Kelly, No. 9 UCLA keeping focus squarely on Arizona
LOS ANGELES - UCLA is ranked in the Top 10 in November for the first time in eight years and finds itself among the top 12 teams in the College Football Playoff.
Coach Chip Kelly enjoys the increased attention but realizes it means nothing unless the Bruins can continue winning.
With next week’s titanic Crosstown Showdown matchup against No. 8 Southern California on the horizon, the Bruins need to avoid a possible trap game on Saturday when they host Arizona.
“I don’t think you can get caught up in it. If you don’t win your next four games, then it doesn’t matter,” Kelly said. “We want to be in the conversation, but the only way you can stay in the conversation is to continue to prepare well and play well on Saturdays. So that’s kind of what we can control.”
The Bruins (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) are off to their best start since 2005 on the strength of their running game. They are averaging a conference-best 242.3 yards per game, which is third among Power Five teams. Despite Pac-12 leading rusher Zach Charbonnet missing last week’s game due to injury, the Bruins ran for 402 yards in a 50-36 victory over Arizona State, marking the first time they had gone over 400 yards since 2010.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson rushed for a career-high 120 yards, and Keegan Jones added 98. Kazmeir Allen led the way with 137 yards and had his second straight game with a TD run of at least 70 yards.
UCLA is 21-4 under Kelly and has won 14 straight when rushing for at least 200 yards. The Bruins have eclipsed that mark six times this season.
Arizona (3-6, 1-5) is ranked 11th in the conference in rush defense, allowing 218.7 yards per game. The Wildcats have given up over 200 yards five times and 300 yards in three games.
Wildcats defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen, who was on Kelly’s staff for three seasons, knows they have a lot of things to prepare for with the Bruins’ multifaceted rushing attack.
“There’s so many misdirection and same-side run plays where they’re pulling guys. That’s going to be the challenge, to make sure we fit it up the right way,” he said.
ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER RANKED TEAM
The Wildcats are facing their fourth AP top 12 team in their last five games, making them the first Pac-12 program since Washington in 2012 to go through that kind of stretch.
“I don’t know if this is normal or not to play four teams that highly ranked. For the last five weeks, our opponents are 38-7, and this is another team that we are facing that is 8-1 and have accomplished what our goal is to accomplish over the next four, five years,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said.
Fisch is in his second year leading the Wildcats. He was UCLA's offensive coordinator in 2017 and the interim coach for the final two games after Jim Mora was fired.
In something that many considered only remotely possible at best three years ago, Chip Kelly has evened his UCLA record at 25-25 and could go over .500 in Westwood for the first time with a win on Saturday.
The Bruins went 3-9, 4-8 and 4-5 in Kelly’s first three seasons but are 17-4 since the start of last year.
Thompson-Robinson will make his 45th start, surpassing Cade McNown for the most by a quarterback in school history. The fifth-year senior has been more of a rushing threat the past couple of weeks and was held under 200 yards passing in the past two games despite being third among Power Five QBs with a 71.7% completion rate.
Thompson-Robinson has 439 rushing yards this season, which is second among Pac-12 quarterbacks. Oregon’s Bo Nix has 457.
If Arizona has any chance of pulling off the upset, it needs a better performance from Jayden de Laura. He threw for a season-low 159 yards and no touchdowns in last week’s 45-20 loss to Utah.
The sophomore is seventh nationally, averaging 312.6 yards per game. Over the last five games, de Laura has completed 62.1% of his passes for 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions and is averaging 344.2 yards per game.