-- The Arizona Wildcats come to Rose Bowl Saturday to face UCLA at 12:30 PST. The game will be televised across the nation by FSN (Prime Ticket in the Los Angeles area). Barry Thompkins and Petros Papadakis will be in the booth and Rebecca Haarlow on the sideline.
-- UCLA is 3-4, coming off two blow-out losses to Cal and Oregon.
-- Arizona is 6-1 and ranked 15th/16th in the country. Their noteworthy victories have come against then-#9-ranked Iowa and California. Their only loss was at home against Oregon State, 29-27.
-- Last week Arizona scored 30 first-half points and went on to thump Washington in Tucson, 44-14.
-- The Wildcats, who are currently in second place in the Pac-10 and a game behind Oregon, will continue on with a very tough schedule. After UCLA, they'll be at Stanford, then get USC at home, go on the road to Oregon, and then get Arizona State at home.
-- UCLA leads the all-time series between the two schools, 19-13-2, which dates back to 1927. The two schools didn't play each other in football for a span of 43 years, between 1928 and 1971.
-- Arizona has won the last three meetings, with UCLA's last win being in 2006 in the Rose Bowl.
-- Last season Arizona beat the Bruins in Tucson, 27-13. Rahim Moore had two interceptions, Tony Dye returned a fumble for a touchdown, and UCLA forced a total of five turnovers, but the Bruins had to utilize three quarterbacks in the game and generating only 211 yards of offense.
-- UCLA's current three-game losing streak is its worst ever in the all-time series with the Wildcats. Its four losses in the last five years is its worst five-year period against Arizona in its history.
-- UCLA is 4-2 against the Wildcats when Arizona is ranked. However, the Bruins are 2-2 when they are unranked playing a ranked Arizona team, with one loss and one win both coming at home and away.
-- The last time an unranked UCLA team played at home against a ranked Arizona team was in 1990, when the Bruins lost 28-21. It's only happened twice in history, with the other time in 1986, when unranked UCLA beat #11-ranked Arizona 32-25.
-- Mike Stoops is in his 7th year as head coach of Arizona, with a total record of 39-40. Since 2008, however, he is 22-11, having turned around the Arizona program. In the each of the last two seasons (2008 and 2009), he's gone 8-5 and had the Wildcats playing in consecutive bowl games, for the first time in 10 years. His Arizona team tied for second in the Pac-10 in 2009, which was their best conference finish since 1998, when they also finished second (behind Pac-10 champion UCLA). Stoops is known as a defensive guru, having designed the defense at Oklahoma when he was defensive coordinator there under his brother, Mike.
-- If you may remember, Stoops was on the hot seat not too long ago. In 2007, after going 3-8, 3-8 and 6-6 in his first three seasons, Stoops started the 2007 season with three losses in four games, including a 29-27 loss at home to New Mexico. In that game, Stoops was penalized for an unsportsman-like penalty that led directly to a New Mexico touchdown. After another home loss, this one to Stanford, which dropped the Wildcats to 2-6, it was widely speculated that Stoops' days in Tucson were numbered. He salvaged the remainder of the season, going 3-1, and then went 8-5 in 2008 and got off the hot seat.
-- Many attribute Stoops' turnaound to the hiring of former Texas Tech assistant and spread specialist Sonny Dykes as the Arizona offensive coordinator in 2007, which dramatically improved the Arizona offense. Dykes was hired as head coach at Louisiana Tech after last season, but the Wildcats are continuing to run his spread scheme to much success.
-- When Arizona cracked the AP top 10 this season (reaching #9 in week six), it was the program's highest ranking since what is generally considered the school's best season of football, in 1998 when it was led by Dick Tomey to a 12-1 record and #4 ranking to end the season.
-- Arizona has won just one Pac-10 title, in 1993 under Tomey.
-- In the game at the Rose Bowl Saturday, it will be Arizona's first afternoon game of the season. It has played all twilight and night games so far. -- Arizona has kind of adopted the Oregon philosophy on uniforms this season. It has a total of two helmets (one white and one blue), three jerseys and three sets of pants, giving it 18 total potential combinations.
