Although we haven't been as gloomy and dark about UCLA's chances this week as we were heading into California and Oregon game, there is no doubt that the Bruins are going to be huge underdogs against the Wildcats this afternoon. From the last time I checked, Arizona, which is off to their best start (6-1) since 1998, is about 10 points favorites against Rick Neuheisel's Bruins, who looked like hapless and pathetic patsies in 3 of our 4 conference games.
Even though Arizona might not go with their usual starting QB in Nick Foles, CW is that they are not going to lose much of a bit with Matt Scott. Arizona is a fairly healthy team taking on a Bruin squad missing 6 starters either due to injuries or suspensions. So the Wildcats are feeling confident and great about themselves. As for the Bruins, it is going to be extremely telling how our guys respond to adversity this afternoon on our homecoming game. It is going to tell us a bit about whether our players are still responding to the coaching staff or whether they have simply cashed in their chips and checked out for rest of the season.
Some of UCLA coaches and players sound a little befuddled:
Norm Chow, do you believe in curses?
"I believe in football gods," Chow said while shaking his head and exhaling, his mind running through every recent UCLA quarterback folly, whether injury or inefficiency. "Man, I don't know." [...]
"I'm not extremely superstitious, so I don't want to say I believe in curses, but there's definitely a conspiracy or something," said senior offensive tackle Micah Kia, who will start for Sheller at left tackle. "There is something going on. I don't know what it is. But it's weird."
Kia is a great kid but given the fact that he is one of the four captains of this team (and the only offensive captain left now that Kevin Prince is out for the season), his comments don't inspire a lot of confidence. Chow's comments are not all that comforting either. I wish there was someone like Pedro Martinez in this football team, who would take on this defiant mindset (at least internally):
"I don't believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I'll drill him in the ass."
It's disappointing to have these guys sound so befuddled in public. Hope their game day mindset and attitude is completely different than how it is coming across in public. Of course it doesn't mean they need to be swaggering and talking smack (like our secondary has been doing even after getting PWNed). It just means to keep quiet for now - neither talking smack or projecting weakness - and doing their very best to put together a smart, focused and hard-nosed performance on Saturdays.
As mentioned above, report from Arizona is upbeat (emphasis added throughout):
Arizona, meanwhile, seems to have overcome its midseason malaise.
The Wildcats will try to take advantage of UCLA with games against Stanford, USC, Oregon and rival Arizona State looming.
Win all five games, and Arizona could find itself back in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
"All we control," Stoops said, "is the next five games and what we do."
They sound confident taking on a patsy UCLA team (which has gotten outscored by 20-130 in 3 of its 4 conference games) and are not worried about who is going to start for them at QB:
Arizona (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) has kept Foles' health under wraps throughout the week leading up to arguably the least intimidating game left on its schedule. His sprained right knee kept him out of last week's win over Washington, but Scott scarcely made a mistake in his place.
"Matt is a bit more fiery kind of guy, Nick is kind of more collected," Arizona receiver David Douglas said. "They're both great leaders, though."
As for the Bruins the depth chart is kind of in shambles:
Three consecutive top-15 recruiting classes and the Bruins still seem to have all the depth of a kiddie pool.
UCLA is down to two quarterbacks and three cornerbacks who are on scholarship. They have only four scholarship wide receivers and two offensive tackles available for this game.
The injured/not available list includes six starters.
That was from Chris Foster, who (along with his entire LA Times sports department) are giddy with anticipation for this afternoon's post game interview with Rick Neuheisel.
If the Bruins are to stem the bad vibes from last 2.5 weeks they are going to need to play effective and mistake free ball control offense (without settling for FGs) and bring some pressure on Arizona QB(s). Those are huge IFs with lots of little factors in play including simple things like mistake free blocking, holding on to the ball and uhm catching them. Peter Yoon from ESPNLA lists his "five things to watch" which includes the following:
3. Hold on tightly--Nobody in the Football Bowl Subdivision has more fumbles than UCLA's 12. The turnovers have gotten UCLA into early trouble the last two weeks and it's imperative that the Bruins avoid them because they simply do not have an offense that is built to get out of holes. Arizona's defense averages a forced fumble a game, but the Wildcats have fumbled only four times this season.
4. Offensive defense--UCLA must see improvement from a defense that has gotten progressively worse since the victory at Texas over a month ago. They've given up 28, 35 and 60 points the last three games and will be without middle linebacker Patrick Larimore, who dislocated his shoulder. UCLA has give up 300 yards passing in two of the last three games and gave up 300 yards rushing in the other and the Bruins have gone three consecutive games without intercepting a pass.
5. Catching on--UCLA will be without leading receiver Ricky Marvray, who is suspended for the game, and could be without second-leading receiver Nelson Rosario, who is questionable because of a sprained ankle. That opens up opportunities for speedy playmakers Josh Smith and Randall Carroll if UCLA can get any kind of passing game going with quarterback Richard Brehaut, who is making his third career start. UCLA's receiving corps has been iffy this year, so maybe Smith and Carroll can infuse some energy.
It will be interesting to see what kind of schemes come out of Norm Chow and Chuck Bullough this afternoon. We will be watching closely whether there is a concerted effort to incorporate our athletes into the game plan on offense while on defense there is any shred if creative unpredictability.
Today is also the beginning of a huge opportunity for Richard Brehaut:
With Kevin Prince out for the season following knee surgery, Brehaut has the opportunity to define his college career in the next five games.
"I know I don't have to compete with anyone else but myself," Brehaut said. "But with that comes responsibility."
Hope he and his team-mates take a positive step forward. The kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 pm PST. The game thread will go up around 12. Enjoy your Saturday.