Arizona Game Preview

This has all the makings of a great college football game -- two hungry, ranked teams in a win-or-die situation in the conference, with two high-powered offenses that will turn the game into a shootout...

FACTS AND FACTORS

• The Arizona Wildcats come to the Rose Bowl this Saturday to take on the Bruins at 7:37 p.m. The game will be televised by the Pac-12 Network with Ted Robinson and former Wildcat offensive lineman Glenn Parker in the booth and former UCLA linebacker Ryan Nece on the sidelines.

• Arizona is 5-3 overall and 2-3 in conference, and is ranked this week at 22nd in the BCS, 24th in AP.

• UCLA is 6-2 and 3-2, and ranked 25th in the AP.

• Arizona vaulted into the rankings after, of course, it's big come-from-behind win last week over USC, 39-36. The Wildcats are the only three-loss team in either the BCS or AP rankings.

• Arizona's schedule has been a pretty difficult one. It faced then-#18-ranked Oklahoma State in non-conference, and won (59-38). It then started off Pac-12 play by playing #3 Oregon (L, 49-0), #18 Oregon State (L, 38-35) and #18 Stanford (L, 54-48 OT). It trounced Washington (52-17) and then beat USC.

• The all-time series between UCLA and Arizona goes back to 1927, with UCLA owning an advantage of 19-15-2. UCLA and Arizona played each other in 1927 (an Arizona win, 16-13) and 1928 (tie, 7-7), but then didn't play each other for the next 43 years until 1971. Arizona joined the Pac-10 until 1978.

• Last year, in Tucson, the Wildcats beat up on the Bruins, 48-12. In 2010, in the Rose Bowl, UCLA also lost to Arizona, 29-21. That game was significant since it was kind of the coming-out party for Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, a game in which he connected on 24 of 36 passes for 319 yards, his first 300-yard passing game.

• Arizona has, actually, beaten UCLA five straight, and six of the last seven, with the Bruins last beating the Wildcats in 2006.

• In the last 15 years, UCLA is 7-8 against Arizona, which makes the Wildcats UCLA's third toughest conference opponent in that time period, after USC and Oregon. UCLA is also 3-3 against Arizona at the Rose Bowl during that time.

• This is the first time since 1998 UCLA and Arizona are both ranked when playing against each other. #3-ranked UCLA beat #10-ranked Arizona that year, 52-28 in Tucson.

• Arizona is coached by first-year man Rich Rodriguez. Overall, he is in his 18th year as a head coach, with an overall record of 125-87-2,. Rodriguez gained notoriety when he built the West Virginia program from 2001 to 2007, and then took the Michigan head coaching job in 2008. He never clicked at Michigan, his spread option offense never capturing the popular imagination in Ann Arbor, and was fired after just three less-than-successful seasons. There was quite a bit of controversy swirling around Rodriguez at the time, with criticism coming from Michigan players, and then the NCAA citing five major recruiting violations at Michigan under his tenure, the first time the Michigan program had ever been accused of major NCAA violations. Rodriguez, then, worked as an analyst for CBS Sports in 2011 before being hired by Arizona to succeed the departing Mike Stoops. Rodriguez is known as one of the pioneers of the no-huddle spread option. He is also considered one of the originators of the zone read option.

• The six FBS opponents Arizona has played in 2012 have a combined record of 43-12.

• Arizona has scored 50+ points three times this year, the most in a single season since 1954.

• Arizona receiver Austin Hill's 259 receiving yards last week against USC was the second-most in UA single-game history.

• Winning its sixth game of the season last week against Arizona State makes UCLA bowl eligible, which is the first time since 2005 it achieved that feat in the month of October.

• UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin is 21 yards away from setting UCLA's all-time career rushing record. He stands at 3,711 yards, trailing just Gaston Green (1984-87) and his 3,731. Franklin has collected 1,042 yards so far in 2012, and is on pace to set the UCLA all-time single season rushing record, currently held by Karim Adbul-Jabbar (1,571).

• Arizona's quarterback Matt Scott and UCLA's quarterback Brett Hundley are 1-2 in total offense in the Pac-12, with Scott averaging 386 yards per game and Hundley 307.

• Hundley's family are Wildcat people, with his father, Brett Hundley, Sr., having played for the Wildcats as a defense back in 1982-86.

