Arizona Preview

It's the Bruins against the Wildcats at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, with competitive matchups between a good UCLA offense and a good Arizona defense, and then a not-so-good UCLA defense and a not-so-good Arizona offense. It could come down to which quarterback executes the best...

NOTEWORTY FACTORS:

-- Arizona (1-3, 0-1) comes to the Rose Bowl to face UCLA (3-1, 1-0) Saturday. Kickoff is 3:30, with the game being televised by Fox Sports Net. Barry Tompkins and Petros Papadakis are commentators.

-- Arizona beat Northern Arizona in its season-opener, lost to then-#17-ranked Utah, 23-6, lost to then-#20 Wisconsin, 9-7, and then lost another tough game against Washington State, 20-19.

-- It's the 29th meeting between the two schools in football, with UCLA owning a 19-9-2 edge. UCLA barely pulled out a game they probably should have lost last season on the road against Arizona, 24-21. Defensive tackle Rodney Leisle intercepted a shovel pass and returned it 55 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Two years ago, the Bruins also had a come-from-behind win when Cory Paus scrambled 13 yards for a touchdown in the final minute to beat the Wildcats, 27-24.

-- Mike Stoops is in his first year as head coach of Arizona, and his first season as a head coach overall. He has been an assistant coach for 19 years, most recently as defensive coordinator of Oklahoma, coached by his brother, Bob Stoops. He's very well-known for fielding very good, sound defenses. Mike is considered a very fiery guy who sometimes so far this season has had to be restrained on the sidelines.

-- It's the fourth consecutive meeting of the two teams with either or both of the two teams having different head coaches than the previous year.

-- Saturday's game is the first road trip of the season for Arizona, and the first for Stoops as a head coach.

-- UCLA wide receiver coach Dino Babers spent six years as an assistant at Arizona (1995-2000) as the running backs, receivers and quarterbacks coach, and then eventually the offensive coordinator.

-- Arizona ranks among the best in defense in the Pac-10, being #4 in total defense (allowing 294 yards/game). But they rank last in total offense (270 yards/game), scoring offense (13.2), and pass offense (163), while ranking 8th in rushing offense (106).

-- While Arizona's defense has allowed only 13 points a game, much of those points have come off costly Arizona turnovers. Of the 55 points surrendered by Arizona, 18 of them have come off turnovers. It's pretty significant since UA has lost its three games this year by a combined 20 points.

-- The three teams that have beaten Arizona so far this season have a combined 13-1 record thus far. Utah is currently ranked #11, while Wisconsin is ranked #15, both being undefeated.

-- UCLA's placekicker, Justin Medlock, is the only Pac-10 kicker to have not missed a field goal, being a perfect 7 for 7 so far this season. He made four of four last week against San Diego State.

-- UCLA has not allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown yet this season.

-- UCLA's running back Maurice Drew is first in the Pac-10 and fourth in the country in rushing, averaging 167 yards per game.

-- UCLA's offense is 10th in the country overall, and 7th in rushing offense.

-- Arizona is coming off a bye week.

-- Arizona has about 15 players from the Southern California area.

ARIZONA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

It's the worst offense in the conference against the worst defense in the conference, statistically.

This must be why most of the recruits in the area are going to the USC/Cal game, huh?

Arizona wide receiver Syndric Steptoe.
Arizona's offense is abysmal, and that's having improved. They gain on average just 270 yards per game, 106 yards per game on the ground, 164 yards through the air, and are averaging just 13 points per game. To give you a visual, they very much resemble UCLA's offense from last season.

It's a testament to how good their running back, junior Mike Bell (6-0, 212), is, averaging averaging 4.0 yards per carry while running behind a very suspect and spotty offensive line. Bell is considered one of the most talented running backs in the conference, but he's fighting for every yard, averaging 67 per game. There is even more talent at the running back position, with freshman Chris Henry (6-0, 220) backing up Bell, and junior fullback Gilbert Harris (6-1, 222) starting to step forward this season and become a threat. Harris has already led Arizona in rushing in two of its four games. He, Bell and Henry make for a pretty large trio.

The problem is they don't have many holes to bang into. The Arizona offensive line is probably peforming the worst in the conference at this point, despite some experience. Senior center Keoki Fraser (6-3, 285) is putting up a valiant effort, and senior tackles Chris Johnson (6-4, 322) and Brandon Phillips (6-8, 310), along with returning starter, junior guard Kili Lefotu (6-4, 285), were thought to be solid going into the season. The offensive line has been Arizona's biggest disappointment so far in Stoops' first season.

