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UCLA-Cincinnati: A look at how the teams match up

UCLA (0-0) vs. Cincinnati (0-0)

Saturday, 4 p.m., Rose Bowl. TV: ESPN. Radio: 570, 97.3.

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Marquee matchup

Cincinnati’s tailbacks vs. UCLA’s run defense. The Bruins hope their move to a 3-4 alignment can stop other teams from trampling them on a weekly basis. UCLA gave up a school-record 287.4 rushing yards per game last season, largely offsetting its prolific offense. Michael Warren is likely to start at tailback for Cincinnati after Gerrid Doaks, the team’s leading rusher last season, was slowed over the summer because of hip and groin injuries. Both players were productive last season, when Warren averaged 6.0 yards per carry and Doaks averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

Getting offensive

Cincinnati (351.8 ypg/20.9 ppg in 2017): The Bearcats return their top passer, rusher and receiver from last season, but not all of them may start against the Bruins. Senior quarterback Hayden Moore, who threw for 2,562 yards last season while completing only 56.4% of his passes, is trying to fend off redshirt freshman Desmond Ridder in a tight battle for the starting job.

UCLA (457.8 ypg/32.5 ppg in 2017): Quarterback Wilton Speight is making his UCLA debut in what could be a run-heavy offense. New coach Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams led the Pac-10 and Pac-12 conferences in rushing in each of his four seasons at the school, but the Bruins are coming off a season in which they ranked 11th in the conference with 113.4 rushing yards per game. Newcomers Joshua Kelley and Kazmeir Allen hope to help change that.

UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight participates in warm-ups during the first day of camp on Aug. 3.
UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight participates in warm-ups during the first day of camp on Aug. 3. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Getting defensive

Cincinnati (428.5 ypg/31.8 ppg in 2017): The Bearcats gave up at least 31 points eight times last season, going 0-8 in those games. Reaching the red zone almost always resulted in points for their opponents, who converted on 40 of 46 opportunities (87%) inside the 20-yard line.

UCLA (483.7 ypg/36.6 ppg in 2017): “Attacking” and “aggressive” have been the words used to describe the Bruins’ new mind-set under defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro. The team hopes it will result in forced turnovers and disruption in the backfield.

Something special

UCLA kicker J.J. Molson never attempted a field goal longer than 42 yards during the portion of training camp open to reporters. Might that signal Kelly’s intentions to routinely go for it on fourth down between midfield and the opponent’s 25-yard line? … Cincinnati’s James Smith was one of the American Athletic Conference’s top punters as a freshman last season, with an average of 42 yards per punt.

Of note

Two of Kelly’s seven losses at Oregon came in season openers, against Boise State in 2009 and Louisiana State in 2011. … Cincinnati is coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1998 and 1999.

Injury report

UCLA inside linebacker Josh Woods and defensive back Kenny Churchwell were lost for the season when they suffered serious knee injuries on the same day of training camp. The Bruins also will be missing six players suspended for unspecified violations of athletic department policies. … Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said the Bearcats had a few players dealing with nagging injuries whose status would be game-time decisions.

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