Three and Out: UCLA strengthens case as Pac-12 favorite with Arizona rout

UCLA routed Arizona 56–23, strengthening the Bruins' case as favorites for the Pac-12 title and possibly a College Football Playoff berth.
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No. 9 UCLA braved at raucous environment in Tucson to manhandle No. 16 Arizona 56–23. Here are three thoughts on the Bruins’ win:

1. Josh Rosen looks like a veteran

UCLA’s highly touted freshman burst onto the college football scene with a 351-yard, three-touchdown debut against Virginia in Week 1. But Rosen looked a little more human in his next two games against UNLV and BYU, coughing up four interceptions alongside just two touchdowns. On Saturday the quarterback bounced back just when UCLA needed him.

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Rosen completed 19 of 28 pass attempts for 284 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He added a rushing score on an eight-yard scamper in the third quarter. Rosen’s struggles in his past two games didn’t seem to faze his attitude on the road in Tucson. He maintained poise in the pocket and helped the Bruins rebound from an early 7–0 deficit to take control against the Wildcats.

Maturity doesn’t seem to be a problem for Rosen, who holds the reins of an offense expected to contend for a Pac-12 title. It helps that UCLA’s offensive line and running backs (Paul Perkins and Nate Starks, in particular) add more power to this offense, and he has a veteran group of receivers to work with, too. But Rosen’s performance against Arizona might be the best indicator of what’s to come for him at UCLA.

2. Arizona buried itself with early mistakes

The Wildcats looked primed to upset UCLA in the early going Saturday, capping their first drive with an Anu Solomon touchdown pass to Nate Phillips. But the Bruins promptly scored 28 straight points to suck the life out of Arizona Stadium, and the Wildcats made it easy with a number of costly mistakes.

Early in the first quarter with the score tied 7–7, Arizona snapped the ball over Solomon’s head. UCLA recovered the fumble and turned it into a Paul Perkins touchdown on the ensuing play. Solomon and running back Nick Wilson botched a handoff in the second quarter that the Bruins also recovered. Then Ishmael Adams snagged an interception five minutes before halftime. UCLA turned Arizona’s three first-half turnovers into 21 points, leaving the Wildcats staring at a 41-14 deficit entering halftime.

It didn’t help that Solomon left the game midway through the second period with an apparent head injury. Backup quarterback Jerrard Randall couldn’t keep the offense moving the rest of the night, completing just four of 16 pass attempts for 45 yards with a touchdown and a pick. He did have success on the ground though, gaining 128 yards with a score.

If Arizona hopes to make a run back to the Pac-12 title game, it must minimize its mistakes. On Saturday the Wildcats handed UCLA too many free points.

3. Can UCLA keep this up for a Pac-12 title?

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The Bruins might feel slighted at this juncture in the season. After all, it was their cross-town rival, USC, which earned preseason honors as Pac-12 favorites at the conference’s media days. Right now, UCLA looks like the more viable threat from Los Angeles.

Of course, we’ve see this movie before. The Bruins entered last season with a seasoned veteran at quarterback (Brett Hundley) and an experienced squad but fell short of a South Division title.

This year’s squad already has a strong nonconference win over BYU and a tough road victory against Arizona within its first four contests. But it still faces road games against Stanford, Utah and USC sprinkled throughout its difficult slate. That’s why coach Jim Mora’s program has plenty to prove. Thus far though, the Bruins have looked like legitimate threats for a College Football Playoff berth.