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Arizona football vs. No. 20 UCLA preview: Will Fifita lead the ‘Cats to three straight wins on homecoming weekend?

Arizona+football+players+Michael+Wiley+%286%29+and+Tanner+McLachlan+%2884%29+express+emotion+on+Saturday%2C+Oct+28%2C+at+Arizona+Stadium.+Arizona+football+upset+No.+11Oregon+State+University+27-24.
Kohichiro Yamada
Arizona football players Michael Wiley (6) and Tanner McLachlan (84) express emotion on Saturday, Oct 28, at Arizona Stadium. Arizona football upset No. 11Oregon State University 27-24.

The Arizona football team will be hosting No. 20 UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 4, for the 2023 homecoming game that kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Arizona has never faced a tougher stretch in a schedule than right now.

After facing four straight ranked opponents and securing the second consecutive ranked win for the first time since 2014, the Wildcats will look to make it three consecutive ranked wins for the first time in program history. The Wildcats are slated to face six ranked opponents this season for the fourth time in program history, having also faced a similar gauntlet in the 1997, 2012 and 2014 seasons. However, Saturday’s game against UCLA marks the Wildcats’ fifth consecutive top-25 foe, a scheduling anomaly that Arizona has never faced before.

History

UCLA leads the all-time series between the two schools, with Arizona holding a record of 18-27-2. Despite this, though, Arizona boasts a 13-11 record at Arizona Stadium and the last six games have resulted in a 3-3 split, with Arizona taking two home wins and a win on the road.

The most recent matchup was in the 2022 season when the Wildcats took to the road to face the No. 9 Bruins. In a stunning upset, Arizona emerged on the other side of 60 minutes with a 34-28 win in hand after a 13-point fourth quarter. Wide receiver Jacob Cowing hauled in nine catches for 118 yards while running back Michael Wiley posted 97 yards and a score on the ground.

Arizona’s last home win was in the 2019 season when the Wildcats handed the Bruins a 20-17 defeat in the desert. Backup quarterback (and presumed successor to Khalil Tate Jr.) Grant Gunnell came in and threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns. A missed UCLA field goal in the closing seconds prevented overtime and Arizona narrowly escaped with a win.

UCLA’s season

With the loss of former starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, the Bruins turned to freshman quarterback and former five-star recruit Dante Moore to lead the offense. However, Moore’s struggles have led to his benching in favor of the more experienced Ethan Garbers with hopes of stabilizing the team.

UCLA has bounced in and out of the AP Top 25 Poll since the season began. In Week 1, they were completely outside of the Poll. The Bruins didn’t jump into the Top 25 until the Week 3 Poll, where they squeaked in at No. 24 after blowing out San Diego State University 35-10 in Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego. UCLA climbed up to No. 22 after destroying Football Championship Subdivision-level North Carolina Central University 59-7. 

Pac-12 play brought about a different story, though, as UCLA dropped out of the rankings entirely after dropping the Pac-12 opener to the No. 11 University of Utah 14-7 in Salt Lake City. UCLA, after a bye week spent outside of the Top 25, handed then-No. 13 Washington State University a 25-17 comeback defeat in Week 6. This sent the Bruins skyrocketing back into a season-high No. 18 ranking in the Week 7 Poll. The Bruins then dropped down to No. 25 the following week after falling to then-No. 15 Oregon State University

The quarterback switch to Garbers was brought on ahead of the Saturday, Oct. 21, matchup on the road against Stanford University. Head coach Chip Kelly’s decision has led to two consecutive wins for the first time since Pac-12 play started, including the Week 9 homecoming matchup against the University of Colorado Boulder. The Bruins have since climbed to No. 20 ahead of their matchup with Arizona.

Wildcats to watch

Redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita remains the player to watch for Arizona. Despite no outward commitment from head coach Jedd Fisch regarding Fifita as the starter, he’s played far too well to sit on the bench. In his four starts, he has attempted 149 passes and completed 111 (74.5%) of them for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns paired with just three interceptions

Wide receiver Jacob Cowing, if he hauls in a catch, will extend his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 53. Cowing holds the second-longest active streak in the nation at 52 games. Both he and Sam Pinckney from Coastal Carolina University (53 games) are set to surpass Central Michigan University wide receiver Bryan Anderson’s NCAA-record 54-game streak from 2006-09 during the 2023 season.

Looking ahead:

Despite there being three more remaining games on the schedule, this feels like a must-win for the Wildcats. Arizona only received six votes in the Week 10 AP Poll, and a win against yet another ranked team could catapult the Wildcats into the low 20s. Also, Arizona is staring down the barrel of postseason football with a 5-3 record. A sixth win would make the Wildcats bowl game-eligible for the first time since the 2017 season. 


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