drives are stalling.
If they can lower this number, it's one less thing that could get in the way of a critical road victory.
Looking at UCLA's scoring by quarter, they're dominant in both the second and third period, which means the Bruins finish strong and make great adjustments at halftime.
This was very evident against Colorado last week when UCLA scored two touchdowns in an 84-second span in the second half and then came out of the break to score 14 more points before the Buffaloes got back on the scoreboard.
In a game like this with a big crowd expected, any chance UCLA has to control momentum is critical.
Arizona Players to Watch
Arizona's quarterback is four rushing yards from breaking the school record for his position. The senior has run for 563 yards and 11 touchdowns, including three in the Wildcats' 33-28 win at California.
But Denker has also become more and more comfortable throwing the ball, having completed more passes in the last four games (91) than he attempted (90) in the first four contests. The presence of a dual threat quarterback always gives opposing defenses fits, and if UCLA has to devote a spy to Denker, it could open up more opportunities for the rest of Arizona's weapons.
The senior tight end/receiver is playing this season because he earned a medical redshirt for a fifth year. For a while, though, it looked like having him back for another go-around wasn't going to make an impact.
Then, the last four games happened.
Over the last month, Miller has caught 15 passes for 255 yards after just three grabs for 28 yards in the first four contests. And he's had a big catch in each of the last two games, pulling in a 43-yarder on 4th-and-2 against Colorado and turning a short screen into a 60-yard gain against California, with both grabs leading to touchdowns.
UCLA Players to Watch
Anthony Barr might be the best linebacker in college football, if not the most NFL-ready.
Despite only playing on defense in the past two seasons, he's registered 34.5 tackles for loss in that time span, with at least one-half of a tackle for loss in each of the 22 games he's played on that side of the ball.
A senior converted from running back, Barr will likely make the cut down to semifinalists when the Maxwell Award for college football's top overall player is announced soon.
Meanwhile, expect to see him in the Arizona backfield several times on Saturday night or otherwise chasing down Ka'Deem Carey as he tries to get around the edge.
Brett Hundley is a dual-threat that has had to take on even more of the rushing responsibilities with leading back Jordon James hobbled by an ankle injury. He's responded well, with 431 yards and six touchdowns.
But that has led to some struggles passing for Hundley, who has eight interceptions to go with 16 TD passes. He's completing 68 percent of his throws, slightly better than in his freshman season, but the TD and interception numbers are off, as are the yards per game.
He'll need to have a great game through the air in order for UCLA to hold off Arizona.
What They're Saying
UCLA's 66-10 win over Arizona last November was a blowout in all forms of the word, and with so many Wildcats from that game still on the roster, it's understandable to expect some players looking to avenge that loss in a big way.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez isn't buying too much into the revenge angle, according to Arizona Daily Star reporter Zack Rosenblatt:
RichRod doesn't believe in revenge. "I want us to be concerned with us. What revenge? They didn't do nothing to our families."— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) November 4, 2013
This game features the top running back in the country in terms of yards per game in Arizona junior Ka'Deem Carey, who is averaging 153.1 yards per contest a year after leading FBS with 1,929 yards.
It's no secret that UCLA's game plan will include doing its best to slow down Carey.
But stop him? That's just not in the cards, as Bruins coach Jim Mora told the Los Angeles Times' Chris Foster:
"You don't bottle up Ka'Deem Carey," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. "You try to limit his explosive plays. The leading rusher in the nation, you don't stop those guys."
The UCLA team that was steamrolling through the first month of the season isn't the one that's been around as of late. That's partly due to the competition but also because the Bruins don't seem to have the same oomph and flair that led them to a big win at Nebraska and easy triumphs en route to a 5-0 start.
But the Pac-12 conference has a season-killing, one-two punch of Oregon and Stanford, and as Washington (who was 4-0 before and is now 5-3) found out, playing those teams consecutively takes something out of you.
Arizona, on the other hand, weathered its two-game losing streak and has looked quite good in the past three games. While the win at California wasn't very impressive, it still was a win and continued the Wildcats' positive progression.
With a possible sellout, a homecoming celebration and a national TV audience, Arizona should shine.
Prediction: Arizona 34, UCLA 28