Arizona Preview & Expectations

Arizona could be the worst team in Division 1 right now -- but if UCLA is to prove itself, it has to dismantle the Wildcats with ruthless efficiency. Here's a rundown of what you might expect when the Bruins face the Wildcats in Tucson Saturday...

That's more like it. The Bruins finally got all three phases of the game going at once, and rolled to a 39-0 half. As a result, the "Black Lavin" takes have seemed to fade away, at least for a week. Even ESPN's Ivan Maisel is debunking the myth of the Black Lavin. The 46-16 blowout of UW represented the most points the Bruins had scored since dropping 52 on the Arizona Wildcats in 1998.

It's especially gratifying for UCLA in light of ex-UCLA DC Phil Snow's infamous crack about Rose Bowl crowds, that "‘they don't give a damn about defense at UCLA." Given the noise the unexpectedly large crowd of 68,000 made at critical times when the Bruins were on D, and the way the D won the game with momentum-shifting plays, this isn't Phil Snow's UCLA fan base.

Speaking of the Wildcats…what a fortuitous time for UCLA to come by for a bear claw-sharpening session. Bear Down? Bear this… The Wildcats are still in disarray dealing with the bitterness of the Makovic Makeover From Hell. AD Jim Livengood canned Dick Tomey because he wanted aesthetic, uplifting ‘funball' instead of the dour, grinding ‘gruntball' Tomey gave the fans: "We were very clear that the search process at that time was to find someone who would absolutely get people to think about offense. Offense, excitement, sizzle. We needed that. Everybody was tired of playing to ties, or 3-0, that was over and over the message from people."

Just Look Good, Baby. Entertainment value for the dollar. And now? Oh, the people are thinking about offense, all right. Offenses against nature, maybe. Like fielding hopelessly out-coached and therefore out-manned teams. Like one win seasons.

All things considered, Livengood probably made absolutely the right decision. No AD likes replacing a college coach mid-season. However, the carnage the AZ football program would have experienced (player revolts and defections, recruiting debacles, etc.) if matters were allowed to deteriorate any further would have set the program so far back that it is hard to imagine AZ recovering this decade.

Elevating DC Mike Hankwitz to interim HC is an attempt to staunch the bleeding. The Wildcats still may not recover this decade to the Tomey Times of prosperity. But there were some positive signs in Arizona's 30-7 loss to Washington State. - The Wildcats' D knocked two of Wazzu's RBs out of the game with collision-induced injuries. At least the D is trying to stick people.

- The Wildcats were in it until the 4th quarter when WSU broke the game open. The Wildcats were down 13-7 in the 3rd quarter, and had the ball with a chance to drive for a TD to take the lead in the game, but they could only manage 14 yards on 5 plays before having to punt.

- The Wildcats didn't allow a sack to the best sack squad in the Pac-10. True FR QB Kris Heavner, 6-2 and 220 from Texas, is a good, mobile athlete that is hard to sack.

- The Wildcats only committed 4 penalties for 38 yards, so their discipline level was good.

Unfortunately, there were more negative signs in the loss than positive. - The QBs that have been at Arizona the longest, Ryan O'Hara and Nic Costa, have been supplanted by the true FR Heavner. Costa did get a chance to throw a 3-yard TD in the WSU game, but it seems that Hanwitz, who wants the interim tag removed, has decided the future is now regarding Heavner, leaving O'Hara and Costa out in the cold.

- The Wildcats were 0 for 13 on 3rd down. While WSU didn't sack The Heave, they brought enough pressure to hurry him numerous times, and forced him into repeated execution failures.

- The Wildcats were only able to generate 198 yards of offense (an anemic 65 on the ground and a deathly 133 through the air). After losing Bobby Wade, U of A seems to lack playmakers at the WR spots. More signs that the AZ O is on life-support: Arizona ran 22 fewer plays than WSU did (57 to 79), and punted 11 times.

With the new week, and John Makovic that much further in the rear view mirror of guys like Clarence Farmer (the 225 lb. former All Pac-10 RB), the Wildcats might be that much more inspired to play…the playmakers on their team, like Farmer. Clarence Farmer is a load that can hurt a D if they don't come to play. If he carries the ball substantially and the Bruins tackle him well, it might serve as a proxy for how UCLA will match up next week with Adimchinobe Echamandu, differences in OL not withstanding.