• Hundley has thrown for 2,190 yards so far this season, averaging 274 yards passing per game, and is on pace to break UCLA's all-time season passing record, currently held by Cade McNown (1998, 3,470). If he does overtake McNown in that stat, Hundley will also set the all-time UCLA record for total offense in a season, also set by McNown in 1998 (3,652). Hundley has already run for more yards (267) than McNown did that season (182).

• There has been some controversy concerning Matt Scott's physical condition in the aftermath of last week's USC game. In that fourth quarter, Scott, while sliding, took a shot to the head by USC's T.J. McDonald (a play that was flagged by the referees as a personal foul). Scott looked shaken up and then vomited on the field right after the play, a symptom of a concussion. Scott then continued to play for a series before the Arizona coaches removed him from the game. Since then, in the media, Scott has said he "doesn't think" he had a concussion, but blamed the vomiting on fatigue and heat-related issues. At the center of the controversy is whether Arizona's coaching staff took the proper precautions after Scott suffered the hit. Rodriguez and Arizona have claimed Scott didn't suffer a concussion, and had been nauseous prior to the play. As of now, Arizona has indicated that Scott will play against UCLA this Saturday.

• The weather forecast calls for a high of 86° and a low of 58°, with the game-time temperature in the 60s.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA'S DEFENSE

If your brand of football is high-powered offenses against porous defenses, this is your game.

UCLA's offense is ranked 12th in the nation, and it will go up against Arizona's defense, which is ranked 110th.  

The Wildcats are 117th in the nation in pass defense, while UCLA's offense is 27th in passing.  

Arizona's rushing defense: 71st; UCLA's rushing offense: 21st. 

It's pretty telling when a defense allows 618 yards in its last game, and the beat media for the team found aspects of its play in which it had improved.

Arizona's defense, on one hand, is not good, clearly.  On the other hand, you have to point out that some of the bad stats might be skewed since the Wildcats have kind of run the gauntlet in terms of their schedule -- playing Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and USC, with only a respite against Washington in there among its last  five games.  

Arizona's base defense is a 3-3-5, which defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel had run for the last 11 years at West Virginia (He was Rodriguez's DC when he was there).  It actually suits Arizona's defensive personnel fairly well, since the Wildcats are generally smaller but quick.  

They definitely are small: the defensive line averages 269 pounds, and the linebackers 217.  

Injuries, too, have taken their toll, in not only knocking out some contributors, but nicking up the guys who are playing.  

Up front the Wildcats have had a tough go of it this season.  Veteran Junior Sione Tuihalamaka (6-2, 271) is the nose guard, and he's been the most constant presence, with Arizona having started five different line-ups this season because of injury and lack of depth.  At end, Arizona lost one of its starters, Dominique Austin, to a foot injury for the season.  That and other injuries have forced them to juggle the line-up quite a bit.  They might get a little continuity between last week and this one, with the same two defensive ends starting for the USC and UCLA games. But it's still a patchwork proposition.  Junior Justin Washington (6-2, 268), who is the only other DL besides Tuihalamaka with experience coming into the season, was suspended in training camp and playing with the scout team a few weeks ago, but he'll start.  Sophomore Dan Pettinato (6-4, 265) suffered a partially torn ligament in his right knee in September, admits he's not 100% and is playing through pain.  

Back-up junior nose tackle Tevin Hood (6-0, 302) had one shining moment, forcing a big fumble against USC last week.

When you're trying to glue together your undersized defensive line, it doesn't help when you are under-manned and under-sized at linebacker.   Junior middle linebacker Jake Fischer (6-0, 215) is easily the unit's leader, in terms of leadership and tackles, 72 on the season, which ranks him second in the conference (only behind UCLA's Eric Kendricks).  Fischer is a good, tough, aggressive player that has an

Linebacker Marquis Flowers.
outstanding motor.   Junior strongside linebacker Marquis Flowers (6-3, 221) is the former safety who has done pretty well in making the transition of lining up closer to the ball, being second on the team in tackles with 55, while leading the unit with 3.5 sacks.  He was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for snagging two interceptions against USC, which was more lucky than anything he did well.  Redshirt freshman Sir Thomas Jackson (6-0, 215) is a former walk-on who has been learning on the fly, but it shows just how thin Arizona is at linebacker that he's starting.  

