Game of the Week – UCLA at Arizona

Last week, we ignored a fairly wide win differential in favor of a high-stakes matchup between two division foes. This week, we’ve got pretty low stakes but a game that should feature lots of points and a close finish. In short, we’re going for pure entertainment value and we won’t be satisfied unless Josh Rosen and Khalil Tate deliver.

CougarsJosh Rosen has Been Spectacular- 65% of his passes, 8.7 yards per attempt, and a 17/5 ratio is everything UCLA fans wanted out of Chosen Rosen. He’s single-handedly kept them in games they shouldn’t have been in, and orchestrated the blowout of inferior opponents. He should have his way with a mediocre Wildcat pass defense, but it may not be enough to earn the victory for the Bruins.

Khalil Tate’s Coming Out Party- 327 yards on the ground isn’t a bad half-season for your typical read-option quarterback, and Khalil Tate picked up those yards in one game, against a pretty darn good Colorado defense. He added a 92% (NINETY TWO PERCENT) completion percentage to that number for an additional 154 yards and a touchdown. It was an extraordinary performance from an extraordinary player. He’ll look to string two such nights together, and will have ample opportunity against UCLA’s pliable defense.

Give Up on UCLA’s Defense- It’s not really interesting to talk about UCLA’s terrible run defense any more, but it’s impossible to avoid as the Bruins continue to be almost historically bad at stopping the run. 6.32 yards per carry is an unmitigated disaster. UCLA is frankly lucky to have as many wins as they do- they could easily have dropped a third or fourth game to A&M and Colorado. There’s no reason to expect this weakness to improve substantially- if the tools were there to do better, it’s safe to say coach Jim Mora would have figured it out by now.

Oregon

Arizona Might Be Good- The conventional wisdom is that Arizona is a conference bottom-dweller. They weren’t expected to be good this season, and with two losses on the young season they seem to have met that expectation. A closer look allows room for a different narrative, however. Khalil Tate has been absent, and looked like the best QB in the South last week. In Arizona’s other wins, they blew out inferior opponents by nearly 40 points. Their losses came to two teams who are presently a combined 8-2. You can explain these results with a bad Arizona team… or with one who is going to win quite a few games this season.

Special Teams- UCLA has been bad on defense, as we’ve discussed. They’ve been great at throwing the ball, as you know. What’s not getting talked about as much is that the Bruins have had trouble on special teams. They are 79th in net punting, 119th in punt return yardage, and 91st in kickoff returns. Long fields are a problem for even the best offense, and it could be a crucial weakness for UCLA.

Analysis:

GAWP has this as the most interesting matchup by far, but it is a tick past a coin flip. The Arizona Wildcats have a 61.65% chance to win. A lot of this is on the home team, but it backs up the core component of analyzing this game- Arizona can defend the pass okay, and UCLA can’t defend the run.

The Wildcats rank 71st in pass defense. That’s not where any defense wants to be, although they are picking off passes at a rate of one a game, a pretty good clip. Rosen has picked apart better defenses than this, but the Wildcats aren’t trying to smother UCLA, but rather just to slow them down enough that they can run they ball the way they want to.

Bruins Wildcats Score

UCLA’s run defense is bad enough that you already know what you are dealing with. It’s hardly worth talking about. What makes it interesting is that it plays into what the Wildcats do exceptionally well. They run for 6.8 yards per carry, third in the nation. When that immense strength runs into the core weakness of the Bruins, it’s going to get pretty ugly. The dynamic rushing offense of Rich Rodriguez is going to have their way with UCLA, who won’t get the ball often enough to score with the frequency they will need to keep it terribly close.

Arizona 41, UCLA 36

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