It’s a legit possibility that UCLA will be the best defense Arizona has faced this season. Even though Washington is considered by many to be the top defense in the Pac-12, the Bruins have had a strong season on that side of the ball.
With that being said, there are some questions as well, but most of those are related to UCLA’s health on Saturday.
Senior Takkarist McKinley will play at defensive end and has been battling a groin injury. It’s unknown how many snaps he will get, but the defense will be considerably better when he is in there, especially at containing the edges.
The 6-foot-2, 265-pound end has legit speed and with the running ability of Brandon Dawkins, UCLA is going to need him and his four tackles for loss this season.
At the other end position is 6-foot-4, 295-pound Matt Dickerson. He has nine tackles on the season and isn’t really much of a pass rusher.
That’s not to say that Dickerson is a bad player, because he isn’t, but rather that there are other more purely talented players on the UCLA defense.
In the middle, the Bruins are hoping 6-foot-3, 325-pound senior Eli Ankou is healthy. He is currently questionable with an elbow injury and if he can’t play, the UCLA defense takes a relatively big hit.
The Bruins have plenty of depth and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner would step right in and play well, but Ankou is the better player.
The best player on the defense may be right next to him in 6-foot-3, 325-pound Eddie Vanderdoes. He only has eight tackles, but you can forget stats here.
Similar to what Arizona saw against Washington, center Nathan Eldridge is really going to have his hands full and there is a good chance Vanderdoes has a season high in tackles when you consider how Arizona runs its offense.
UCLA’s linebackers have been a bit inconsistent this season, but there is definitely plenty of talent there.
Senior @ayon Brown is the star of the show with 33 tackles and we wouldn’t be surprised if he is used as a spy on Dawkins.
Dawkins may be a bit faster than Brown or at least have a longer stride, but that move would make sense from UCLA’s perspective because Brown is smart enough to be successful.
Kenny Young will line up at the inside linebacker spot and is another option to spy Dawkins. He is second on the team with 27 tackles and has two sacks as well.
Cameron Judge is the third linebacker in the rotation and currently has eight tackles. We would expect Josh Woods to keep seeing his playing time increase, especially when you consider he is the more athletic of the two.
UCLA’s secondary has been phenomenal this season. The Bruins have had success with press coverage and in the past, Anu Solomon hasn’t been able to find the open receiver with the receivers struggling on their end as well.
Fabian Moreau and Nathan Meadors man the corner spots for the Bruins. Both have an impress five pass breakups and are extremely strong in coverage.
Safeties Randall Goforth and Jaleel Wadood have also played well. They have combined for six pass breakups and Goforth has two of UCLA’s total five interceptions.
In addition, sophomore Adarius Pickett has really come on as of late, as he has 14 tackles and two interceptions of his own.
Players to Watch
#98, DE Takkarist McKinley: His health will go a long way in determining how UCLA’s defense performs. He is going to play, but we simply don’t know how many snaps he will get. If he is unable to go, look for Dawkins to attack his edge even more.
#6, NB Adarius Pickett: Like we mentioned above, he has really come on as of late and is a physical defender. Look for him to cover Shun Brown a bit in one of the more intriguing matchups.
Keys to the Game
1) Match UCLA’s physicality: If not, Arizona will lose. This is a physical defense and if the Wildcats get pushed around, it’s difficult to imagine them winning.
2) Use your speed: Arizona isn’t going to be as physical as UCLA, but it can be faster. Dawkins has to attack the edge and Arizona has to get receivers in open space.