Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins will try to make it two wins in a row when they host the Arizona Wildcats this weekend. Kickoff is set for 10:30 EST on Saturday, October 20, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Fans can catch the game on ESPN2.
The Bruins opened the week as 5.5-point favorites, although with early betting favoring UCLA, they are now 7-point favorites at home. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
After playing a close game against Washington a couple weeks ago, UCLA finally found a breakthrough last week with a 37-7 thrashing of Cal. It was UCLA’s first win of the season after starting the year 0-5. More importantly, it could be a sign that Kelly finally has the Bruins moving in the right direction after some terrible growing pains early in his tenure.
The win came just in time for UCLA, who is still just 1-2 in Pac-12 play, meaning they aren’t yet out of contention in a wide-open South division. It also allows the Bruins to keep their slim bowl hopes alive. The problem is that their schedule down the stretch is brutal. Even though the Bruins play four of their final six games at home, they still have to face Utah, Oregon, USC, and Stanford, so winning five of their last six games may unrealistic.
Arizona, meanwhile, will be looking to get back on track after a 42-10 loss to Utah last week. The Wildcats lost quarterback Khalil Tate to an injury early in that game and were never able to recover. Tate is out again this week, which will allow Rhett Rodriguez, the son of former Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez to get his first career start.
Despite last week’s loss, Arizona is still 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play. They are still alive in the Pac-12 South race and within striking distance of a bowl birth. However, Arizona doesn’t have much margin for error, especially against a schedule that includes games against Oregon, Colorado, and Washington State. In short, reaching a bowl will be next to impossible for the Wildcats if they can’t find a way to beat UCLA on Saturday night.
I hate to rain on UCLA’s parade, but this line seems like an overreaction to what each team did last week rather than what we’ve seen from each over the course of the season. I don’t think Arizona is nearly as bad as last week’s 42-10 loss may indicate. I also want to see more than one good game from UCLA before I start believing in the Bruins. I’ll take my chances with the Wildcats as underdogs.
Last week’s game notwithstanding, the Arizona defense has been solid during Pac-12 play. They were allowing just 18 points per game in conference play prior to last week. I can forgive one bad week. Even the Arizona defense could have been thrown off when they saw Tate leave the game. I think Kevin Sumlin’s defense will find a way to bounce back this week.
We also have to take last week’s performance by the UCLA offense with a grain of salt. The Bruins scored one of their touchdowns on defense and were the beneficiaries of great field position all night because Cal turned the ball over five times. In the end, the 348 total yards the UCLA offense accumulated is good but not spectacular for a Pac-12 team. It may be wise to pump the breaks on the Bruins being the kind of offensive juggernaut Kelly coached at Oregon.
On the other side of the ball, it’d be best to reserve judgment on Arizona’s new quarterback Rhett Rodriguez. The sophomore understandably struggled in his first extensive action last week, connecting on just 20 of his 38 passes. It’s important to keep in mind that Rodriguez came in cold off the bench against one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. Considering the circumstances, Rodriguez wasn’t half bad. Now that he’s had a full week to prepare as the starter, he should be in a better position to succeed.
We should also keep in mind that UCLA is giving up nearly 32 points per game this season. Last week’s performance against Cal could end up being an aberration. Remember, Cal lacks a strong passing game and has had a lot of trouble with turnovers this year. I’m inclined to think that UCLA’s success on defense last week was more about Cal’s shortcomings than the Bruins getting their act together on that side of the ball. I’m not convinced they’ll be able to replicate that kind of performance against the Arizona offense, even with the Wildcats playing a backup quarterback.
Ultimately, I don’t feel comfortable swallowing seven points for a team that’s still 1-5 on the season. I’m still skeptical of UCLA playing like that two weeks in a row. If the Bruins pull out another win, it’ll be in a close game. I’ll lean toward Arizona to at least beat the spread, if not find a way to win on the road.