For their next test, the UCLA Bruins host the Arizona Wildcats at the Rose Bowl for a Pac-12 after-dark showdown. UCLA is coming off of their first victory of the season, a 37-7 drubbing of the Cal Bears in Berkeley. They’re still just 1-5 on the season, so one might expect a degree of caution in forecasting any kind of victory for this team. However, UCLA has looked like an entirely new team during the past two weeks and it’s not unreasonable to think they’ve turned the page on the season. They look like a much better team now than they were during weeks one through four and as a result, they have a pretty good chance to win this game.
UCLA Bruins Week 8 Preview
UCLA has shown vast improvement on both sides of the ball as the season has progressed. They’re protecting the quarterback and running the ball better. The offense is playing in rhythm and in sync. The quarterback looks vastly improved. The defense, which was horrendous to start the season–particularly on third down, is finally starting to turn the page. Meanwhile, Arizona will be without starting QB Khalil Tate in this game, leaving passing duties to Rhett Rodriguez. They come into this week 3-4 on the year, but it’s really not an impressive schedule by any means. They lost to one score by BYU and got blown out by Houston and Utah. Two of their wins came against FCS Southern Utah and Oregon State. Their most impressive games were a 24-20 loss to USC and a 24-17 against win against Cal, but even those games were not that impressive. UCLA’s opponents, meanwhile, have all been pretty successful to start the season. I think this is a very winnable game for UCLA, but let’s take a look at the more specific matchups.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson – Quarterback
Robinson is coming off a limited but efficient performance against Cal, completing 13 of 15 passes for 141 yards. As long as the Bruins are able to run the ball in this game, DTR should continue to be efficient in the passing game.
Caleb Wilson – Tight End
After struggling to start the year, Caleb Wilson has been a top performer in the passing game for the past two weeks. This offense has really improved the play of its running game, quarterback, and a top tight end to go with it. As long as DTR doesn’t have an off day, Caleb Wilson should continue to see targets at the tight end position.
Andre James – Offensive Line
While the offense as a whole has been far improved recently, it always starts up front, and that’s no different with UCLA. After struggling mightily to start the season, the offensive line has stabilized. James is no longer giving up pressures at the rate he was early in the season. The middle of the line, as well as the overall chemistry, was stabilized with Boss Tagaloa‘s return to center and Christaphany Murray’s subsequent shift to guard. With that, Joshua Kelley has blossomed and become a productive and explosive runner. In the first two games, he had 27 yards total on the ground and was under 3.5 yards per carry. In the next three, he’s been over 100 yards and 5.0 yards per carry in each game. Like most Chip Kelly offenses, the success of these Bruins starts with the line and Kelley in the running game. Fortunately for them, this Wildcat front seven has not been able to get much penetration. Colin Schooler leads the team in tackles at linebacker but UCLA should be able to run and protect against this unit. They have just 11 sacks on the year–PJ Johnson leading with three.
Keisean Lucier-South – Outside Linebacker
The bad news for UCLA is that Jaelan Phillips is officially done for the year due to injury. He was definitely an impact maker and the best pass rusher on their team. The good news is that Keisean Lucier-South had a monster day against Cal with an interception, a fumble recovery for a TD, and a strip sack all in the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to watch his development moving forward and see if he can keep up the productivity in this one.
Adarius Pickett – Safety
Expect more of the same from UCLA’s leading tackler. Arizona’s leading rusher is JJ Tayler, averaging 5.6 yards per carry with over 600 yards and three TDs on the year. Still, this should be a manageable game for UCLA’s defense, especially with the backup QB. The one area of concern might be receiver. Shun Brown and Shawn Poindexter are both dangerous, and Arizona should be better on offense than Cal was last week. UCLA needs to be on their toes and not get caught sleeping and give up any big plays or coverage breakdowns.
Nothing’s a gimme in this sport, and that’s especially the case for the Bruins, who are still a very young, inexperienced, and not super talented team. Having said that, for the first time in a while, there’s reason to feel good about their chances to win going into the next game.
Prediction: 31-14 UCLA