Preview of Arizona Game

The 2-3 Arizona Wildcats are struggling, both on offense and, surprisingly, on defense, as they come to the Rose Bowl Saturday. It's not a good match-up for Arizona, with its anemic offense facing the #3 defense in the country. And then, there's the revenge factor...


-- UCLA takes on Arizona at the Rose Bowl Saturday at 4:00 p.m. The game will be televised by FSN Prime Ticket with Bill Macdonald, Mike Sherrard and Dale Hellestrae in the booth.

-- UCLA is 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-10. The Bruins beat Stanford last week, 31-0.

-- Arizona is 2-3, and 0-2 in the Pac-10, having lost to Washington last week, 21-10 and USC the previous week, 20-3. 

-- Last season, a 2-6 Arizona team demolished a previously undefeated UCLA team ranked #7 in the country, 52-14.  Arizona came out and ran over UCLA, scoring on its first four possessions to build a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter.  It was one of the most demoralizing losses in UCLA recent history.

-- UCLA leads the overall series 18-10-2, with the first meeting between the two schools taking place in 1927. 

-- Before last season, UCLA had beaten Arizona four straight times, including a 37-17 win in 2004 at the Rose Bowl.

-- UCLA is 7-2-1 all-time against Arizona in the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats haven't won there since 1999.

-- Arizona is coached by Mike Stoops, who is in his third year at Tucson, with an overall record of 8-19, going 3-8 in each of his first two seasons. Stoops came to Arizona from Oklahoma, where he was the defensive coordinator under his brother, Mike Stoops, for five years. He is known as a good defensive coach, and somewhat of a hot head on the sidelines.

-- Arizona lost five games by seven points or less last season. 

-- The Wildcats haven't been to a bowl game in seven years.

-- It's Hall of Fame Weekend at UCLA, with eight Bruins being inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame in ceremonies Friday night.  In the class are Outland Trophy Winner and NBA Pro Bowler Jonathan Ogden, Carol Bower (rowing), Herb Flam (tennis), Monte Nitzkowski (swimming/water polo), Annette Salmeen (swmming), Dennis Storer (soccery/rugby), John Vallely (basketball), and Elaine Youngs (volleyball).

-- UCLA defensive end Justin Hickman is fourth nationally and second in the Pac-10 in sacks (1.38 per game, 5.5 total). 

-- UCLA true junior offensive tackle Shannon Tevaga has now started 22 straight games, the longest streak on the team.


If you think UCLA's offense has struggled, it's nothing compared to the problems the Wildcat offense has experienced so far this season.

A few stats:

Arizona ranks dead last in the Pac-10 in scoring offense (12), rushing offense (68.4), passing offense (185) and total offense (253.4). 

They are 112th in the nation in scoring, 113th in rushing, 75th in passing, 109th in total offense.

That makes you relish UCLA's offense, now, doesn't it?

Fingers have been pointing all around the Arizona program, blaming the talent and the coaching (sound familiar?).  But, like with any program, it really is a combination of many elements.

To begin with, Arizona simply doesn't have a great deal of offensive talent, and the talent it thought it had coming into the season has vastly under-achieved  Sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama (6-3, 218) gave the Arizona faithful high hopes last season, when he gave some life to the offense after being pulled out of his redshirt year for the last five games.  In his second start, he cut up UCLA, leading Arizona to the 52-14 win, and looked like a veteran, with remarkable poise for a true freshman. He was even getting rave reviews in spring and in fall practice. But Tuitama hasn't come out of the box for the 2006 season very sharp, averaging just 155 yards per game, having thrown five interceptions against just three touchdown passes.

Tuitama hasn't been great, but he's mostly getting a pass by Arizona followers, citing the fact that he's only really started nine games and he's getting absolutely no help in terms of pass protection or rushing production. 