The back five had some personnel setbacks heading into the season, losing perhaps its best player, safety Adam Hall, to a knee injury.  But it's been relatively injury-free since, so it really doesn't have much of an excuse for being one of the worst secondaries in the conference.  And it didn't start out the season that way, looking fairly good in the first four games, but then getting sliced up in the last four.    True sophomore Tra'Mayne Bondurant (5-10, 207) starts at the Spur position, which is one of the hybrid safety/linebacker spots (much like how UCLA uses Dalton Hilliard and Stan McKay), and has been making more of an impact as of late.  He spends a great deal of the time aggressively pressuring the line of scrimmage, and leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss.  Sophomore Jared Tevis (5-10, 197) returns to start this week at the Bandit position, the other safety/linebacker spot, after having missed the last two games with an ankle injury.  That should help since freshman Patrick Onwuasor, who filled in for him, looked a bit overwhelmed.    Sophomore free safety Jourdon Grandon (6-0, 186) has been a hit-and-miss guy all season, making a nice play and then following it up by a poor one, or a personal foul.

What has really been exposed in the last month is the poor play from Arizona's cornerbacks.  They seemed to switch off last week on who USC's passing attack would burn.  Sophomore Jonathan McKnight (5-11, 167) is billed as Arizona's best cover corner, and perhaps he is, but going by his recent performance it's not a good reflection on their personnel.  Junior Shaquille Richardson (6-1, 186), the exceptional athlete who was kicked out of UCLA, started out the season strong but has seemed to degrade into a bit of a mess recently.  Back-up junior Derrick Rainey (6-1, 184) was the guy who looked like he was running in mud trying to cover USC's Marqise Lee last week. 

UCLA's offense had one of its best games of the season last week, considering it was going up against a good ASU defense.  Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley took another step in his development, showing poise beyond his years in engineering that last-minute, game-winning drive.  

UCLA's running backs also had a stellar day last week.  It doesn't seem like it's getting enough press at all, but senior tailback Johnathan Franklin is 21 yards away from setting the all-time UCLA career rushing record (It was buried in UCLA's weekly press release).   Damien Thigpen looked lethal on the two wheel routes against ASU, and Jordon James looks like he's getting more and more comfortable, which has allowed his athleticism and talent to come out.  

Arizona's defense has been particularly susceptible to big receivers so far this season, so it would naturally follow

Joseph Fauria.
that Joseph Fauria should be a big weapon for the Bruins.   We've said this before, and UCLA's utilization of Fauria hasn't ever really come to full fruition yet in a game this season. It's not all UCLA's fault for under-utilizing him; Fauria has tended to keep himself off the field because of his poor blocking.  But he's been getting better in all phases of the game as the season has progressed.  One of these days Fauria should go off for a 10-reception, 150-yard receiving performance, and against Arizona is probably his best chance.

UCLA will get back Darius Bell, the other Y receiver, which should help considerably with UCLA's lack of receiver depth.  

Advantage: UCLA.

If you're looking for areas of improvement, you'd have to say that Arizona's rushing defense has looked improved in the last couple of weeks.   It might be just that they were incredibly horrendous before the last two games, and USC didn't run the ball much last week (and gained 125 rushing yards).   

You also have to give the UA defense some credit for forcing five turnovers against USC.  It was perhaps the only thing that kept the Trojans from scoring 60 points (well, and USC's bonehead penalties).   

What allowed USC's Matt Barkley to have a career day against Arizona's secondary was having plenty of time to throw the ball.  Arizona has only 12 sacks on the season and just doesn't rush the passer very well.

If you're talking career days, too, just about every quarterback Arizona has faced this season has had one. Barkley (493 yards), OSU's Sean Mannion (433), Stanford's Josh Nunes (360), Washington's Keith Price (256), and Oklahoma State's Wes Lunt (436) all had their best days of the season against Arizona, while Oregon's Marcus Mariota (26) had his second-best day.   

It's a cliche, but it's never been more apt: Brett Hundley has to be licking his chops. 

As is UCLA Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone.  

ARIZONA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

As we said, If your brand of football is high-powered offenses against porous defenses, this is your game.

Arizona's offense is ranked 4th in the country, while UCLA's defense is 76th. 

The Bruins are 91st in passing defense, while Arizona's offense is 4th in passing.

For Arizona, it's all about senior quarterback Matt Scott (6-3, 196).  He is third in the nation in passing yardage for the season (2724), 4th in passing yards per game (340), and 2nd in total offense (3089 yards).   

We have to say, we were big Matt Scott advocates when he was a high school prospect. He came to a UCLA camp and, as a prospect, showed all of the signs of being this kind of college player.   

He has one of the strongest arms in college football, and throws with great accuracy, and a very quick release.  What makes him particularly dangerous is his quickness and speed, looking more like a wide receiver than a quarterback when he tucks and runs.  

