It's the deep offseason right now, so we thought we'd put together some advance primers on the 2015 opponents on UCLA's schedule. We've already previewed Virginia, UNLV, and BYU. Next up: UCLA's fourth opponent of the season, Arizona.
Sept. 26, Wildcat Stadium
2014 Record: 10-4 (7-2)
2014 Recap: For the third straight year, the Pac-12 South had a new champion, with Arizona taking the baton from Arizona State. The Wildcats broke in a new quarterback in Anu Solomon who, while having some down moments, was generally very effective running Rich Rodriguez's offense. The Wildcats were a little lucky -- statistically speaking, they had the makeup of a team that should have been similar to the 8-5 teams Arizona had in Rodriguez's first two years, but Arizona managed to beat Oregon when Marcus Mariota was a bit hobbled early in the season and then beat California at home thanks to a wild 4th quarter that featured 36 points for the Wildcats and a final Hail Mary to win the game. Still, the season marked a significant step up for the program, and the Wildcats will look to build on that heading into next season.
Returning Starters: 12 (5 defense, 7 offense)
Notable Recruits: JC DE Anthony Fotu , OT Keenan Walker ,
JC S Paul Magloire , JC CB Dane Cruikshank
2015 Projection: Arizona has plenty going for it offensively, with an elite receiver in Cayleb Jones, a very good running back in Nick Wilson, and a quarterback in Anu Solomon who performed really well for a redshirt freshman last year. From a skill position perspective, there's more than enough talent for Rodriguez to field an explosive offense.
The issue for the Wildcats offensively this season will more than likely be line play. Arizona lost three starters from last year's offensive line, including both tackles and the starting center, Steven Gurrola. Fielding a competent center this spring was difficult for Arizona, and it's a problem area that's probably going to stretch into the fall. A lot of Rodriguez's offense mitigates the need for a truly elite OL, since the offensive is predicated in large part on quick passes and rollouts, but still, with two new tackles and a new center, Arizona has much to figure out in the next few months.
Defensively, Arizona wasn't great last year, and lost most of the players who started last year, which can be looked at as either a good or bad thing. The front seven lost four starters from a year ago, including two starting defensive linemen, which could mean that incoming junior college DE Anthony Fotu could see some playing time early. Scooby Wright returns at linebacker, but with so many players leaving around him, he might have a harder time putting up the kind of numbers he put up last year, when he was arguably the most productive defensive player in the country.
Overall, Arizona gets a relatively easy schedule in 2015, with a non-conference slate the Wildcats should sweep through and then very winnable conference games against Oregon State, Washington State, and Utah at home as well as against Colorado and Washington on the road. The season will hinge on how the Wildcats fare against UCLA at home and Stanford, USC, and Arizona State on the road. If they can somehow split that group of four games, the Wildcats could be in line for a second consecutive South title, but at this point, we wouldn't bet on that happening.
Outlook for UCLA: At this point, UCLA will be fresh off its first real test of the season against BYU, and will now have its first really difficult road game of the season. The Bruins beat Arizona last year in a substantially bizarre game. Both teams came into the game with big defensive question marks and explosive offenses, so naturally, the Bruins won 17-7.
This year, the gap between the two teams looks like it has widened, with the Wildcats experiencing substantial roster turnovers while UCLA returns 18 starters. Rodriguez is a good coach, and the expectation is that Arizona should be a better team by November than the one we see in September, but with this game coming in the early part of the season, Arizona is likely still going to be figuring out its identity defensively. That bodes well for UCLA, since this will be Josh Rosen's first conference road game, and if he can face a defense that isn't quite firing on all cylinders yet, that's obviously good for the Bruins.
This game begins a really tough start to the conference season for UCLA. In many ways, these first three games at Arizona, against Arizona State, and then at Stanford could dictate the way the season goes for UCLA. Getting started with a win over Arizona would be significant, and give UCLA a great deal of confidence heading into much tougher games against ASU and Stanford.
Next up: Arizona State...
2015 Opponent Primer: Arizona
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