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UCLA vs. Arizona Football Prediction and Preview

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA Bruins Football

Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins head to Tucson to take on the winless Wildcats

From 2012 through 2016, Arizona endured a losing skid against Pac-12 South counterpart UCLA. The Wildcats have since won each of the last two played in Tucson, where Saturday's late-night game goes down.

However, Arizona carries a different and worse losing streak into its matchup with the Bruins this time around. The Wildcats (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12) have not won a game since October 2019 and are winless in their last 16.

UCLA (3-2, 1-1) comes in on the downswing of what has already been a roller coaster, marked with the highs of impressive wins against LSU and at Stanford, and dips in losses to Fresno State and Arizona State.

The Bruins no longer control their destiny in pursuit of the program's first Pac-12 Championship Game appearance since 2012 and need to avoid losing any potential trap games like Saturday's to stay within striking distance of ASU in the division.

UCLA at Arizona 

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN
Spread: UCLA -16 

When UCLA Has the Ball

A simple theme to glean from UCLA's wins vs. its losses is how the Bruins more effectively ran the ball in the former. While last week's defeat against Arizona State was a considerable improvement from the 117 yards against Fresno State — and at 200 yards, might even look like an impressive output — the 3.8 yards gained per carry actually marked a season low.

What's more, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson produced nearly half of the Bruins' rushing yards, oftentimes via scrambles from broken pass plays. It was a much different and less effective ground game than in wins when Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown broke off chunks.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown came on board Arizona's new staff with first-year head coach Jedd Fisch looking to restore UA to its Desert Swarm style of the 1990s. The Wildcats were consistently one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 at the end of Mike Stoops' tenure early last decade and throughout most of both Rich Rodriguez and Kevin Sumlin's time in Tucson.

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Arizona has a long way to go. Each of its three FBS opponents (BYU, San Diego State, and Oregon) gained at least 162 yards on the ground; Oregon accrued more than six yards per carry. The Bruins will have an advantage up front that should allow them to pound the run game effectively.

When Arizona Has the Ball

While the Arizona defense is undergoing serious growing pains, it pales in comparison to the struggles of the Wildcats' offense. Among Power 5 programs, only Vanderbilt and Colorado are scoring fewer than Arizona's 17 points per game.

Fisch cycled through quarterbacks through the first month, with each of Will Plummer, Gunner Cruz, and Jordan McCloud seeing significant snaps. McCloud, a USF transfer, showed the most upside, including throwing for two touchdowns and keeping Arizona in the game at Oregon for three quarters, but was also intercepted four times in Eugene.

Arizona's inability to mount much of a rushing attack puts any of the quarterbacks in a tough spot. Fresno State and Arizona State both attacked UCLA effectively with explosive pass plays, which McCloud showed some ability to do. But in those losses, UCLA was also giving up some on the ground.

Final Analysis

Were UCLA coming into Tucson and facing winless Arizona fresh off a victory, it might constitute a trap game. As it stands, the Bruins won't be lacking for motivation to get back on track and start the second half of the 2021 season strong.

Arizona's undergoing a wholesale rebuild. The Wildcats could win a game this season to snap the streak, but it probably won't be in Week 6.

Prediction: UCLA 38, Arizona 20 

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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45 and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break