No. 9 UCLA hosts Arizona with postseason roadmap clearing

UCLA running back Colson Yankoff can feel a buzz around campus, with the Bruins off to their best start to a season since 2005.

But Yankoff pointed to one of the team’s sayings: TBU – true, but useless. Unless they keep winning.

“We’re kind of on our own mission right now,” Yankoff said.

The Bruins enter Saturday’s contest against Arizona at the Rose Bowl ranked 12th in the College Football Playoff rankings and ninth in the AP Top 25 poll.

They will need to win the rest of their games to even have a chance at cracking the four-team playoff. Should they win next week’s matchup against USC, they’d have a potential rematch with Oregon – which handed UCLA its lone loss – in the Pac-12 Championship game in Las Vegas.

Arizona is 1-5 in conference play, has lost four in a row and has just one road win this year. The Wildcats lost 45-20 at Utah last week.

At the top of UCLA’s concerns heading into Saturday is the health of star running back Zach Charbonnet, who didn’t play in last week’s game at Arizona State. Charbonnet practiced this week, as did backup Keegan Jones, who suffered an injury during the game last week. UCLA still ran for more than 400 yards last week without Charbonnet’s services.

A win Saturday would set up a marquee clash with USC – assuming the Trojans beat Colorado on Friday – next week, with both programs at 9-1.

UCLA has not lost to Arizona at the Rose Bowl since 2010. The Bruins are 16-4-2 all-time against the Wildcats at home.

“We want to be in the conversation, but the only way you can stay in the conversation is you can continue to prepare well and play well on Saturdays,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said.

When UCLA has the ball

If UCLA is seeking to replicate its 402-yard rushing performance against Arizona State – its most in a game since 2010 – Arizona’s run defense may provide an opportunity.

The Wildcats allow 218.7 rushing yards per game, second-most in the Pac-12 with only Colorado allowing more. Charbonnet, if he plays, could be set for another 100-yard rushing game.

If not, look for Kazmeir Allen – who converted from wide receiver to running back last week – to again get an opportunity to show off his speed. Allen ran for a career-high 137 yards against Arizona State, including a 75-yard touchdown run. Jones also found daylight last week with a career-high 98 yards rushing.

Arizona has allowed 45 points or more in five of its six conference games.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is third in the nation with a 71.7 completion percentage, needs 412 more yards to match Brett Hundley for the all-time program lead in total offense at 11,713 yards.

Kelly said the Arizona defense has a sound approach, with younger players integrating more into the system. The defense plays multiple styles between blitz and man.

“Then other plays, they’re gonna play two-deep zone and try to keep the ball in front of them,” Kelly said. “So, I think it’s a really sound defense and we’ve got to be prepared going against them.”

The Wildcats’ defense did force two turnovers last week against Utah, its first multi-turnover game since Week 2. Defensive end Hunter Echols, formerly of USC, leads Arizona with 4.5 sacks, but prior to recording a sack last week, the Wildcats did not have a sack in the previous three games.

“I think they’re physical,” UCLA offensive lineman Sam Marrazzo said of Arizona. “I think they move well. I think their linebackers are good. They’re very downhill. They’re going to be a challenge. I think it’s going to be a very physical football game.”

When Arizona has the ball

UCLA’s defense, which allowed 18 unanswered points to Arizona State in the second half last week to let the Sun Devils back in the game, will face a Top 10 passing offense in Arizona.

Jayden de Laura, who transferred from Washington State this season, ranks seventh nationally in passing with an average of 312.6 yards per game.

His favorite targets are Jacob Cowing, who leads the team with 65 receptions, and Dorian Singer, who has 49 receptions and was recently added to the Biletnikoff Award watchlist. Tight end Tanner McLahlan has 27 catches this year, tied for fourth most by a tight end in Arizona program history.

Kelly is well aware of de Laura’s ability to keep plays alive and willingness to let his receivers make plays.

“He’s a gunslinger,” Kelly said. “I think he’s got a lot of toughness to him.”

De Laura is coming off his worst outing statistically, recording just 159 yards on 10-of-20 passing against Utah. Arizona’s 20 points were its fewest since Week 2.

It is uncertain whether Bruins defensive coordinator Bill McGovern will be in the booth Saturday. McGovern has missed the past two games due to an illness.

UCLA’s defense will look to shore up its tackling. Kelly and several defensive players noted a number of missed tackles against Arizona State.

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“We had some missed tackles,” Bruins linebacker Kain Medrano said. “But at the end of the day, if everybody is flying to the ball … breaking up the stack of the D-line, those checkdown passes, we’ve just got to rally and gang tackle those.”

Medrano said that team chemistry is at a high point.

“The chemistry that we’ve built over from last season – over all the winter and summer workouts to now – the chemistry and the brotherhood that we have bonded is just unbelievable,” Medrano said.

UCLA (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) vs. Arizona (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12)

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Rose Bowl

TV/Radio: FOX, AM 570

Line: UCLA by 19½

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