No. 12 UCLA can run the ball, and Arizona has trouble stopping it. The teams’ Saturday night matchup in Pasadena, Calif., might not get more complicated than that.
The Bruins (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) are seventh nationally and first in the conference in rushing yards per game (242.3), and they are coming off a 402-yard performance on the ground in a 50-36 road win over Arizona State, despite star running back Zach Charbonnet being unavailable due to injury.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson contributed 120 rushing yards, Kazmeir Allen rushed for 137 and Keegan Jones added 98.
“It’s a credit to our depth from a skill position standpoint,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “I thought our offensive line and tight ends played really, really well. They understood it was a challenge. When you lose somebody like Zach, that’s a big blow to your football team. … I think our offense, guys on the offensive side of the ball, really responded when they knew that Zach wasn’t gonna play after warmups and what are we gonna do.”
Charbonnet, third nationally with 137.7 yards per game, practiced on Tuesday and likely won’t want to miss a chance to run against the Wildcats (3-6, 1-5). They are 125th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 218.7 yards per game, and have given up 300 rushing yards in a game three times this season.
Arizona has made strides in coach Jedd Fisch’s second season, notably on offense, but needs to play a clean game to compete against the top teams in the Pac-12.
That didn’t happen last week. Arizona fumbled seven times, losing four, in a 45-20 loss in the rain at Utah. Quarterback Jayden de Laura, who has been brilliant but inconsistent, threw for a season-low 159 yards.
“The elements were kind of affecting us,” Fisch said. “I thought we didn’t really handle the full passing game the way we normally would. We certainly are a better football team than we showed.”
The Wildcats might be without leading receiver Jacob Cowing, who was considered questionable on Monday due to a leg injury.
UCLA didn’t see any movement in the College Football Playoff rankings, but still has an outside shot at making the final four. Winning out against Arizona, USC and Cal would land the Bruins in the Pac-12 title game, where they potentially could avenge their only loss — to Oregon.
Kelly has been vocal about late kickoffs affecting how many people get to see — and properly evaluate — his team. This week’s game begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.
“We had a team run for 400 yards last Saturday night and no one knows about it,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a good football team and I hope people get a chance to see us play.”
While this week’s matchup favors the high-powered UCLA offense, Kelly has been fretting about his defense. UCLA gave up 349 passing yards and 30 first downs last week versus ASU.
“I talked to it a little bit after the game, but I think with the amount of missed tackles we had, we’ve got to do a better job in open spaces,” Kelly said. “And part of that is gang tackling, getting more than one guy to the ball.”
–Field Level Media