-- The weather forecast for Saturday in Pasadena is a high of 67 degrees and a 30% chance of showers.
ARIZONA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
Arizona installed its spread offense a couple of years ago and it turned around the program. It lost its architect, Sonny Dykes, who took the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech, after last season, but the Wildcat offense in 2010 really hasn't missed a beat without him.
It starts with Arizona's offensive line, which is a good, veteran group. It consists of four fifth-year seniors and one sixth-year senior. The sixth-year guy is graduate student and left tackle Adam Grant (6-6, 325), who is probably first-team All-Pac-10. The senior center, Colin Baxter (6-4, 295) might also be the best at his position in the conference. Between the two of them, they have 69 career starts.
They have been somewhat susceptible to sacks (19 on the season, which has them tied for 7th in the conference), but you have to consider the Arizona offense is throwing the ball quite a bit more than it's running the ball. In comparison, UCLA's quarterback has been sacked 20 times, but he gets sacked once in every 8.8 pass attempts, while Arizona's quarterbacks are sacked once in every 14 pass plays.
No matter whom the offensive line is protecting at quarterback, the offense has been very prolific through the air. Arizona has the #1 passing offense in the Pac-10 and #14 in the country, averaging 298 yards per game. Its system is based on short, precise throws, and great accuracy from its quarterback.
Junior quarterback Nick Foles (6-5, 245), who transferred from Michigan, very well might be the best, most-unknown quarterback in the nation. He's big, pretty quick, and has an NFL-quality arm and accuracy. He's completing an astounding 75% of his throws. He's second in the Pac-10 and 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency. Foles, though, sat out last week's game against Washington due to a sprained knee. His availability is still uncertain at this point, and Arizona is calling it a game-time decision, even though he's missed practice this week.
There isn't much of a letdown if Foles can't go, since his back-up, junior Matt Scott (6-2, 195) has proven himself to be pretty capable. His passing efficiency rating (156) is almost identical to Foles', and he, too, is completing 72.7% of his passes. Last week, stepping into the starting spot, he was an amazingly efficient 18-of-22 for 233 yards, looking like a better quarterback than Washington's hyped Jake Locker.
Scott, too, gives Arizona another dimension since he's a good runner, and he'll tuck and run with it.
|Receiver Juron Criner.|
It helps when you have talented, veteran receivers, too. Five of Arizona's six leading receivers from last season returned, including junior Juron Criner (6-4, 210), who also might be one of the best unknown receivers in the nation. Criner had a big sophomore year and is following it up with an all-conference-or-better junior season, co-leading the Pac-10 in receptions with 41. He's had a couple of huge days so far this season, and he's a short or deep threat.
Arizona then has six more receivers that have more receptions on the season than UCLA's leading receiver. Junior David Douglas (6-1, 198) has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise, and junior "inside receiver" Dave Roberts (6-0, 190) has been consistently effective.
Arizona loves to use its running backs as receivers out of the backfield. Astoundingly, Arizona's two tailbacks <i>each have more receptions than UCLA's leading receiver. </i> Senior Nick Grigsby (5-10, 190) has carried the slight majority of the load, but junior scat back Keola Antolin (5-8, 186) has been almost as productive, both catching and running with the ball. They are a nice, one-two combination, with the two combining to average 102 yards per game rushing.
While Arizona' s running game is only averaging 136 yards per game (8th in the Pac-10 and 81st in the nation), it's not really because it doesn't do it effectively, but mostly because its passing attack is just so good. Arizona is averaging 4.2 yards per carry while UCLA, which is fourth in the Pac-10, isn't that much more productive at 4.8 yards per carry.
If you know you can complete 75% of your passes for an average gain of 8.3 yards, wouldn't you keep doing it?
