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UCLA expert previews Arizona game, makes a prediction

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ucla-arizona-football-preview-game-prediction-odds-wildcats-bruins-pac12 Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The UCLA Bruins are Arizona’s next opponent, coming to Tucson on Saturday night hoping to get back on track after a home loss to ASU last week.

UCLA (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) is led by fourth-year coach Chip Kelly, who is 2-1 at Arizona including a pair of wins while at Oregon from 2009-12.

To help better understand the Bruins, we reached out to Joe Piechowski of The Mighty Bruin to get more insight. Here are his professional answers to our semi-pro questions:

AZ Desert Swarm: “UCLA looked like it was ‘back’ after starting off 2-0 and beating LSU, but since then LSU has tailed off and the Bruins have dropped two games. What has changed in terms of what UCLA was doing so well beforehand compared to now?”

Joe Piechowski: “The single biggest difference is the defensive scheme. In the first two games of the season, the defense was aggressive and looked ferocious. Against Fresno State and ASU, the defense was not aggressive at all. The cornerbacks played 10 yards off the ball and the opposing QBs for both teams took advantage of that. In the case of (ASU’s) Jayden Daniels, he completed his four longest pass plays of the season against the Bruin defense. Not even Southern Utah allowed a pass play by Daniels of more than 40 yards, but UCLA’s defense did. In fact, UCLA’s defensive coordinator (Jerry Azzinaro) should have been fired after last week’s game.”

Dorian Thompson-Robinson is off to a great start this season. Why is he such a good fit in Chip Kelly’s offense?

“I don’t necessarily think he is the best quarterback on UCLA’s team this year. He may be the toughest, as seen in the game against Stanford, but he frequently cannot hit the ocean with a beach ball. He also has a tendency to fumble the ball without even getting touched. But, Chip sees something in him that has kept him as the starter since his freshman season. There have been glimpses, but he is not a polished quarterback.”

Michigan transfer RB Zach Charbonnet has been a revelation to UCLA’s run game, but he’s not the only one producing. Is this a product of scheme or ability?

“When you have a stud like Charbonnet, what tends to happen is that opposing defenses start to key on the guy. That opens up the offense for others to shine whether on the ground or through the air. DTR has been able to take advantage of this and he’s picked up big yardage as a result. Brittain Brown has also run the ball. I think much of the success on the ground is a credit to a mature offensive line.

“When Chip got here, he cleaned out the program (for better or worse—usually worse), but now the guys who were starting as freshmen are older and have more experience, strength and skill than they had before. That maturation of the offensive line deserves a lot of the credit for opening the holes for Charbonnet, Brown and DTR.”

Who on UCLA’s defense should Arizona be most concerned with?

“UCLA was missing two of their best defenders last week against ASU: (defensive backs) Quentin Lake and Kenny Churchwell. Of the two, Lake is probably the guy the Wildcats should be most concerned about. He’s a beast. He’s also the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers and UCLA alum Carnell Lake. So, defense runs in the family. The only question anyone should be asking about Lake is if he is healthy enough to go this week. If he is, look out.

“Other than that, if UCLA’s aggressive, blitzing defense returns this week, it will cause fits for Arizona. If the team plays the same type of defense that they did last week, Arizona could get its first win under Jedd Fisch.”

Arizona coach Jedd Fisch helped recruit some of UCLA’s top current offensive players, while QB coach Jimmie Dougherty was on the Bruins’ staff the previous four years. Do you think this gives the Wildcats any sort of advantage, or has enough changed?

“I loved what Jedd did while he was here in Westwood, even though it was only for one season. I would have liked to see him stay longer, but that wasn’t going to happen under Chip Kelly. I think maybe it gives Jedd and Jimmy some extra motivation to get the Wildcats to play well this week, even if they deny it. I think Jedd is an offensive mastermind and, in that respect, I think Chip vs. Jedd will be a good matchup. The big question is, does Arizona have the personnel to compete against a UCLA squad filled with upperclassmen?”

Prediction time: Does Arizona end its 16-game losing streak or does UCLA get back on track and stay in the Pac-12 South race?

“I think this hinges on what the UCLA defense does. I expect Jerry Azzinaro to revert to the same soft defense he’s been using for most of the time he’s been here. That will make this a very, very close game. In the end, I think UCLA will pick off a pass that leads to the game-winning score. So, while the Wildcats may come close, I think the Bruins still win.”