Publish date:

UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction

morarichrod.jpg

Rich Rodriguez has accomplished much in his time as Arizona's head coach, winning 29 games since 2012, two bowl games and a Pac-12 South divisional championship. But one thing eludes him heading into Saturday's top-20 matchup with conference rival UCLAa win over the Bruins.

Image placeholder title

Rodriguez and UCLA head coach Jim Mora arrived on the Pac-12 scene at the same time, and both instantly turned around the fortunes of their respective programs. For context on how far the Wildcats and Bruins have come, consider when they met in Arizona Stadium in 2011, the night's highlight was a streaker running onto the field during a sideline-clearing brawl.

This time around, ESPN's "College GameDay " will be in Tucson, as Saturday's installment is the national game of the week. There isn't a game featuring two more highly ranked teams, and the winner gains an important, early advantage in the Pac-12 South championship race.

College Football Podcast: Week 4 Preview with Jill Savage



Subscribe:iTunes | Stitcher

UCLA at Arizona

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV: ABC
Spread: Arizona +3

Three Things to Watch

1. The Injury Bug

UCLA scored a huge win last week over BYU, but the toll since has been astronomical. Mora told reporters Wednesday the Bruins will be without star linebacker Myles Jack for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Just two days prior, Mora announced cornerback Fabian Moreau was scratched for the season with a foot injury.

Add Jack and Moreau to a disconcertingly growing injury bug, which claimed defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes in Week 1.

Related: Decimated UCLA Defense Faces Uphill Climb in Pac-12

Both Jack and Vanderdoes had monster games against Arizona the last two years. Jack made his memorable move to running back in 2013, scorching the Wildcats defense for 120 yards on just six carries and a touchdown, while Vanderdoes's eight tackles a season ago stifled the Arizona offense.

Recommended Articles

The Wildcats haven't been immune to the injury epidemic themselves. Star linebacker Scooby Wright went down early in Week 1, only returning to practice this week. His status is uncertain.

Wide receivers Cayleb Jones and Samajie Grant will also be two to watch. Jones scored Arizona's lone touchdown at UCLA a season ago.

2. Rosen on the Road

Celebrated UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen came back down to Earth from his stellar debut, throwing three interceptions last week against BYU. Mora attributed Rosen's Week 3 struggles to “just being a freshman. It’s fighting through some difficult times and adjusting to the speed of the game and the size of the players,” per UCLABruins.com.

Saturday, the speed and size Arizona brings won't change. Moreover, Rosen plays in both his first Pac-12 Conference game, as well as his first meaningful road contest. The always-raucous Zona Zoo — Arizona's student section — guarantees a noisy atmosphere that will make Rosen's communication at the line of scrimmage difficult. The quarterback will also see a talented defense, which already has five interceptions on the year.

3. Running Back Rotation

UCLA's leading rushers against Arizona the last two seasons were a linebacker and quarterback. As mentioned, Jack is out of the lineup and quarterback Brett Hundley is now in the NFL.

Establishing the rush will be critical for this UCLA offense to alleviate some of the pressure on Rosen, but rising Heisman candidate running back Paul Perkins took off so much of the pressure against BYU that he needed a partner.

Nate Starks stepped up with a masterful performance in the fourth quarter, going for 60 of his 81 yards on the game-winning drive and scoring the decisive touchdown.

Starks was big in UCLA's win over Arizona last season, picking up 41 yards on just five carries. He'll provide a necessary counter-punch with Perkins to give the Bruins offense a dangerous rushing attack against a linebacker-depleted Arizona defense. 

Final Analysis

Saturday is a great opportunity for the Arizona football program to continue building the impressive portfolio established thus far under Rodriguez. GameDay's presence and a broadcast on ABC are both exposure for the program it hasn't had since 2009.

Image placeholder title

Of course, that game was the second in a five-game losing streak to Oregon that Arizona only snapped in 2013. It's longest losing streak against a Pac-12 opponent is now the three-game skid it rides into Saturday against UCLA.

The Bruin defense has had the antidote for the potent Arizona offense, and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's diverse approach has exposed holes in the 3-3-5 stack defense. This year's Arizona team might be Rodriguez's best in his four seasons on the Old Pueblo, but this is Mora's best UCLA bunch, even with the injuries.

Prediction: UCLA 30, Arizona 28

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.