Perhaps the core of Arizona's offensive issues are with the Wildcat offensive line, which has been woeful.  It was thought that this could be Arizona's best OL in a few years, and definitely its deepest, but the on-field production has been very poor.  The returning tackles were supposed to be the strength, particularly junior Peter Graniello (6-5, 296), but senior Tanner Bell (6-8, 294), who was nicked up by injuries, got beaten out by redshirt freshman Eben Britton (6-6, 280), which wasn't a good sign. Arizona's bigger, slower tackles have been very susceptible to quick, athletic defensive ends, which doesn't bode well for them against UCLA.  The interior hasn't been any better, with senior guard Adam Hawes (6-4, 302) getting a lot of flak.  The line overall has looked like it's in disarray, getting beat to spots by opposing DLs and missing blocks.

This has essentially caused Arizona's running game to seize up. It's averaging a mere 2.7 yards per attempt, and it hasn't gained positive yards on the ground in two games (against USC posting -16 and against Washington -7). If you throw out the 263 yards it gained on the ground against Stephen F. Austin, Arizona is averaging 19 yards per game rushing.

Arizona WR Syndric Steptoe.

It's not all of the OL's fault, however. Arizona simply doesn't have a good running back on its roster. Junior Chris Henry (6-0, 215) is a great athlete, with a great combination of size and speed, but he's not a running back, lacking the necessary instincts. With Henry failing, junior walk-on Chris Jennings (5-10, 220) has stepped in, and while he's better at hitting a hole, he's not a Pac-10 level talent, lacking the speed and quickness. Arizona is trying to mix in redshirt freshman Xavier Smith (5-11, 196), but his most noteable accomplishment so far has been dropping two screen passes. 

The one relative strength of the team so far has been its wide receivers, specifically senior Syndric Steptoe (5-9, 182), who leads the team in receptions with 22. Steptoe is, actually, an over-achiever, too, coming to Arizona as a good athlete that was thought to be limited by his size.  He's been the one reliable element of Arizona's offense so far. Sophomore Mike Thomas (5-8, 173), who closed out last season strong as freshman, started out slow in 2006, bothered by a an ankle sprain. But in the last two games, Thomas has caught 12 balls for 169 yards and once again become Tuitama's favorite receiver.

It's obvious, though, that with Steptoe and Thomas, Arizona is lacking size among its wideouts. They look to junior Anthony Johnson (6-2, 205) for that, and their two tight ends, Brad Wood (6-2, 228) and junior Brandyn McCall (6-4, 245), and they've been serviceable while both tight ends have been slowed by injuries  An emerging weapon, especially catching balls out of the backfield, is freshman fullback Earl Mitchell (6-2, 250).

The receivers have had some issues with the dropsies, and it's been an on-going issue for Steptoe. He dropped a touchdown pass last week against Washington.

UCLA's defense, in other words, has to be licking its chops with the prospect of playing against Arizona's offense.  It's probably the worst offense UCLA will face all season, and easily the worst for the remainder of the season, so for UCLA's defense, it's time to fatten up.

Justin Hickman on the sack.

UCLA's rushing defense has gone far beyond expectation this season, going from one of the worst in the nation to currently one of the best.  A great deal of credit has to go to DC DeWayne Walker but also defensive line coach Todd Howard.  The return of defensive tackle Kevin Brown has greatly helped, too. But it's probably been the maturation of players like senior defensive end Justin Hickman and junior defensive end Bruce Davis that have really propelled the turnaround.  Hickman, who has always been a bit under-sized but quick, has started to dominate at his position, and he and speedy Bruce Davis should continue to pressure Tuitama this week.  With Arizona having very little ground game, you can probably expect UCLA to blitz even more this week, trying to bring guys from different spots with zone blitzes, so expect to see more linebackers like Aaron Whittington and DBs like Dennis Keyes running free in Arizona's backfield.  UCLA has gone more to man coverage this season from its cornerbacks, freeing up more guys to pressure the quarterback, and with the way Arizona has been failing to get the ball to its receivers and protecting its quarterback (allowing 16 sacks so far this season, with only Stanford being worse in the Pac-10), it should be a Bruin parade in Arizona's backfield.

Advantage: UCLA. It is a bad match-up for Arizona in just about any way you look at it. Arizona is a terrible running team, and UCLA is one of the best defenses against the rush in the west.  So, Arizona, you would think, could become fairly one-dimensional and throw the ball, but UCLA's defensive secondary is probably its strength, and has been very good in man coverage. If UCLA would possibly have a weakness it would be against bigger receivers, but Arizona's top two receivers are 5-9 and 5-8.  UCLA has been good at pressuring quarterbacks so far this season and forcing inexperienced ones into mistakes, and Tuitama, so far this season, has been showing his inexperience.

