Every week, we take a look at some of the numbers underlying the Arizona Wildcats’ upcoming match-up. This week, we took a look at the UCLA Bruins’ pass defense, how their strengths stack up against Arizona, and whether the Wildcats have a chance to pull out the win on the road.
26% - Arizona’s win probability per S&P+
The advanced stats give Arizona a 26% chance of winning this game. That’s slightly higher than the odds were last week against Washington, but still not terribly high. I expected to see Arizona’s profile rise a little higher after nearly beating the Huskies last week, but the advanced statistics still see UCLA as a pretty big favorite, projecting the margin of victory at 10.9. Not great for the Wildcats.
96.7 - UCLA’s pass defense efficiency
UCLA is a weirder team than you’d expect this season. Despite Josh Rosen and Soso Jamabo returning for the Bruins, their offense has been underwhelming. They’re currently eleventh in the conference in scoring offense and ninth in total offense. This is, at least in part, because of the teams they’ve played - they’ve had to play Stanford and Texas A&M already, both of whom are very good defensively - but even against BYU, they only scored 17 points, fewer than the Wildcats did in the first game of the season.
UCLA’s strengths, then, are on defense. UCLA is fourth in the conference in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. UCLA hasn’t been able to stop the run, though - they’re middle of the road in rushing defense and allow more than 150 yards on the ground per game.
The defensive production, then, is fueled primary by their pass defense, which is ranked second in the Pac-12 so far. Opposing quarterbacks are completing less than 50% of their passes against UCLA, and defensive backs Nate Meadors and Fabian Moreau each have five pass break-ups already this season. In fact, as a team, the Bruins have twice as many PBUs as the Wildcats. The pass rush isn’t as stout as you might expect - the Bruins only have seven sacks on the year - but UCLA hasn’t allowed much through the air this season.
248.0 - Arizona’s rushing yards per game
But the joke’s on UCLA - Arizona doesn’t have much of a passing game! Arizona is tenth in the conference in passing offense and ninth in pass efficiency. The reason is simple: Brandon Dawkins isn’t a great passer. He is, though, great running the football. He already has seven touchdowns on the ground so far this season, and he’s averaging more than 10 yards per carry.
Admittedly, Arizona’s running back depth is lacking now that J.J. Taylor is out for the season. This week, though, things are looking up - Nick Wilson should return from his injury, and Tyrell Johnson gets another week in practice to get used to playing running back. Add in Zach Green (who is a fine reserve/change-of-pace back) and the Wildcats still have all the ingredients to run the ball effectively, especially against a just-okay UCLA rush defense.
Arizona +13 - the spread in this week’s match-up
Vegas currently pegs UCLA as a 13 point favorite in this game. That’s a little surprising to me: Arizona was pretty impressive last week, Nick Wilson should return for this game, and Washington is a much tougher opponent than UCLA. I’d expect the spread to be a little lower.
There are certainly reasons to doubt the Wildcats - the game is on the road, the running back depth is shaky, and there are certainly questions about whether the defense will be able to stop the Bruins.
Still, I’d take the Wildcats with the points. UCLA’s biggest strength (pass defense) is negated by the fact that Arizona can’t pass very well anyway. And Arizona’s biggest strength (rushing offense) is something that UCLA hasn’t been great at stopping so far this season. The Wildcats should be able to keep this game close, and, if they do, they’ll have a chance to steal the win.