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Matchup: UCLA (3-3) at Arizona (1-5)
Venue: Arizona Stadium – Natural Grass
Date: Thursday, Oct. 20
Time/TV: 9:00 pm ET - ESPN
Line: Arizona -4, o/u 62
It was a nice way to kick a two-game losing streak last Thursday night. I backed San Diego State getting seven points on the road at Air Force and the Aztecs pulled away in the second half for a 14-point outright win over the Falcons. It doesn’t seem to happen often, but it sure is nice not to have to sweat out every win.
Speaking of sweating, Arizona coach Mike Stoops probably had a pretty thick layer of perspiration on him after losing to the previously winless Oregon State Beavers 37-27 on October 8. That loss pushed the Wildcats losing streak against FBS teams to 10 in a row and, if possible, made the Stoops grip on the head coaching job even more tenuous. But even a coach with the last name Stoops is only given so much rope and Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne decided he had seen enough. On the Monday after the loss to the Beavers, Stoops was fired.
For now, Tim Kish, who has been with Arizona since 2004 and was most recently the defensive coordinator, will serve as the interim head coach. Byrne is expected to launch a full court press to get Boise State’s Chris Petersen – and the Wildcats certainly won’t be the first program to come knocking on Petersen’s door.
Stoops could blame his firing on several factors and certainly injuries didn’t help. Arizona hasn’t gotten a full season from many of the their best players in 2011 including S Adam Hall, LB Jake Fischer, CB Jonathan McKnight, DT Justin Washington and WR Juron Criner and make no mistake, that type of playmaking ability is very difficult to replace.
However, ultimately Stoops only has himself to blame. The losing streak aside, it’s hard to survive with the 115th ranked defense in the land…especially when you are known as a defensive-minded coach.
Following Stoops dismissal, Arizona had a bye week and now is ready to return to the field this Thursday night when they host UCLA. Rick Neuheisel might want to the Bruins ship sailing in the right direction in a hurry or he could well find himself in the unemployment line with Mike Stoops. The former quarterback for the 1984 UCLA team that went to the Rose Bowl, Neuheisel was brought back to L.A. to get UCLA back to winning ways. It certainly hasn’t been easy so far as the Bruins haven’t finished better than eighth in the Pac-10 in Neuheisel’s first three seasons.
Thus far in 2011 UCLA is sitting at 3-3 but the wins have only come against San Jose State (3-4), Oregon State (1-5), and Washington State (3-3) – hardly impressive. The reality is, beating a 1-5 Arizona team won’t do much to change people’s opinion that UCLA is an average-to-poor team but should they lose, Neuheisel could be a dead man walking.
For the Bruins to win this Thursday, the will have to get a top effort from their defense – something that certainly hasn’t happened much this season. UCLA currently sports the 90th ranked defense in the land and have surrendered 38 or more points in half their games. Now they get to tangle with QB Nick Foles and an Arizona offense ranked 25th in the nation.
The senior QB has pretty much been the entire story for Arizona, throwing for 2,255 yards with 15 TDs and just four INTs while ranking second nationally in passing with an average of 375.8 yards per game. Foles, who is one of 10 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Award for QBs, had to drool this week as he looked at tape of a UCLA defense which has given up an average of 231.8 passing yards per game, tied for 76th in the nation.
UCLA will counter with QB Kevin Prince, who was the starter at the beginning of the season, but then lost the job to QB Richard Brehaut. Starting in four of the Bruins' first six games, Brehaut passed for 907 yards and six touchdowns without an interception before breaking his leg against Washington State.
There is some good news on the medical front for the Wildcats as it appears they will have the services of 2010 Freshman All-American DT Justin Washington (knee) and WR Juron Criner (knee) this week.
Additionally, the Wildcats have to be bolstered by the fact they won four in a row against UCLA, not allowing more than 300 yards in any game.
UCLA is 1-4 against the spread in 2011 while Arizona is only slightly better with a 2-4 ATS mark.