Even though Arizona hasn't shown it can run, and UCLA's defensive rushing stats are impressive, you would still expect the Wildcats to dedicate a great deal of time to establishing a running game against UCLA. Arizona's OL isn't quick, but they do have size, so they could try to smash-mouth UCLA's front seven, rather than try to do it through the air.  Arizona's ball-control offense is predicated on the run game.  Arizona has been able to put together some drives this season, but hasn't been able to put it in the endzone too often.  Really, this match-up should look quite similar to last week's against Stanford.


While Arizona's offense has been a bit surprising in how poor they've been this season, the bigger surprise has been how the Arizona defense hasn't been very good itself. 

The Wildcats were expected to have a strong defense, thinking that they'd improve from their good defense a year ago while returning nine defensive starters.

But it hasn't happened that way.  Chalk it up to a program-wide malaise possibly, but Arizona's defense isn't having a good season to date. It's allowing 359 yards per game, and 220 through the air, which gets it ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-10 in both categories.  Arizona's rushing defense hasn't been much better, allowing 139 yards per game, sixth in the Pac-10. Again, if you throw out the Stephen F. Austin game, it's allowing on average 404 total yards per game, which would rank it among the worst in the country.

Last week against a mediocre offensive team in Washington, in Tucson, it allowed 447 total yards. The Huskies could moved the ball fairly well throughout the game, but then the Arizona D had a huge breakdown in the second quarter when it allowed Washington toscore three touchdowns and essentially put the game away.

Many Arizona followers are stupified in trying to figure out why. It's not as if the Arizona defense has been overly hurt by injuries. Starting junior nose tackle Yaniv Barnett (6-1, 285) is out with an irregular heartbeat and an elbow injury, and his replacement, senior defensive end Marcus Smith (6-5, 266), who was moved to position, was a bit hobbled last week against Washington, but all of the other projected starters have been on the field.

They also added one of the most heralded recruits to come into the Pac-10 this year, JC transfer defensive end Louis Holmes (6-6, 270). So, you'd think the Arizona defense would be well-stocked.

The defensive line, in fact, has some impressive players. Besides Smith and Holmes, sophomore defensive end Johnathan Turner (6-3, 250) is considered a potential All-Pac level player down the line.

Holmes, after starting out slowly, has really come on, registering three sacks to lead the team. His combination of size and quick first step has been hard for opposing tackles to control.

The linebackers aren't big stars, but they have some talent and they're finally healthy after long bouts with injuries. Junior Spencer Larson (6-1, 236) is the Will linebacker and leads the team in tackles with 40, also good enough for fourth in the Pac-10.  The other two, sophomore middle linebacker Ronnie Palmer (6-2, 239) and junior SAM Dane Krogstad (6-2, 236) fill out possibly one of the best linebacking crews in the Pac-10. The first four games of this season were the first time they were all healthy together at one time, and they've played well.

Cornerback Antoine Cason.

In the back, Arizona could possibly have the best 1-2 combination of cornerbacks in the Pac-10 in juniors Antoine Cason (6-0, 182) and Wilrey Fontenot (5-9, 174).  Cason is All Pac-10 material, with very good quicks and instincts. Then, throw in what head coach Mike Stoops has called a potential NFL first-rounder in senior strong safety Michael Johnson (6-2, 205), and you have what, at least on paper, looks to be a very formidable defensive secondary.

So, we're as stupified as the Arizona faithful why this defense has been so mediocre. It actually did look pretty good in limiting USC to just 20 points and 179 passing yards two weeks ago, but it looked listless against LSU in early September when it gave up a total of 461 yards and 45 points to the Tigers.

And it's been different week to week. One week, it's giving up a good portion of rushing yards, the next it's allowing too many passing  yards.

LSU, USC and Washington were able to run the ball fairly well against Arizona, so it's been a matter of opposing offenses able to be on the field for prolonged periods of time and then Arizona's defense breaking down on a few big plays.