UCLA's defense is vertically challenged, even though the stats don't necessarily bear it out. Its passing defense is ranked 4th in the Pac-10, allowing 205 yards per game, but everyone who has watched UCLA plays know that number is modest only because opposing offenses have generally been able to run at will against the Bruins.
A great deal of UCLA's vulnerability to the pass has come from inconsistent play at the cornerback spot. It's best cover corner, Sheldon Price, is out with a strained knee and barely practiced this week. Its other starting corner, Aaron Hester, was relegated to the second string last week. But the two guys who stepped in for them – Courtney Viney and Andrew Abbott – both got beat pretty consistently against Oregon. And Oregon's passing attack is Pop Warner compared to Arizona's.
Free safety Rahim Moore received plenty of pre-season hype because of his nation-leading 10 interceptions in 2009, but this year has proven that, while he does have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, those 10 picks were a bit of a fluke. For UCLA's secondary to have a chance against Arizona Moore is going to have to be at his ball-hawking best.
UCLA's defense, overall, with the injuries it's suffered, just isn't very experienced or talented. If UCLA starts the guys it has listed as the starters on its depth chart, that will be 8 players who are new starters in 2010. Among those, at least three of them are considered career back-ups.
UCLA will be without its talented starting middle linebacker, Patrick Larimore, and it appears that true freshman Jordan Zumwalt could be getting the majority of the snaps there. Zumwalt is a future star, but you can't expect much of him in his first start, as a true freshman, at a position that he hasn't played most of the season.
And as we've said, if you're talking about over-hyped, UCLA's talented LB/DE hybrid, Akeem Ayers, hasn't had a good game in UCLA's last three outings. It's not coincidental that UCLA's defense has looked pretty poor in all three of those games.
Advantage: Arizona. It's difficult to envision any scenario in which UCLA's defense limits Arizona's offense. UCLA's now make-shift secondary doesn't look to have much of a chance against Arizona's passing attack, no matter which Wildcat quarterback is throwing the ball. Heck, UCLA might even prefer Foles since it takes away one more dimension to Arizona's offense, that of Scott being able to run the ball.
As we've said so many times in these game previews,, whether UCLA's defense can limit Arizona's offense – and that's just <i>limit</i> it – will depend on whether it can put pressure on the Arizona quarterback. UCLA defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough hasn't shown even a hint of departure from his bend-and-not-break approach, which doesn't employ much blitzing. That is a recipe for disaster against Arizona. Give Foles/Scott time to throw and they'll pick you apart.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA'S DEFENSE
It's not enough that UCLA has to face one of the best offenses in the conference this Saturday, it is going up against the #1 defense in the Pac-10.
Arizona's D allows 285 yards per game, which gets it ranked #1 in the conference and #10 in the nation.
It's also #1 in the Pac-10 and #7 in the nation in scoring defense, giving up an average of 13.4 points per game.
That's not really a what-the-doctored-order kind of thing for UCLA's struggling offense.
Arizona probably has the best defensive line in the conference (again not a good thing for a UCLA offense whose only potential offensive capability is running the ball).
Senior defensive end Ricky Elmore (6-5, 250) should make some post-season All-American teams. He leads the Pac-10 in sacks with 7, is third in tackles for loss with 9, and has the most tackles of any defensive end in the conference (34). He is big, strong and quick. Picture Dave Ball.
But you can't necessarily double-team Elmore since, on the other side, is a guy who isn't much of a slouch himself. Senior Brooks Reed (6-3, 262) is tied for second in sacks in the conference with 4.5 and will probably be all Pac-10. Picture Justin Hickman.
Emerging as a potential future star is redshirt freshman defensive tackle Justin Washington (6-2, 275), who is probably benefiting from opposing offenses having to dedicate bodies to Elmore and Reed. Arizona will also throw some wild-haired guys at you in Dione Tuihalamaka (6-2, 280) and Lolomana Mikaele (6-2, 305), who seem to run around and be involved in every play. Maybe you just notice them because of the hair.