Their best game to date (apart from beating hapless El Paso) was their 13-10 overtime loss to TCU, which ranked #19 at the time but was missing its starting QB and top two RBs. In the three prior games, U of A allowed 59, 48 and 59 points to LSU, Oregon and Purdue, respectively. The transition to the 3-4 defense from the flex eagle hasn't been a glorious one…

The only thing you need to know about Arizona is that the Wildcats are probably a team that can be intimidated if the Bruins fire out hard and fast.

Offense:

My fear is that the UCLA offense will not enter the game with enough urgency, letting the AZ D believe for a moment that they can play with UCLA. The Bruins eventually grind it out in an unsatisfying performance. But they generate only around 325 yards, and continue to be plagued by penalties: holding, illegal procedure, false start, and delay of game are the most frequent infractions.

I'd love to see UCLA start fast and just roll over the AZ D. The Bruins played the 4th quarter of the UW game with a ruthless efficiency that most UCLA fans have rarely seen. If that attitude of seeking to maximize each play carries over, and UCLA's playmakers at RB (Manuel White, Tyler Ebell, Maurice Drew and J.D. Groves) each get a chance to contribute early, the running game could go wild. The sense that each back is extremely hungry for success is overpowering, as is the sense that the OL of RT Ed Blanton, RG Paul Mociler, C Robert Chai (in his first career start), LG Eyoseph Efseaff, and LT Steven Vieira (augmented with Shane Lehmann) would love to upgrade their reputation around the nation, the conference and the campus with a 250+ yard net rushing performance.

If the running game gets rolling, the number of passes will diminish, but the yards/completion should soar, as play-action passes produce wide-open receivers who will effortlessly snag every stone within stretch/dive/leap. Look for Marcedes Lewis to have a field day on drag patterns and releases to the flat on waggle action.

If UCLA finds itself in a blow-out, then I'd love to see Matt Moore get significant playing time, but not just to hand the ball off. Hopefully, Karl Dorrell and Steve Axman will allow for some short timing throws to get Matt back up to speed.

Before Matt Moore can play extensively, Drew Olson will continue to build on his recent performances. He'll hit the deep out to Craig Bragg (an almost indefensible pattern unless the D rolls up the coverage aggressively) for timely first downs. He'll hit Ryan Smith on slants and curls. And he'll go long to Junior Taylor and Bragg, sometimes off play-action. Look for most of the DO's best throws to go to the right hand side of the field. Don't look for the DO to hit the RB's much as safety valves, because he'll find his first options open a lot. It's just a matter of getting the ball to them on time with appropriate pace.

Statistically, it would be great to see UCLA get 450+ yards from 70+ plays, with equal balance pass and run. A real stretch goal for UCLA this week is one or fewer sacks.

I expect to see UCLA live up to some high expectations. For this coaching staff and this team to show that they are significantly different than previous editions of UCLA football, they need to fire out early and often. The key is the running game. If the "blunt force trauma offense" of Karl Dorrell, spearheaded by The Bludgeon, Manny White, can consistently net 3+ yards per blow throughout the 1st quarter, then the autopsy can begin. The Scapel, Tyler Ebell, will peel away layers of yards on delays and outside skirts, while The Bonesaw, MoD, will spin and careen and cannonball like the Tasmanian Devil with screens and what have you.

Once the running attack is established, the passing game will be pure gravy. The DO has pretty much established that he is proficient throwing inside curls and deep ins, to go with outs and flys/corners to the right side. I expect Drew to give the seam pass another try, as well as to work the left side of the field a little more.

If everything goes according to plan, the Bruins won't unveil much in the way of new plays, formations or deceptions. But many players a little farther down in the depth chart will see some significant playing time.

Bottom line, I expect UCLA to produce about 400 yards of total offense minimum, 225 through the air and 175 on the ground, while allowing 2 or 3 sacks. Tyler will be the leading rusher after Manny softens up the D.

Defense:

is that UCLA won't be able to tackle Clarence Farmer, and that The Dry Heave will be unconscious and play the game of his life.

