A blowout win over Cal snapped UCLA's longest season-opening drought since the World War II era. The Bruins now return to Pasadena seeking their first win at the Rose Bowl this season and the program's first winning streak since beating Texas A&M and Hawaii to open the 2017 season.
Week 8 may indeed be UCLA's best chance for building a winning streak this year, with a hobbled Arizona bunch limping into town. The Wildcats will have a new quarterback starting with Khalil Tate sidelined by an ankle injury. That's a difficult prospect for a team already seeking some stability on the offensive end under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin and former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
Arizona at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: UCLA -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Rhett Rod time?
In last season's Arizona win, Khalil Tate hit up UCLA for 230 rushing yards with two scores and an efficient 143 passing yards and one score on just 13 attempts. The 47-30 Wildcats victory snapped a five-game winning streak for UCLA in the series.
This new-look Bruins team wasn't going to see the same Tate even if his nagging ankle injury wasn't holding him out; offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's schematic changes have made for a much different look than Arizona employed last year under head coach Rich Rodriguez. However, UCLA will likely see a Rodriguez product on Saturday: the coach's son, Rhett.
Rhett Rodriguez came on last Friday against Utah and went 20-of-38 for 226 yards with a touchdown. He was much more effective than freshman Jamarye Joiner, who initially replaced Tate (after appearing for one drive the week prior vs. Cal).
2. A feisty Bruins pass rush
The Arizona offensive line has struggled mightily throughout the 2018 season, cycling through players as a result of injuries. Opponents have capitalized; look for UCLA to try to continue that trend.
The Bruins were outstanding in applying pressure last week at Cal, getting into the backfield for two sacks and seven tackles for a loss. More impressive than the statistics, however, was how disoriented UCLA's steady pass rush rendered the Golden Bears' offense, which translated into turnover opportunities. Keisean Lucier-South made the most of them, picking off one pass and returning a fumble for a touchdown.
3. Another big day for Joshua Kelley
Kelley's rise from FCS transfer walk-on to cornerstone of the young UCLA offense ranks among the best stories in this year's Pac-12. Kelley can get to 1,000 yards with a strong finish. He'll get started in that direction against Arizona.
The Wildcats' run defense ranks No. 107 in the nation, allowing 202 yards per game. Coordinator Marcel Yates made some lineup adjustments ahead of the Sept. 29 matchup with USC that showed promise against the Trojans and in a win over Cal in which the Arizona defense scored on a pair of takeaways. The massive P.J. Johnson moving from nose tackle to defensive end has helped give Arizona more of a pass rush, but the Wildcats are a long way from being stingy against the run.
A blowout loss to Fresno State on Sept. 15 could have prompted a young UCLA team to fold its proverbial tent under first-year head coach Chip Kelly. The Bruins instead came back from a bye week and led Colorado on the road in the third quarter, before youth and lack of depth took hold. Despite the loss, that effort showed a spark in UCLA that ignited into a fire when the Bruins played Washington to a one-score decision on Oct. 6.
The rout of Cal marked an important breakthrough, with the run game and defense both clicking. New leaders in Kelley and linebacker Krys Barnes have stepped up, and UCLA looks primed for a finish that establishes positive momentum into the offseason.
Arizona's a young team in its own right, especially on the defensive side. The Wildcats' real struggles have been on offense, however. It may be late in the docket for UA to get its issues with the ball ironed out — especially with a new quarterback behind center.
Prediction: UCLA 28, Arizona 17
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)