UCLA's offense, however, hasn't exactly been one that you would call a big-strike type.  But it has generally run the ball fairly well in every game but the opener against Utah, averaging 173 yards per game on the ground. It doesn't have the big-strike running back in its arsenal, but it does have junior Chris Markey who, in the last three weeks, has been productive in finding the holes and getting into the secondary.  Kahlil Bell, the back-up tailback, had a thigh bruise this week and had limited action in practice, so you might expect to see more of true freshman running back Chane Moline, who scored two goal-line touchdowns last week against Stanford.

UCLA, though, could be the type of offense that could do damage against Arizona's defense, better at grinding out small gains on the ground than going over the top, where it would run up against the defense's strength in its secondary.

UCLA tight end Logan Paulsen.

UCLA's offense has obviously shortened up some, when its leading receiver is its tight end, sophomore Logan Paulsen, who has 10 catches on the season. He and fellow sophomore tight end Ryan Moya had four catches apiece last week against Stanford, more than all of the Bruin wide receivers combined.  UCLA keeps saying it needs to get its receivers more involved, but Junior Taylor has just eight catches on the season, Marcus Everett eight and Brandon Breazell nine. 

Advantage: UCLA.  Arizona should have the advantage, since UCLA's offense has been struggling, but the Wildcats just haven't been as productive defensively in their first five games as you might have anticipated. 

The key here will be if UCLA can run the ball or not. If they can, and then occasionally throw down the field to keep the defense honest, Arizona's defense will be on the field too much and tire out. If UCLA can't run the ball, Arizona will be able to then pressure Ben Olson and try to take away UCLA's passing game also.  With Arizona's secondary, it's definitely going to be a case of Arizona trying to make Olson beat them, since the passing game hasn't exactly looked scary since the Utah game.

All in all, it's a pretty good match-up. It's easy to see Arizona's defense getting the better of UCLA's out-of-sync offense, or UCLA being able to run and thus control the line of scrimmage and the game.

Special teams very well could play a big factor.  UCLA has yet to go through a game without some kind of punt return mishap.  Its punter, Aaron Perez, isn't hitting his punts well, and giving opposing offenses generally pretty good field position. On the other hand, Arizona has one of the best punters in the country in Nick Folk, who is averaging 45 yards per punt and has been a big weapon for the Wildcats.  Hopefully one of Folk's bombs will set up a return by freshman return man Terrence Austin.  UCLA will probably rely again on national field goal leader Justin Medlock for a big portion of its scoring.


It's been generally believed that Arizona has been recruiting well since Stoop took over three years ago, and you can say that's pretty much true, but the Wildcats have lost a good amount of talent to players leaving the program, injuries, academics and just plainly some not developing.  Most people close to the Arizona program feel the talent level is not near where it needs to be, and what they expected it to be in Stoops' third year.  

Stoops has put together probably the best two 3-8 seasons you could imagine, being in just about every one of those 16 losses.  He's been doing it with a sound defense, a bit more talent and a new attitude. It could be, however, that the sentiment of a new coach coming in, the one that creates that new attitude, is starting to wear off, and Arizona is left with its mediocre talent. Last week against Washington, in a match-up against two evenly matched but not very talented teams, Washington was clearly the team with the intangibles and emotion, while Arizona looked mentally soft. 

This has also been apparent in some very sloppy play this season, with dropped passes, inopportune penalties and blown assignments. 

The Arizona players had some team meeting this week, trying to rally the troops and get the spirit back into the program. UCLA, though, could definitely have the edge in terms of emotion; while they haven't admitted it this week publicly, there is a huge revenge factor for UCLA, wanting to pay back the Wildcats for the embarrassment a year ago.

The game will probably be won or lost over two issues: Whether UCLA's offense can run the ball, and not have to rely on its passing game, and if Arizona's offense can actually stay on the field and not allow UCLA's defense many three-and-outs.  UCLA's defense is the best in third-down conversion defense in the country, and Arizona's offense is dead last in the Pac-10 in third-down conversions.

UCLA  20
Arizona  13

Bruin Report Online Top Stories