It’s the goal of everyone associated with the Arizona Wildcats—especially their fans—to make it to the Rose Bowl. The bi-annual trip to play UCLA there doesn’t count, but once again it looks like that’s going to be the only way Arizona will get there in 2020.
The UCLA team Arizona will face Saturday night at 6 p.m. MST is coming off a 38-35 loss at Oregon, a game that saw the Bruins allow 28 points off turnovers yet have a chance to pull an upset in the end. They are 1-2 on the season, losing at Colorado in their opener and then blowing out Cal at home in a rare Sunday morning tilt two weeks ago.
To help better understand UCLA, which is coached by Chip Kelly, we reached out to Cam Mellor from SB Nation sister site Bruins Nation. Below are his complex responses to our simplistic questions.
How would you assess UCLA’s season to this point? Have the results gone as expected, or have there been positive/negative developments that caught you off guard?
“There has been much more positive than negative so far this season. In fact, I think it’s actually been two quarters of well below-average football (first half at Colorado) and then 10 quarters of above-average football, to at least UCLA’s standards. There have been far too many mistakes to see victories, but the overall level of play is leaving fans to stop questioning Chip Kelly — and that’s how you know it’s been positive.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw seven TD passes in UCLA’s first two games, only to miss the third apparently because of a COVID contact tracing issue. What are the chances he plays this week, and if he’s out what’s the dropoff (if any) to Chase Griffin?
“DTR got the benefit of playing a Colorado defense who hadn’t played together in basically a year and a Cal defense that had to throw a gameplan together on 24 hours notice. He utilized his athletic ability to his advantage in those two games but did little to give any indication that he had grown as a passer from the previous two seasons of subpar passing. The uptick with Griffin is that he was much more dynamic of a passer in the public’s eye, throwing for 195 and a score against a tough Oregon defense. That, however, is more of a mirage in my opinion as the gameplan was extremely simple and every throw that was completed was basically one that crossed his face and left him with little work to do as the passer. Couple that with the fact that the Oregon defense didn’t even know he was going to be the starting quarterback and didn’t have a gameplan for Griffin until halftime, and I worry about his prognosis going forward if he is the starter.”
It appears that Demetric Felton has finally come into his own as a senior, already amassing 579 all-purpose yards in three games. What has changed for him, and do you see his usage continuing like this?
“Felton is the offense, he’s the person who keeps Chip Kelly’s offense in preferred situations. He’s also got an Alvin Kamara to him out of the backfield and as he continues to adjust to life as a running back, his proverbial ceiling is a first-round draft pick. The only thing that has changed for him since last year is the fact that he is entrenched in the running back role without having to look over his shoulders at Joshua Kelley. He’s the guy, and he knows it. His usage will keep up as long as he stays healthy.”
UCLA has turned it over nine times in three games, with opponents turning that into 49 points. Are these fluke mistakes, or do the Bruins have a ball control problem?
“Unfortunately for UCLA fans, they are not fluky mistakes and rather are bad decisions and poor ball security. There are way too many ‘Drew Lock moments’ where you can say ‘uh-oh’ or ‘oh no’ right away. The other terrible thing to note here, is that some of the scores that UCLA has had this season have been more flukey than their turnovers have been. There were two blatant misreads by the Colorado defense that led to two big plays and a Cover 1-2 switch coverage that the safety misread against Oregon that led to a score. Take those away, and the final scores look much, much different in their two losses.”
Allowing 32 points per game doesn’t normal scream ‘improved defense,’ but in terms of yards allowed per game and per play the numbers are a lot better. How does this unit look so far?
“I wouldn’t say they look better, to be honest. They have had some good moments, but honestly, they’re playing at the same level they were last year. They just have been put in terrible spots from the offense on some bad turnovers to give them some pretty ‘good looking’ defensive totals in terms of yards allowed. Credit to them, however, goes when they did have a punt blocked against Cal and were pinned in the red zone on their first defensive drive of the game, and only allowed three points out of it. They are coming together, but before I can say they’re improving, they need to stop offenses more like they did against Cal. I’d take 500 yards and 23 points allowed per game rather than 32 points and 300 yards per game.”
Prediction time: Does Arizona end its program-record nine-game losing streak, winning in Pasadena for the first time since 2010, or does UCLA get back to .500 while keeping the Wildcats winless?
“Honestly, this one ultimately comes down to who is in at quarterback for the Bruins. If it’s DTR, I expect a couple of errant throws and a ton of usage with his legs. The gameplan is much different with him at QB and we see less of Felton, and that is a bad recipe for Bruins fans. If Griffin plays, the gameplan shifts heavily to Felton and allowing Griffin to easily find and make his reads. DTR plays, the Wildcats win a close one. Griffin plays, the Bruins edge it out in the end.