When Arizona hits the field at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, it will be all business for the Wildcats. Coming off a sizable win over Washington State, Arizona will look to move to 7-1 on the year and 4-1 in conference play, keeping the Wildcats atop the Pac-12 South standings.
Standing in the way is UCLA, the nemesis to several of Arizona's promising seasons throughout the years. The Bruins are slightly underperforming expectations so far this season, but a win over Arizona would put them firmly back in the hunt for the division title.
The Wildcats control their own destiny in the conference as well as the College Football Playoff. That won't be all Arizona brings to the game though, as it heads into the game with a chip on its shoulder for a 66-10 loss that UCLA handed it two seasons ago.
"It was my first time there, so it was unique and I thought it was a pretty neat venue, but then the game started and we played so poorly that it was miserable," Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez said.
"It was a miserable experience. It was disappointing. Not that they beat us because they were clearly better than us, but we played so poorly in every phase and I didn’t think we gave them not just our best effort, but our best team that time and it’s been bothering me for two years."
The game has taken a special meaning for some of the Arizona players who hail from Southern California.
"Because we have so many guys from California, this game maybe has a little added importance," Rodriguez said. "You would like to think they are all important, but there are a lot of guys on this team from California and there are probably some of them that weren’t recruited by UCLA and so it is important.
"They will probably have more family that can come watch them play than maybe any other game they have. I do sense a heightened purpose among several of them this week."
In order to leave Pasadena with a win, the Wildcats will have to control UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. The junior has been the key to the Bruins' offense this season, completing 172 passes for over 2,000 yards with just four interceptions.
Arizona will counter with redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, who has been just as good for the Wildcats, completing 200 passes for 2,430 yards and also four interceptions.
"His mobility and ability to throw the ball on the run makes that offense go," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. "The way Rich Rod has always designed his offenses is for a quarterback that can put your defense in conflict and this guy can do it."
With both teams having some trouble on defense, the game may come down to a few specific players. Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack have been two exceptional linebackers for the Bruins and they will factor into how lethal the UCLA defense will be.
"I think he is a NFL player without question," Rodriguez said of Kendricks. "He is active, physical, has good size, and seems to love to play the game.
"Without question he is one of the best linebackers not only in our league, but in the country. I will be anxious for him to get out of there and start playing on Sundays."
Jack will be crucial player for UCLA on defense, but may also play a decent part on the offensive side of the ball as well. Last season, as a true freshman, the linebacker came in at running back and gave the Bruins a huge boost with a long touchdown run late in the game to seal the deal for UCLA.
"You have to be aware that they can throw out some wrinkles you haven’t seen," Rodriguez said. "That’s the hard part. You have to be fundamentally sound and if they do, like last year they had us on the fake punt, you have to be prepared for just about any scenario."
With high stakes on the line this weekend, the winning team will be in prime position to win the Pac-12 South.
Players to watch:
#30, LB/RB Myles Jack: Jack hasn't seen much action on offense this season, but was very successful against Arizona last year. He will likely get a few carries to see how well the Wildcats can contain him.
#24, RB Paul Perkins: If Jack isn't successful, it will be up to Perkins to get the running attack going for the Bruins. He's quietly putting together a very strong season and is as key to the victory as anyone.
#33, LB Scooby Wright III: It is unusual to see an Arizona player here, but this is a game that Wright can have a huge impact on and it will all depend on how successful he is in getting pressure on Brett Hundley. If the sophomore comes away with two or more sacks, Arizona should be sitting pretty.
Keys to the Game