Arizona likes to at times use smaller, quicker guys on its defensive line and combine that with a bunch of defensive backs to make up their "Cheetah" defense. It puts a great deal of speed on the field in certain situations that has proven to be hard for opposing offenses to block.
If you had to say one unit on the entire Arizona squad would be a question mark this season it would definitely have been the linebackers, and while it probably still might be their weakest unit, it has been more than adequate. They had to replace all three starters from last season and no on really stepped up in particular in the spring. JC transfer weakside linebacker Paul Vassallo (6-3, 240) has, though, stepped up this fall, leading the team in tackles and being 7th in the conference with 54. That's a long way from starting his college career as a walk-on at Nevada. Strongside linebacker Jake Fischer (5-11, 220) is in the same mold as UCLA's Sean Westgate. The new starting middle linebacker is JC transfer Derek Earls (6-3, 235), who started out his career at North Dakota State College of Science.
The Wildcats have a pretty athletic secondary, and they're deep. The starters at cornerback, juniors Robert Golden (5-11, 190) and Trevin Wade (5-11, 182), have tried a couple of positions but now have settled in as Arizona's corners, and been solid. When Wade sat out the Washington State game, true freshman Shaquille Richardson (6-2, 180) stepped in and had two interceptions and won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. You might remember that Richardson is one of the Freshmen Three, the three recruits that had enrolled at UCLA but were arrested on suspicion of theft on UCLA's campus in June and subsequently elected to go elsewhere.
Senior free safety Joseph Perkins (6-2, 205), another JC transfer, is having a good year. If you could find some criticism of him and strong safety Anthony Wilcox (6-2, 205) is that they've struggled sometimes to make the right reads in mid-range to deep routes, so the Arizona pass defense has been susceptible at times to the longer pass. Arizona brings in sophomore Adam Hall (6-4, 212) quite a bit, especially when they go to the Cheetah, and he's a potential star, being very effective against the run in particular.
UCLA's offense will, of course, be without first-string quarterback Kevin Prince. Many UCLA fans have a mixed feeling about it, believing that, with Prince's ineffectiveness, it was time to give Richard Brehaut a legitimate shot at the position. Brehaut has shown a capability to perform in games, and has looked better in practice this week. It's necessary to note, too, that with Prince out because of his knee injury for the rest of the season, the back-up quarterback is now Darius Bell, the JC transfer who generally hasn't looked capable of playing at the Pac-10 level in practice. Rick Neuheisel said this week that he's seen improvement from Bell with the increase reps.
It would be completely unfathomable for UCLA to open up its offense and throw the ball more, so expect the Bruins to stick with trying to make their running game work. It started out the season very effective, but in recent games, since defenses have adjusted and UCLA can't pass effectively, the rushing game has more or less been pretty silent. In its first five games, UCLA averaged 262 yards on the ground per game, while in the last two it's averaged 78.5. It's not necessarily that the players are executing less effectively, but merely that opposing defenses have adjusted and UCLA has failed to adjust to that adjustment.
It's been tough on the tailbacks, Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, who were on their way to having huge seasons. Now, in the last two games, they're finding a stacked box and guys flying at them as soon as they're handed the ball.
Of course, it would help considerably if UCLA could get some balance in its offense, but it hasn't looked capable. The UCLA offensive line, while it's been good producing holes in run blocking, has also produced holes in pass protection, which isn't good. But again, UCLA hasn't done much to counter the fact that it can't get great pass protection. It's not hard to expect your passing game to struggle when it's put in third-and-longs and the quarterback repeatedly takes a standard drop.
In other words, UCLA's offense is severely lacking imagination.
The UCLA offensive line, too, should probably be at a bit of a deficit, having lost its starting left tackle Sean Sheller to suspension for a violation of team rules. It also doesn't help your passing game to lose receiver Ricky Marvray also.
UCLA's most productive wide receiver, Nelson Rosario, has been out with a sprained ankle, but he practice some this week and it will be a game-time decision whether he plays. The Bruins also get back receiver/kick-off returner Josh Smith and f-back Morrell Presley from their one-game suspensions.
