Simply put, the Bruin defense has underperformed this season, but has the talent to succeed at any time.
On paper, the front is as talented as any group in the conference. Senior defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa is one oft he players that looks to be the prototypical defensive end, but he has only totaled two sacks this season.
Eddie Vanderdoes was another highly touted prep prospect and he has done a solid job at filling the gaps due in large part to his 6-foot-3, 305-pound frame.
Physical sophomore Kenny Clark rounds out the defensive line. He is third on the team with 44 tackles, 4.5 of which are for a loss. In addition, he is the second 300-pound defensive lineman, which makes UCLA’s one of the biggest in the country.
The wildcard on the defensive line is 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore Takkarist McKinley. He did not play much against Colorado, but Saturday could be a scenario in which the Bruins need him to get to Anu Solomon.
Kendricks is a 6-foot-0, 230-pound senior that is easily UCLA’s best tackler, as shown by the 93 he has this season. As a comparison, linebacker Myles Jack is second on the team with 62.
Jack has continued where he left off last season, but it is interesting that he has yet to sack the quarterback. UCLA has started to use him off the edge more, but his coverage skills are truly what makes him so dangerous.
Sophomore Deon Hollins is the third linebacker and he has faced some criticism this season because he lacks some ability in stopping the run.
The 6-foot-0, 225-pound Hollins is often used to blitz, but only has three sacks on the season and has shown inconsistency in holding the edge.
The most intriguing battle here could be Arizona’s receivers up against the UCLA defensive backs.
As is the case with the rest of the defense, the talent is there, but a pass rush is necessary.
Cornerback Ishmael Adams has proven himself time and again and although he is only 5-foot-8, he does not get pushed around.
The other corner spot is a concern for UCLA. Junior Fabian Moreau is decent, but has a tendency to give up some big plays.>
Safety Jaleel Wadood has a ton of talent, but really struggled against Colorado. He blew numerous coverages and failed to get open field tackles a few times, but those games are going to happen to freshmen.
Adams is not big enough to do it and Moreau simply is not good enough, so it makes sense for Jefferson to get the job.
Tahaan Goodman is another safety that has plenty of talent, but struggles with inconsistency. He tends to go back and forth with his physicality in the run game and once he gets that down, he should be just fine.
Players to watch
#30, LB Myles Jack: Unlike last season, Jack is no longer an unknown. Maybe the most impressive physical specimen in the conference, he is equally adept at blowing up the run game or creating havoc in the passing game. Expect Solomon to be aware of Jack’s whereabouts on each play.
#6, LB Eric Kendricks: Kendricks is one of the better linebackers in the country, and his stats back up that claim. Similar to Jack, Kendricks is a sideline to sideline terror who has also made big contributions in pass defense situations.
#1, CB Ishmael Adams: Adams has the ability to stay with any wide receiver in the country, and he has proven that out on a consistent basis. He has stumbled a bit at times this season, but his playmaking capabilities will be a concern for Solomon.
Keys to the game
Throw the ball effectively: The UCLA defense is vulnerable through the air and he struggles stem from a lack of a consistent pass rush. If Arizona can protect Solomon, he figures to chew up the UCLA defense.
Get Jones-Grigsby off early: UCLA has been better against the run; Arizona needs to run the ball. It’s no coincidence that the Wildcats’ one loss occurred against a USC team that bottled up the ground game.
Don’t take the Bruins’ speed lightly: Even though UCLA has struggled, there isn’t a lack of playmakers on this team. And, as UCLA showed against ASU, this defensive unit is more than capable of causing problems for opposing offenses. It will be imperative for Solomon to make quick decisions.