It could also be that the quarterback position is still under construction, which limits Arizona's overall offensive productivity. Sophomore Kris Heavner (6-2, 226) isn't bad, but he's not incredibly talented and still learning the ropes. He has, so far this season, made some particularly impressive plays, but then missed on some easy ones. He isn't very mobile, which has made him an easy target for blitzes so far this season, with opposing defenses trying to force him into bad decisions. In two seasons, Heaver has had to learn two new offenses, so he's still somewhere on the learning curve in terms of Stoop's offensive scheme.

One dangerous target has emerged in speedy, shifty, little sophomore Syndric Steptoe (5-9, 184). Steptoe leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, averaging just 3 catches and 55 yards per game. He is a big-play type of guy, having scored three touchdowns and shows great explosiveness in the open field. Arizona will try to get him the ball short and hope he can make some plays. He is still learning Stoops offense, going from having to learn a new offense in each of his first two years.

After Steptoe, the rest of the receiver two-deep is averaging just two catches each per game. It could be that the other receivers have been a bit banged up, with a guy Arizona considered a potential star, freshman Anthony Johnson (6-2, 202), returning to the lineup after sitting out the Washington State game two weeks ago. Also, junior Biron Ealy (6-4, 190) returned to action against WSU to catch two balls. Having had two weeks to get healthy during the bye week will definitely help Arizona's situation at wide receiver.

But make no mistake here, Arizona considers itself a running team. Arizona has run the ball about 50% more than they've passed it so far this season. So with UCLA's earned reputation for being a defense that gives up big chunks of yardage on the ground, and with Arizona's suspect passing game, you can expect the Wildcats to run the ball often, especially with a nice stable of running backs.

The thing is, UCLA will be expecting it also. After facing the multi-dimensional spread offense it did against San Diego State, it will be somewhat of a relief for UCLA's defense to go up against a run-oriented offense like Arizona's.

UCLA's linebackers had a good game last week against San Diego State, with Wesley Walker filling in for Justin London at middle linebacker and Ben Lorier making an impact at the weak inside linebacker position. Both of them complemented UCLA's star linebacker, Spencer Havner, well. UCLA could be finally getting some depth back at linebacker, with the return of outside linebacker Aaron Whittington this week. And course, there's London. Whether he plays much will probably depend mostly on how UCLA's doing against Arizona. If they are leading fairly comfortably during most of the game, you might not see London play much, UCLA wanting him to take more time to get healthy for the Cal game next week. But you should, at least, see London in on some plays, just to get the rust off.

UCLA also gets back its best defensive tackle, C.J. Niusulu, after a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Eyoseph Efseaff performed well in Nisulu's absense, and it gives UCLA now more depth at the defensive tackle position. With Kenneth Lombard still out, the second string will consist of Efseaff and Noah Sutherland, behind Niusulu and Kevin Brown.

If the front line can fill their gaps as well as they did against San Diego State, in UCLA's gap defense stopping an offense falls to its linebackers and its defensive backs. You could see how Defensive Coordinator Larry Kerr aggressively used his linebackers and defensive backs against San Diego State in an effort to try to disrupt an inexperienced quarterback. You can certainly expect the same against Arizona, and probably even moreso since Arizona's offense is far less unpredictable that SDSU's. Watch for the different alignments we saw against SDSU, like a 3-3-5, and use of zone blitzes and run blitzes. When Kerr was scheming aggressively against SDSU in the first half, enabling his linebackers and defensive backs to blitz and fly around, the defense was very effective.

UCLA strong safety Jarrad Page.
UCLA's much-hyped safeties have played just moderately well so far this season. It's been cited often how free safety Ben Emanuel appears to be under-performing, but strong safety Jarrad Page has been fairly quiet himself. He's played solidly, and hasn't missed his assignments much, but UCLA must get some big plays from these guys for their defense to be effective.

Advantage: UCLA. You have to give it to UCLA since they continue to have more players coming back from injury (and suspension). Head to head, UCLA's defense plainly has more talent than Arizona's offense, and Kerr has been utilizing it well. UCLA's defensive secondary has looked particulary strong, with its corners, Matt Clark and Marcus Cassel, showing the capability of solid man coverage, enabling UCLA's safeties and linebackers to gamble and blitz often. With UCLA's strong secondary limiting Arizona's effectiveness in their passing game, you can expect UCLA's linebackers and safeties to be blitzing in waves, trying to disrupt Heavner and running down Arizona's ball carriers from the backside. Arizona, with a bye week, will undoubtedly unveil a few new surprises offensively, probably some departures from what we've seen previously in their passing game, just to try to keep UCLA honest and from stacking the box. Watch for Arizona to try to exploit the aggressiveness UCLA's defense showed against San Diego State with some screens, delays and misdirections. But with a new offense, one that's struggled to throw the ball, with an inexperience quarterback, on the road, you have to give the advantage to UCLA's defense.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA'S DEFENSE

It's the #2 offense in the conference against the #4 defense.

