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Versus column: Which is the tougher road matchup for Arizona football?

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Tyler Baker

UCLA then-redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley (17) escapes the Arizona defense during Arizona’s 31-26 loss against UCLA at Arizona Stadium last season. The Daily Wildcat writers debate whether UCLA or Utah presents a bigger road challenge to the Arizona football team this season.

Rich Rodriguez has coached the Arizona football team to a 6-1 record so far this season, outperforming all expectations. The Wildcats are tied for second in the Pac-12 Conference South and have several huge games coming up on the schedule, chief among which are this weekend’s road matchup with the No. 25 UCLA Bruins and a Nov. 22 road matchup with the No. 18 Utah Utes.

Utah is in the middle of a resurgent 6-1 season, with its only loss coming against Washington State. UCLA is 6-2 but has struggled to maintain a high level of play after being named the No. 7 team in the preseason AP Top-25 poll.

UCLA still presents a tougher road game for the Wildcats than Utah does, though.

Arizona has traditionally had troubles handling the Bruins, as UCLA leads the all-time series 21-15-2. Apart from a recent stretch from 2007-2011 where Arizona won five straight matchups, the Bruins have held the upper hand.

The two most recent matchups have seen the Wildcats outscored 97-36, including a 66-10 shellacking at the Rose Bowl in 2012. The 56-point loss was the biggest defeat in the Rich Rodriguez era.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, then in his first season as a starter, threw for three touchdowns and star running back Jonathan Franklin tore up the Arizona defense to the tune of 162 rushing yards and two TDs. It was an overall massacre by the Bruins.

This year, Hundley is in his third year as the starter and, while things have not been great on the offensive side of the ball for the Bruins, is still capable of putting on an offensive explosion. Just ask ASU about how many points the Bruins can score when clicking.

For an Arizona secondary that has struggled to limit pass heavy offenses, this presents a problem that Utah does not.

No one is saying the Utes aren’t a good team or they won’t challenge Arizona in a couple weeks, because clearly they will. UCLA just presents a bigger threat to delivering the Wildcats their second loss of the season.

— Roberto Payne


VS


At the beginning of the season, no one could have predicted how well the Utah Utes football team would be doing a little more than halfway through the season. After defeating UCLA and USC in the past month, the Utes are in contention for the Pac-12 South Division Conference title in a three-way tie with both ASU and Arizona. Plus, they are ranked No. 17 in the recent College Football Playoff Rankings.

With many speculating the Wildcats might take the Pac-12 South title, the Utah road matchup will be much more difficult to face than UCLA. Sure, UCLA fans at the Rose Bowl will be rooting hard for their team, but Utah has something on their side that UCLA does not: no expectations.

In the beginning of the season, analysts predicted that nobody would be able to stop the Bruins redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley and his high-powered offense. Unfortunately, the UCLA defense is giving up 30.2 points per game this season, including giving up 167.1 yards per game on the ground to opponents.

Utah, on the other hand, is 6-1 overall and 3-1 in Pac-12 play. In addition, it is averaging 35.9 points per game. Utah has much more of a team mentality and its defense has been holding opponents to just 21.6 points per game this season.

The Utes are averaging 200.1 yards rushing per game and 192.1 yards passing per game. Led by junior quarterback Travis Wilson, Utah has been dynamic on offense, with Wilson not throwing an interception the entire season. On the rushing attack, junior running back Devontae Booker has rushed for 844 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Wildcats have shown so far this season that they are not afraid of any noise factor, as displayed against Oregon. In the overall record against each other, Utah leads 20-17-2 over Arizona, but that statistic won’t phase the Wildcats. If Arizona wants to hold its own in the Pac-12, staying undefeated the rest of the way until its game against ASU is top priority.

— Matt Wall

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