Last week against USC he put on a show, throwing for 369 yards and running for 100.  

if you had to find a knock against him, it would be his size -- being a bit slight, which makes him less durable than you'd like.  In fact, there was a controversy stemming from the USC game last week, when Scott took an illegal hit and looked like he was suffering from a concussion, even though he stayed in the game for the next series.  

That creates two pertinent issues for this game: 1) Whether Scott is 100% for Saturday; Scott and Arizona have maintained this week that he is, and 2) If he in fact did suffer any kind of concussive symptoms and Arizona is covering it up in any way -- and he subsequently gets hit this week against UCLA and suffers a serious brain injury.  

Scott has plenty of targets to utilize.  Senior Dan Bucker (6-4, 215) and sophomore Austin Hill (6-3, 211) are both having all Pac-12 types of seasons.   Buckner is 6th in receptions per game in the Pac-12 (6.4), and he combines both size and strength to make for a tough player to defend, using that big body to shield off defenders.   He's not really fast, but plays like a tight end with decent speed.  He probably is Scott's go-to guy.  Hill is third in the conference in receptions per game (6.8), and is a little smaller than Buckner but faster.  He has emerged as one of the stars, and future stars, among receivers in the conference.  He had a career day against USC last week, catching 10 balls for 259 yards.  

A couple of other guys, two freshmen, have started to emerge, too.  David Richards (6-4, 203) is another in the same line as Buckner and Hill, big and strong.  Johnny Jackson (5-10, 179) has started to take most of the snaps in the slot recently over junior Richard Morrison (5-11, 183), and looks dangerous, making a nice touchdown catch against USC.  Senior Terrence Miller (6-4, 226) is another big receiver,  and a reliable target, but he's been ruled out of this game because of an ankle injury.    

Arizona's offense utilizes its running backs as receivers quite a bit, and that has helped sophomore Ka'Deem Carey (5-10, 197) emerge as one of the best all-around running backs in the conference.  Not only is he third in the conference in rushing, averaging 120 yards per game, but he's third on the team in receptions and receiving yards (24, 230).  Carey is pretty

Tailback Ka'Deem Carey.
much a stud, and might lead the league in YAC, being extremely yard to bring down after initial contact.   Carey is such a workhorse, too, his back-ups, juniors Daniel Jenkins (5-9, 196) and Kylan Butler (5-7, 187), get very few touches during the course of a game.    Fullback Taimi Tutogi (6-1, 260) catches at least one ball per game out of the backfield.  

What has been a key to much of Arizona's offensive success is the Wildcats' offensive line putting together a good season.  There was quite a bit of uncertainty coming into the year, with the availability of the two starting tackles somewhat up in the air, but it's pieced it together, gotten through some minor injuries and has been solid.  Starting left tackle, sophomore Mickey Baucus (6-8, 285), had off-season back surgery but he's started every game.  Before the season, they weren't sure if they'd have starting sophomore right tackle Fabbians Ebbele (6-8, 310) because he was arrested for criminal assault, getting in a fight at an off-campus party, but he's started every game.  It's been a little less certain, due to minor injuries, on the interior.  The leader of the OL, senior center Kyle Quinn (6-3, 290), who has actually missed the last two games with an ankle, is expected to return this week but is listed as questionable. Starting senior right guard Trace Biskin (6-5, 282) has missed the last three games due to a toe, and is also considered questionable for Saturday, while junior left guard Chris Putton (6-4, 280) has been a steady force. 

The OL has allowed just 12 sacks all season, which is fourth best in the conference, and this is for an offense that needs time for its quarterback to look down the field.

UCLA's defense hasn't been stellar this season, but at the very least it's pretty clear that they're playing to their potential.  It's not as if, in seasons past, that the defense was vastly under-achieving, given the talent it had.  Even though it's had an average season you could make the point that it has average talent. 

Where UCLA has really been hurt defensively is in its cornerback play, and it doesn't look to get better this week.  Arizona's receivers are among the best in the conference as a group, and UCLA's cornerbacks have struggled against good receives all season.  Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester are going to have to put together their best game of the season for UCLA to be effective in pass coverage.   

