The Arizona Wildcats are one win away from bowl eligibility, and their first chance to get to six wins comes during Homecoming on Saturday night against the 20th-ranked UCLA Bruins.
The UA upset UCLA last season in the Rose Bowl and is trying for back-to-back wins in the series for the first time since winning five straight from 2007-11.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Arizona is a 3-point underdog. Who takes this matchup? Here’s what our staff thinks.
Kim Doss — Arizona wins 23-21
Arizona continues to hold its opponents below their scoring average. One reason has been the difference in converting in the red zone. The Wildcats’ opponents have gotten into the red zone 30 times this season. Arizona has kept them from putting points on the board seven times.
UCLA has had some difficulties in this part of the game. Despite getting into the red zone 36 times, the Bruins have only walked away with points 25 times. Against Colorado last week, they were 3 for 5. Even more concerning for UCLA is that only 20 of those 36 visits to the red zone have resulted in touchdowns.
In comparison, UA’s offense is 32 for 34 once it gets into the red zone with 23 of those scores being of the six-point variety. Not only is the team more productive than its opponents once it gets there, but it’s also getting into that danger zone more often.
Expect a defensive battle. UCLA’s defense has been effective at keeping teams out of the red zone altogether. Their opponents have only gotten into the final 20 yards of the field 19 times this year, and the Bruins are stopping them from putting points on the board over 25 percent of the time once they get there. Just 14 opponent scores have come in the red zone, and half of those have been field goals. Considering the Bruins’ ability to keep teams out of the red zone or take three once they’re there, I would expect Tyler Loop to come into play quite a bit in this game.
Which team can stay closer to its averages? The slight nod goes to Arizona because it’s a home game and there should be a strong, energetic crowd for homecoming.
Ezra Amacher — Arizona wins 27-20
With bowl eligibility and a national ranking on the line in front of what should be a packed Homecoming crowd, the importance of this game can't be understated. I really hope Arizona brings the energy early on and is able to establish a first half lead. If the UCLA defense gets into a rhythm of forcing the Wildcats off the field quickly, the pressure will add up and in all likelihood lead to some mistakes out of Fifita. What gives me confidence in this game is that UCLA’s offense has been very so-so, and Ethan Garbers isn’t the kind of quarterback who is going to burn you for big plays. I fully expect this game to go down to the wire, with Arizona winning thanks to some Pac-12 After Dark theatrics.
Brandon Combs — Arizona wins 24-20
This is going to be an interesting game. UCLA has a very good defense. There is no doubt about that. The pass rushing trio of Laiatu Latu, Gabriel Murphy, and Grayson Murphy are a problem. Combined, they account for 17.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss. They also combine for 75 hurries....that seems pretty good. That type of pressure and pass rush success definitely allows the defense to play loose and to their strengths. Noah Fifita will need to keep his cool and ensure to get the ball out quickly. However, all eyes will be on the offensive line to ensure they give Noah the time he needs.
Offensively, the Bruins are....we’ll say interesting. The running game is the bread and butter for Chip Kelly and has seen success this year. Carson Steele and T.J. Harden are very good backs. Both average over 5 yards per carry and have combined for over 1,100 yards and 11 scores. Interestingly, UCLA lost to teams with very sound defenses so that’s something to keep in mind. Passing wise, UCLA isn’t good.
All that said, I believe UCLA’s defense will prove to be a challenge for Arizona but, the ‘Cats will notch another Top 25 win for the 2023 season.
Adam Green — UCLA wins 23-17
I am prepared to be called a hater or get accused of having no faith. It happens.
This is going to be the game where Noah Fifita looks like a freshman. UCLA comes into the matchup with an elite defense, the kind that can give an inexperienced passer some problems. Fifita has been very good for Arizona, but he has thrown interceptions in all but one of his starts and last week against Oregon State he was less than sharp. Taking sacks, a grounding call, some missed throws — all these things happen, but they didn’t over the previous few outings.
Growing pains are to be expected, and given that this will be the toughest defense Fifita has encountered it’s my guess he will struggle in a way we have not yet seen. Arizona’s best hope is for the running game to shine, which is possible, or the defense to play well, which is more likely. Regardless, this figures to be a fairly close and low-scoring game that unfortunately the Wildcats will not come out on top in.
Devin Homer — Arizona wins 24-17
After coming off a ranked upset against former No. 11 Oregon State, Arizona will get another shot as No. 20 UCLA rolls into Tucson.
UA now has to deal with the highest graded pass-rushing unit in the nation (91.9) and UA quarterback Noah Fifita will have to get the protection right to give his playmakers a chance to make plays.
The Arizona defense has held their last four opponents under their season scoring average and will have a chance to make it five and earn bowl game eligibility for the first time since 2017.
Brian J. Pedersen — Arizona wins 19-17
After a slew of offensively minded opponents, Arizona now has to deal with one that’s best known for its defense. Combined with how well the Wildcats have done stopping opponents and this has all the makings of a low-scoring battle.
It’s the best pass-rushing unit in the country against the top pass-blocking group, and thus this will be Noah Fifita’s toughest test as the starting quarterback. He’s going to face more pressure than he’s seen in any other game, and if he can make good decisions (and the Wildcats run enough to stay balanced) it will remain ahead of the sticks.
UCLA’s offense is average, at best, but the Wildcats will need another strong defensive effort to keep this one from getting away. UA will lock up its bowl eligibility on Homecoming.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.