Emotions surrounding the program are certainly high, as each player and coach has their own unique perspective on the events that have transpired in the past two weeks. The range of emotions experienced by everyone has surely been exhausting to a team whose performance this season has already been lackluster to say the least.
However, with Kish at the helm, Arizona may be poised to begin its midseason turnaround Thursday night in its 6:00pm MST kickoff at Arizona Stadium. The team has been working for the past two weeks on healing and moving forward from losing coach Stoops, and the Bruins may be the perfect outlet for all of the frustration the Wildcats are harboring.
The firing of a coach has the potential to either ruin an already lost season, or it can bring a team together as it tries to attempt to salvage a season that has not gone quite as planned.
Arizona can take solace in the fact that the last time it won a game against an FBS opponent, it was at the Rose Bowl last year in a 29-21 victory for the Wildcats. Rick Neuheisel's team was selected to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South this preseason, but so far finds itself just one game behind Arizona State in the division.
It will certainly have to forget the fact that it is winless in its past 10 games against FBS opponents since its October 30, 2010 victory over the Bruins a season ago. If this team can rally and come together under its new leader, it has a decent chance of repeating the success it had against UCLA last year and capture its first meaningful win in 355 days.
Players to watch:
#17- QB, Brett Hundley: Before his knee injury during spring practice, Hundley was expected to compete for the starting quarterback job as a true freshman. He's back from the injury, and Neuheisel has been doing everything he can to get the young quarterback up to speed and ready to back up starting quarterback Kevin Prince. With the injury to Richard Brehaut, Hundley may find himself in the game sooner than later, as Prince's struggles have been well documented through this point in the season.
#23- RB, Johnathan Franklin: As a sophomore, Franklin ranked sixth in the Pac-10 with 1127 yards rushing on almost 5.5 yards per carry. His worst rushing game of the season came against Arizona, when he mustered up only 44 yards on 13 carries. He'll certainly be looking to bounce back against an Arizona rushing defense that currently ranks as the worst in the Pac-12.
#83- WR, Nelson Rosario: If UCLA is going to have any success through the air, it's likely going to go through Rosario, who has accounted for nearly 33 percent of the team's receptions so far this season. Prince will look to get his top receiver the ball whenever possible, making him a player Arizona will have to game plan to stop.
#11- OLB, Sean Westgate: Arguably UCLA's top overall defender, Westgate brings a diverse skill set to the linebacker position. He has the size and speed to drop into coverage in the passing game and has shown the toughness to take on run stopping duties. He's without question the top overall playmaker on the Bruin defense, and he'll need to be accounted for on each and every down to prevent him from making a big play.
#21- CB, Aaron Hester: Last season against Arizona, Hester recorded an interception on a Matt Scott pass that helped UCLA erase a double-digit second half deficit. He's off to a great start to his junior season, with 36 tackles and six pass break ups, and he's anchored a pass defense that has done well against the pass this season. With his ability to play the run and the pass, Hester will make things difficult for Nick Foles in the passing game on Thursday.
#42- MLB, Patrick Larimore: So far this season, Larimore is the team's leading tackler and has been a force in the middle of the UCLA defense. He's very tough in the run game, but he hasn't been able to do it alone. He'll certainly try his best to keep Arizona from running wild on Thursday night, and if he's successful, it could go a long ways towards a Bruin victory.
Keys to the Game
1. Stop the run: Heading into the game, UCLA ranks as the second best rushing attack in the Pac-10 and has the worst passing offense in the conference. Arizona will have to toughen up against the run, or Neuheisel's offense will be perfectly content to chip away at the clock and the UA defense through the ground game. There isn't a worse passing game in the Pac-12 than the one that UCLA currently boasts, and with Richard Brehaut out for 3-6 weeks with a leg fracture, the offense now turns to Kevin Prince. If Arizona can force UCLA into passing situations, it greatly increases it chances at victory.
2. Avoid a slow start : In the first half of games this season, Arizona has been outscored 134-81 by its opponents. After those slow starts, UA has outscored its opponents 123-89 in the second half. If Arizona can avoid falling into a deep hole like it has in its five losses this season, it has a good chance to get its second win of 2011.
3. Run the ball effectively: As good as UCLA is running the ball on offense, it is that bad at stopping the run on defense, ranking 11th in rushing defense. While Arizona has the worst rushing attack in the conference, something has to give in this matchup, and UA should look to turn this matchup to its favor.
4. Find Juron: In the past two games, Criner has caught just five passes for only 45 yards. He has been battling injuries, but Foles needs to try to get his top playmaker the ball as often as possible against a tough UCLA pass defense. Getting Criner more involved would help free up other players and assist the offense in putting points on the board.
5. Come together: While the firing of coach Mike Stoops has a chance to ruin the season, Arizona has an opportunity to use it as a unifying force that helps it rally to save its season. If UA feels sorry for itself and comes out lackadaisical, then its winless streak against FBS opponents is likely to head into a second year.