The UCLA front seven have generally done about as well as you could expect, with the DL being the team's strength, and both the DL and the linebackers getting better as the season has progressed.   Eric Kendricks looked somewhat overwrought at inside linebacker in the 3-4 at the beginning of the season but has consistently improved, and has his best game, perhaps of his career, last week against ASU, collecting 17 tackles, which now has him atop the conference leader board.  On the defensive line, Datone Jones has been good all season, and Cassius Marsh has consistently improved, to the point where he's been an impact player in the last several games.  There has been no drop-off either when Owamagbe Odighizuwa subs

Owa and Co.
for either, with Owa starting to deliver on the hype that had him ranked as one of the best defensive end prospects in then nation as a high school senior.  

Advantage: Arizona

There probably isn't a defense in the country that, matched up against Arizona, would get the advantage.  

It's truly an accomplishment that, in his first year at Arizona, Rodriguez has installed  his spread option and it's been so overwhelmingly successful.   Matt Scott is a big reason, but it's a testament to how a good scheme makes all the difference.

The bread and butter of the offense is the zone read, which is the majority of Arizona's running plays.  UCLA's defense, you would think, should be pretty good against it, having worked against the Pistol's zone read for two years in practice prior to this season.  But every time UCLA's defense has gone up against a zone read this year it looks pretty confused.   Then, to work off that, Arizona uses quite a bit of play action to freeze the pass rush.  In watching Arizona's offense this year, there hasn't been any opposing defense that has been really able to do anything significant in terms of scheming to even slightly limit the effectiveness of Arizona's zone read and play action off it.  

The closest has been when opposing defenses have mounted decent pass rushes.   When Scott has been rushed he's made some mistakes, like throwing into considerable coverage.  But that's a risky proposition if you're going to opt to blitz against Arizona, and probably put your cornerbacks on man-to-man islands.  

You would probably have to expect UCLA to go to mostly its nickel package in this game, and not risk blitzing too much, but UCLA has been a bit unpredictable in when it's chosen to go to its nickel and/or blitz.  It's not out of the realm of possibility that UCLA Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos actually risks it early on and sends some extra pressure at Scott.  The last time it did this, at seemingly ill-advised times, was against Cal, and Arizona has a far better offense to exploit UCLA's man-to-man than Cal.  

SPECIAL TEAMS

It's a mixed bag for both teams. UCLA's kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn perhaps made a big leap forward in his development in hitting the game-winning field goal against ASU last week.  But UCLA's special teams has been horrendous in shooting itself in the foot on punt returns.  

Arizona's special teams have been solid, for the most part.  Its punter, Kyle Dugandzic (6-0, 200) is a good one, and is having a good season, averaging 44 yards per punt.  Placekicker John Bonano has a strong leg, but hasn't been consistent from any distance, actually being better (2 of 3) from beyond 40 than he's been from 20 to 30 yards (5 of 8).  

Arizona's punt returner, Richard Morrison, returned a punt for a 63-yard touchdown a few weeks ago, but hasn't shown that he's a consistent danger.  Arizona's coverage teams have generally been fine until it allowed a big return by USC's Marqise Lee last week. 

Advantage: Even.

PREDICTION

The only thing you can probably safely predict for this game is that it won't be a defensive struggle. 

These are two high-power offenses going against two not-very-good defenses.  And they are two offense that will try to use tempo to wear out opposing defenses.  

Arizona is giving up 38.8 points per game in conference games.  

You'd have to predict that it's going to be a shoot-out type, with both teams able to throw the ball so well against the other.  Look for both Scott and Hundley to have season-best outings.  

So, just given that, it's very difficult to predict an outcome. 

Then, throw in the fact that both of these teams are good at forcing turnovers, and that makes it even more unpredictable. 

You'd have to say that Arizona would have the advantage in terms of penalties, with the Wildcats not being a team that is penalized much, and being #1 in the conference in getting its opponents to commit penalties.  But then last week Arizona committed 14 penalties for 129 yards.  More unpredictability. 

Perhaps it's significant that Arizona has played just two road games so far this season, losing both to Oregon and Stanford.   it averaged giving up 556 yards and 48.5 points in those two games.  

Both teams, last week, mounted gusty come-from-behind wins, and showed they have some considerable heart and resiliency.  

There shouldn't be an issue of either team coming into this game flat, after last week's victories and pretty much being in a win-or-die situation for the Pac-12 South.  

Truly, this game is an absolute toss up.  Arizona's offense is the best unit on the field, but UCLA's offense probably has a bigger advantage over Arizona's defense.  The Bruins could get a little bit of an edge for being at home, since Arizona is really unproven on the road. 


And then you have to give UCLA at least a few points for the alternate uniforms it plans to use.

UCLA 45

Arizona 41


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