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Injuries make UCLA a very beatable team

Citizen Staff Writer
GIMINO COLUMN

PASADENA, Calif.- A Saturday smorgasbord of sense and nonsense: To put UCLA’s injury problems in terms easier to relate to, reverse the roles for Saturday’s game.

Arizona would be playing third-string quarterback Bryson Beirne, and the Wildcats would be without starting center Blake Kerley, tight end Ron Gronkowski, receiver Mike Thomas, outside linebacker Xavier Kelley . . . and the status of running back Nic Grigsby would be a game-time decision.

That’s just touching on the major UCLA injuries.

Now is definitely the time to beat the Bruins.

If UA doesn’t do it, it will be a huge missed opportunity.

Underrated Pac-10?

If not for the Pac-10′s meltdown last Saturday, the talk this week would have been about the league’s success against the SEC.

Arizona State’s home game against Georgia is the 17th meeting between the conferences this decade, with the Pac-10 holding a 10-6 advantage.

Just by itself, that can be a misleading number. Not all the matchups have been fair.

For example, if USC played Vanderbilt 16 times, the advantage would be 16-0.

You get the idea.

Looking closer at the who-played-who aspect of the matchups, the results come out even more favorably for our gutty little league going against the big, bad boys from the SEC.

• The Pac-10 was favored to win seven of the matchups. It won 10.

• Twice, the Pac-10 pulled off an upset when being an underdog of at least a touchdown – UCLA over Alabama in 2000, and UCLA over Tennessee this month.

• The Pac-10 has been favored by at least a touchdown four times – and never faltered, winning them all.

• The Pac-10 is 10-5-1 against the point spread, giving more credence to the notion that the public has overvalued and overrated the SEC in these matchups.

Or maybe it’s just that the Pac-10 has been undervalued and underrated.

Either way, maybe it’s all a good sign for Arizona State, which is about a 7-point underdog Saturday night.

Go recruiting

UA coach Mike Stoops dispatched his assistants all over the L.A. area to watch high school football games Friday night.

One of the games in which the Wildcats were interested was Newbury Park’s game at Rio Mesa – and not because former UA quarterback Keith Smith is the offensive coordinator for Newbury Park, his alma mater.

The Panthers’ standout defensive end, Jackson Powell, lists Arizona as his slight leader over Washington. He has set up an official visit to UA for the weekend of Oct. 4, according to Scout.com, and wants to make a decision by midseason.

Powell is the son of former NFL All-Pro offensive tackle Marvin Powell.

Marvin Powell played at USC, as did his son, Marvin Powell III, who was mostly a linebacker and fullback for the Trojans.

He said it

UCLA’s challenges on offense are such that coach Rick Neuheisel has been channeling the spirit of ex-UA coach Dick Tomey.

It was Tomey who used to say when dealing with a sluggish offense, “We have to preserve our right to punt.”

Neuheisel, in trying to impress upon quarterback Kevin Craft to be a manager of the game and not do anything crazy, has been imploring, “A punt is a good play.”

Bottom line: UCLA wants to make every game a defensive grind, keeping things close with a chance to win in the fourth quarter. That worked against Tennessee in its opener.

The envelope, please . . .

Arizona should win simply based on the talent it rolls out onto the field.

UCLA, with its patchwork and inexperienced offensive line – and with starting running back Kahlil Bell doubtful because of injury – should not be able to attack the Wildcats where they are weakest. That would be the defensive line.

The Bruins’ front is such a mess that offensive line coach Bob Palcic – nearing four decades of experience, including a stint at Arizona from 1984-85 – told the L.A. Daily News this is the “biggest challenge of my career.”

On defense, Arizona needs to crank it up and turn it loose. UCLA’s passing game, especially without receiver Marcus Everett and tight end Logan Paulsen, is not scary. Go hard after quarterback Craft and trust the defensive backs to take care of business.

Tennessee was too passive on defense, and lost 27-24 in overtime. BYU was more aggressive, beating UCLA 59-0.

“BYU went out there and just punched them in the mouth, and that’s what we’re going to have to do – from the first whistle to the last whistle,” said UA free safety Nate Ness. “Defensively, we’re going to have to be the boss of the game.”

All that said, expect a spirited effort from the Bruins, who have won 17 of their past 20 games at the Rose Bowl.

Who do you trust more to have his team absolutely ready to play – Neuheisel or Stoops?

If Stoops has been saving anything for motivation, this is the time to use it.

Consider how much perception changes from week to week. Depending on what happens against UCLA, the perception will be that Stoops is going to be fired . . . or that the Wildcats are headed to a 5-1 start.

Gotta have this game.

Arizona 24, UCLA 21.

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail:

agimino@tucsoncitizen.com

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