I'd love to see UCLA hold Arizona to less than 200 yards total offense, completely thwarting U of A in the process, and achieving UCLA's first shutout in ages. Dave Ball gives The Dry Heave the Heave-(Nasty)-Ho out da game on his way to 4 solo sacks…

I expect to see UCLA give up about 275 yards of total offense, slightly less than its average. The UCLA front seven are playing exceptional football right now. There are no weak spots along the DL: Mat and Dave Ball are just excelling at DE. They are pushing each other; while Dave has accumulated sacks in bunches, Mat has also made far more plays from the LDE spot through five games than UCLA has seen in years, including Kenyon Coleman. At the DT spots, Rod Leisle and Ryan Boschetti have dominated the interior. Not only have they held their ground, but they've often penetrated and made the play themselves. Importanly, the 2nd string DL has also performed well, including C.J. Niusulu, Kevin Brown, Asi Faoa (coming back from limited action as a starter against UW because of an ankle sprain), David Tautofi and Kevin Harbour. UCLA hasn't been losing much when the 2nd unit is in.

The LBs are simply a joy to watch. Brandon Chillar leads the Pac-10 in tackles. Spencer Havner is a great pass defender, and DC Larry Kerr is taking full advantage of his skills, swapping Havner and Chillar between ILB and OLB as the circumstances dictate to leverage his cover talent. Finally, Justin London is quickly emerging as one of the most reliable, steadiest, yet explosive MLBs in the conference. He hasn't missed a tackle in weeks. He makes plays in the passing game. He is uncanny at slipping blocks. He fills with vicious intensity. This kid right now is playing at an extremely high level. If you love football, you love watching JLon.

The Bruins' safeties are banged up, with Jarrad Page being held out and Ben Emanuel suffering from concussive symptoms. Therefore, expect to see Kevin Brant replace Page and assume coverage-calling responsibilities from the strong safety spot. And expect to see Nnamdi Ohaeri spell BE2 early and often.

With no Reggie to contend with, Matt Ware and Matt Clark will return 100% to their respective sides. Given how UCLA double-covers the outside receivers (a CB and a S for each), the weak spots in the zone coverage UCLA typically plays are patterns to the TE (wheel routes, seams, middles), and patterns to the backs (flares to the flat, angles, checkdowns, etc.) Going deep on fly patterns are almost always a viable option, especially if the S is expecting an inside route or is cheating on the run.

Expect to see Arizona, and all future UCLA opponents, attempt to exploit these areas of opportunities. Hey, the opponents have to have something to do.

Given how well the Bruins are taking to Larry Kerr's defense, I expect UCLA to hold Arizona to minimal yardage and points, along the magnitude of 250 yards and 10 points. A significant decrease in the face-masking penalties, PIs, etc. is expected, as is a moratorium on personal fouls of the kind seen in the SDSU game. The Bruins should have learned that disrespecting an opponent like that ultimately hurts performance too much to withstand.

Special Teams: Chris Kluwe and Justin Medlock are beginning to far surpass the expectations of the Bruin faithful. Kluwe's hang time and directional punts have allowed UCLA to improve significantly its punt coverage performance, with only 5 punts being returned for 13 yards out of the last 20+ punts.

Medlock's placekicking has been deadly since the CU game, and his KO performance is becoming extremely reliable. Kicking the ball just deep enough into the end zone to entice an aggressive returner to run it out (but high enough to give the UCLA jets time to get to the 25 or so) is a great weapon for UCLA.

The only area that is uncertain is the return teams. The punt return team has been haunted with "illegal block in the back" and "holding" penalties that have cost UCLA significant field position, and probably taken considerable points off the board. I expect UCLA to get its act together and nail a nice punt return, with either Tyler Ebell or Bragg doing the honors. Similarly, I don't expect a blocked kick, not with Cal on the schedule next week.

The kick-off return team has experienced some great success with Maurice Drew, who is getting visibly better each game, and should consider it going forward.

Overall:

My fear is that UCLA overlooks Arizona or discounts their talent, and makes this a very difficult game. But the Bruins ultimately prevail, UCLA 28, Arizona 14.

I'd love to see UCLA click on all three phases of the game. UCLA 42, Arizona 10.

All things considered, I expect the Bruins to win 32-10.


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