Advantage: Arizona. If we're looking for any kind of indication that UCLA's offense could have a chance here it would be that Arizona's defense might be a tad over-rated. It padded its stats a bit against Toledo, where it gave up only 2 points, The Citadel (6), Washington State (7) and Washington (14). When it played against two good offenses, Iowa and Oregon State, it gave up 27 points in both games. It limited Cal to just 9 points, but you could make the case that Cal's offense isn't great.
But the problem is that UCLA's offense is closer to those of The Citadel, Washington State and Washington than it is Iowa or Oregon State. In fact, UCLA's offense is 102nd in the nation while Washington State's is 53rd and WSU's is 81st.
And actually, Arizona's defense is probably not over-rated. It will be interesting to see how it fares against the tougher part of its schedule that's coming up (Stanford, USC, Oregon, Arizona State). It probably won't hold those offenses to single digits, but it will have a very good chance to slow them down.
Lacking size, Arizona's defense is based on speed and pursuit. They can get physically pushed around up front a bit, but they compensate by being aggressive – in their play and their scheme. Stoops, a defensive guru, has players flying at the line of scrimmage filling gaps and blitzing. It's what made Arizona's secondary a bit vulnerable to the longer pass. But that's only against an offense that is able to protect its quarterback, like Oregon State's.
So, without UCLA showing it can complete a pass beyond 8 yards, expect Arizona to really throw a bunch of quick bodies at the line of scrimmage, to try to stuff UCLA's run and then put pressure on the inexperienced Brehaut. If UCLA doesn't have a counter for that, possibly some misdirection, some screens, moving the pocket, etc., to try to take advantage of Arizona's overly aggressive defense, it could be a very long day for UCLA's offense.
It's the one shining spot on the UCLA squad right now. UCLA's special teams have been very good throughout the season. Its kicking game is among the best in the nation, with its place-kicker, Kai Forbath, approaching the school and NCAA record for field goals, and Jeff Locke being #6 in the NCAA in punting, averaging 46 yards per punt. Its coverage teams have been exceptional, on punts being able to down balls within the 20 and force turnovers.
UCLA also will get back Josh Smith to return kick-offs.
Arizona's best aspect of its special teams is kick-off returner Travis Cobb (6-0, 180), who is dangerous, looking like he's going to break it consistently, and having done it once for a touchdown.
Arizona's place-kicker, Alex Zendejas, is fairly consistent, but doesn't have great range. Its punter, Keenyn Crier, is the worst in the Pac-10, averaging 40.8 yards per punt.
The more you look at the match-up, the worse it gets for UCLA. UCLA's offensive strength is running the ball, but Arizona has the best rushing defense in the conference. If there's a vulnerability to Arizona's defense it would be defending the medium to deeper pass, but UCLA has completed only a handful of passes over 15 yards. It's had only three touchdown passes all season.
On the other side of the ball, Arizona is one of the best throwing teams in the country, and UCLA has a make-shift and inexperienced back seven, that not only started the season inexperienced but now has gotten less experienced and less talented due to injury. If there's a vulnerability to Arizona's offense it would be protecting its quarterback against pressure, but UCLA's defense doesn't blitz much.
Then, there is the turnover issue. UCLA tends to do it, being -7 on the season, and Arizona tends to force them, being +3 on the season. UCLA has fumbled and lost the ball an astounding 12 times.
It comes down to this: If UCLA comes out status quo, stubbornly trying to run tackle to tackle and continues its conservative play-calling on offense, and sits back in a bend-but-don't-break defense and not put pressure on the quarterback, it's going to be a long afternoon for the Bruins.
It would be surprising if UCLA actually got out of this M.O. If there is one thing that defines the UCLA season its conservatism. You can probably expect the Bruins to doggedly continue to do what they've been doing and hoping for a different result. But the problem is that Arizona isn't an over-rated Texas or Houston team.