The Arizona Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) head to Pasadena to take on the UCLA Bruins (1-5, 1-2) on Saturday.
With game day fast approaching, we spoke with Dimitri Dorlis of BruinsNation.com and Mike Regalado of GoJoeBruin.com to see what to watch for on Saturday.
Here’s our Q&A.
UCLA finally got their first win last Saturday by dominating Cal. Has this team finally turned the corner?
Dimitri Dorlis: It’s hard to definitively say, honestly. UCLA has looked much improved over the past few weeks, taking Washington to the final possession before beating the brakes off of UC Berkeley, but there’s this nagging voice in the back of our head which keeps saying “Washington was a trap game for them and Berkeley is just bad”. If the Bruins have another good performance against Arizona, I’d feel confident about any corner-turning, but obviously I’ve been hurt before because I can’t fully commit to that idea yet.
Mike Regalado: Despite the beatdown of Cal, I am still cautiously optimistic. I predicted the Bruins would win but did not expect them to trample the Golden Bears. We saw a lot of good things from the Bruins, things that have been simmering below the surface and finally bubbled over and helped UCLA to get the win. Though they might have turned a corner, I will not say that they are finally here, because I still expect a few growing pains through the remainder of the season.
What are your impressions on both Chip Kelly’s and Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s performances in their first year at UCLA?
Dimitri Dorlis: Growing pains is the easiest way to describe it. Let’s start with Dorian Thompson-Robinson first. DTR isn’t just a true freshman — he’s a true freshman who only started a year at the varsity level of high school, so he came into UCLA with a ton of upside but a real lack of experience. That showed through the first four games of the year, where he’d make a great play only to follow it up with a bad play. The last two games have been a real turn-around for him in part because he has played more within himself (and it certainly helps that the offensive line has improved and the running game has become the focal point). If DTR continues to do that, he could become a really great quarterback in time.
As for Chip Kelly, it’s been.....very weird. Going into the season, the concept of “In Chip We Trust” was rampant through the fanbase, with everyone blindly accepting any decision made by the team. Only after the first loss did people really start to question things like the mass transfers, offensive scheme, and anemic recruiting effort. The last few outings have done a lot to get people back on his side, but there’s still some lingering concerns. So I guess the answer is cautiously optimistic.
Mike Regalado: The majority of UCLA fans thought we they were going to see Oregon 2.0 and were very disappointed by the performance in the first three games. Many expected the Bruins to make slow progressions, but they did not think it would be that slow. Luckily we have seen a lot of progress in the last three games. Kelly has his players finally understanding his scheme and executing, especially Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He is making better decisions and has become a real threat with his legs. I expect all of this to improve as we get closer to the end of the season.
Which UCLA player will have the biggest impact on the game?
Dimitri Dorlis: On offense, the clear answer at this point is Joshua Kelley. He’s had 100+ yard rushing performances the past few weeks, and has turned into the focal point of the offense. His success in this game should determine UCLA’s success. On defense, I’d probably go with Krys Barnes. Barnes has had a rough go of it in his time at UCLA, but the light has seemed to come on in the past few weeks. Inside linebacker has been a problem the past few years, but if Barnes can continue his string of strong play, UCLA’s run defense can continue to improve.
Mike Regalado: You have to be on the look out for RB Joshua Kelley. As a former walk-on transfer, he has played under the radar and has all of a sudden flourished in Kelly’s system. Last week he ran for a career-high 157 yards, marking the third consecutive game he ran for over 100. He is not just a speedster, but a guy that can get in between the tackles and make things happen.
After such a rough start followed by steady improvement, what are your expectations for the rest of the Bruins’ season?
Dimitri Dorlis: Literally everything is on the table at this point. Outside of a trip to Autzen which I am just not confident about, UCLA can theoretically be competitive in every matchup left on the schedule. Becoming bowl-eligible is still possible, but this is still one of the youngest teams in the nation, so going 0-6 is also still possible. With all of that said, my expectations are that the team continues to improve as the season progresses. Do that, and I won’t really care about the record.
Mike Regalado: Not a lot. With their treacherous schedule, I do not think they make a bowl game, so right now, just continue to get better and get as many wins as possible. Set the foundation for 2019.
What, if anything, scares you about hosting Arizona?
Dimitri Dorlis: So, this is the 3rd year in a row the Bruins have faced Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone (and the 7th year in a row UCLA fans have had to watch a Noel Mazzone offense on purpose). The last two meeting involved Sumlin’s team racing out to a lead, only to play a second half where Sumlin’s team does their damndest to let UCLA win the game. Oh yeah, and Arizona is starting a backup QB, which UCLA has struggled against over what feels like the past decade. So there’s a ton of things that scare me about this matchup, I guess.
Mike Regalado: The unknown. With Khalil Tate out, UCLA does not have a lot to look at with Rhett Rodriguez. If he can exploit UCLA’s weaknesses in the passing game, he could surprise the Bruins. UCLA has to put constant pressure on him.
What places around the UCLA campus should visiting Wildcats fan be sure to check out?
Dimitri Dorlis: First thing visiting Wildcat fans should know is that the Rose Bowl is pretty far away from the UCLA campus, so plan accordingly. Westwood (where UCLA’s campus is located) is located pretty close to Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, while Westwood Village right next to campus is currently undergoing a revitalization. If you’re around campus, make sure to stop by Diddy Riese and buy yourself an ice cream sandwich. You won’t regret it. The Rose Bowl is located in Pasadena, and while downtown Pasadena is nice, you’ll want to make sure you’re in the Rose Bowl area around sunset to enjoy one of the greatest views at any sports venue. Oh, and take an extra day and go to Disneyland. Just seems like a nice thing to do.
Mike Regalado: It depends. UCLA is almost 28 miles away from the Rose Bowl, so if you are making the trek to LA, I would recommend staying in Pasadena. If you are going to Westwood/UCLA, you need to check out the restaurants and shops around Westwood Village. Make sure to get a cookie from Diddy Riese. In Pasadena, there are a ton of shops in Old Town. One of my favorite spots is the British Pub, Lucky Baldwins.
Lastly, what is your score prediction for the game?
Dimitri Dorlis: I feel I’ve sounded pessimistic in this whole thing, but I still think UCLA wins this game. I’ll go with 31-20.
Mike Regalado: I have been conservative with my predictions this season, but after their performance against Cal and scouting the Wildcats, I have UCLA winning, 38-14.
Arizona and UCLA kick off at 7:30 MST. You can watch the game on ESPN2. Be sure to check out GoJoeBruin.com and BruinsNation.com for UA-UCLA coverage through a different lens.