It's almost the antithesis of the matchup of Arizona's offense against UCLA's defense.

Arizona free safety Darrell Brooks.
Arizona's D has done well, in both its run and passing defense. They are doing it, though, on a shoestring, relying on very little depth, a few talented players and some youngsters who have played beyond expectation early.

And, of course, having one of the best defensive minds in the country as your head coach helps, too.

The Arizona secondary has been a big surprise for Arizona fans, especially since heading into the season it was a big question mark. They, luckily, have had some youngsters step into huge roles and play very well for them. In particular is true freshman cornerback Antoine Cason (6-0, 170) who, you might remember, is from Los Alamitos and was a player that UCLA flirted with. Cason has been exceptional for a true freshman, coming out of the box in his first start against Northern Arizona with a team-high 13 tackles, including 12 solo stops, two forced fumles and an interception. He was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. On the season, he's the team's third leading tackler, showing great instinct and quickness in getting to the ball, especially in run defense.

Arizona's other three starting defensive backs have also looked very good in their first four games. Junior free safety Darrell Brooks (6-1, 192), a returning starter, was hyped as one of their stars, and he's played well. Another returning starter, junior strong stafety Lamon Means (6-3, 200) is a big kid who can hit, and is tied for the lead in tackles on the squad.

Arizona's linebackers have been kind of a no-name group, but have been relatively effective in their first four games. Junior Sean Jones (5-11, 230) beat out returning starter, senior Kirk Johnson (6-1, 230). Jones is the other co-leader in tackles, and has good quickness to the ball. A redshirt freshman, Dane Krogstad (6-3, 237) starts at one linebacker position and opposing offenses have tried to exploit him a bit. The depth at linebacker is not great, though.

UCLA quarterback Drew Olson.
Neither is the depth on the defensive line. The DL has played well, led by senior nose tackle Carlos Williams (6-4, 303). But in the last couple of games, the Arizona defense, particularly the defensive line, has worn down, with Stoops having very little talent beyond his starters to utilize. Stoops subbed in a couple of true freshmen against Washington State to try to get them prepared for providing some breathers. But a big issue for Arizona's defensive line is their lack of depth and getting worn down by the second half.

It's the perfect scenario for UCLA's offense, which has, so far, featured a dominating run game. UCLA has one of the best running backs in the country in Maurice Drew, and then once he's softened up a defensive line, another hammer in Manuel White. It would be remiss of UCLA to not test Arizona's run defense early and often. And even if UCLA looks like it's being held early in its run game, every pounding the thin Arizona defensive line takes early on could mean a bigger hole and more yards later in the game.

Coming off a performance where he looked pretty ordinary, UCLA quarterback Drew Olson is one of the biggest keys to the game. If he can execute UCLA's passing attack effectively, it will give the offense the dimension it needs to make Arizona not stack the box and open up UCLA's running game. Without his best target, Craig Bragg, who is out with a shoulder separation, he'll have to rely on others, but he has some pretty good targets in Tab Perry and particularly tight end Marcedes Lewis.

Advantage: UCLA. Given the thinness of Arizona's defensive line, you can probably expect UCLA to pound them on the ground, even if Arizona is stacking the box. It might seem stubborn early on in this game, when UCLA isn't necessarily gaining big rushing yards, but the theory is that it will pay off later when Arizona's defense gets worn down. But this is a Pac-10 game, and now very important to UCLA's bowl hopes, so you can probably also expect Offensive Coordinator Tom Cable to unveil a few more wrinkles, especially in the passing game. The key will be getting Olson warmed up well early, since he's now showing a habit of getting in an early slump. While it makes sense for UCLA to stick to the running game, don't be surprised if UCLA throws the ball early, to try to get Olson in a groove, then hope to get a healthy lead against Arizona and then not have to show too much more of its offense and run the ball against a worn-down Arizona defense.

Prediction: While Arizona Head Coach Bob Stoops keeps insisting that he has as much talent as UCLA, it really isn't close. The Wildcats are better and more talented than they were a year ago, and better coached. But UCLA's superior talent will show through, especially now since it has the offensive coordinator to exploit it, as opposed to the game last year against Arizona. It will probably be a pretty defensive game, with UCLA's defense looking a bit more improved, and Arizona's defense staying with UCLA's offense for most of the game. Even though Arizona's young corners have played well, look for UCLA to go right at them. So much is dependent, though, on whether UCLA's passing offense, particularly Olson, can execute. If they can, the game has a chance to be a route. If they execute just moderately well, the game should be close and not too high scoring. If UCLA's passing offense hiccups, look for Arizona to have a chance to knock of the Bruins. Watch for points coming from a number of turnovers, with both teams prone to giving the ball away.

UCLA 27
Arizona 20


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