-- UCLA travels to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats Saturday at 12:30. The game will be televised by ABC, with Dan Fouts, Tim Brant and Todd Harris calling the action.
-- UCLA is 5-3, and 4-1 in the Pac-10. UCLA has lost two of its last three, losing to teams they were favored to beat – Notre Dame and Washington State. In between, they sandwiched in an upset of then-#9-ranked California.
-- Arizona is 3-6 and 2-4 in the Pac-10. The Wildcats lost to BYU, New Mexico, Cal, Oregon State, USC, and Stanford, while beating Northern Arizona, Washington State and, last week, Washington in Seattle, 48-41.
-- The Bruins lead the all-time series, which dates back to 1927, by a 19-10-2 margin.
-- UCLA has won five of the last six meetings between the schools, including a 27-7 win over the Wildcats at the Rose Bowl last year.
-- The Wildcats, however, are responsible for one of the most disappointing losses in the Karl Dorrell era. In 2005, an 8-0 UCLA team, ranked #7 in the country, got blown out in Tucson, 52-14.
-- In the last 20 years, UCLA is 5-5 against Arizona in Tucson.
-- Arizona is coached by Mike Stoops, who is in his fourth year with the Wildcats, with an overall record of 15-28. After two 3-8 seasons in 2004 and 2005, Stoops had his best year at Arizona last season when he finished 6-6 overall and 5th in the Pac-10, so Arizona fans' expectations were raised for this season, since the team was returning 19 starters. Stoops came to Arizona from Oklahoma where he was the defensive coordinator under his brother, Bob Stoops. So, obviously, he's known as a defensive-minded coach. He also has a reputation as being a sometime hothead on the sidelines.
-- For UCLA's Karl Dorrell, the 2007 season, which was supposed to be "the" year, hasn't turned out as expected so far. There is talk among the UCLA community that Dorrell is on the hot seat.
-- Arizona is coming off its biggest win of the season. Last week, on the road in Seattle, the Wildcats beat the Huskies, 48-41. UCLA, on the other hand, is coming off a very disappointing loss, on the road to Washington State, 27-7.
-- In that game against Washington last week, Arizona scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the most by an Arizona team in the fourth quarter in 11 seasons. Arizona, at different times in the game, was down 14-7, 28-14 and 41-26.
-- While Mike Stoops' overall winning percentage is just 36%, that percentage improves drastically in the latter half of the season. In the second half of his first three seasons, Stoops is 8-8.
-- In November, Stoops is 6-4.
-- Stoops is particularly effective against ranked teams in November, having beaten #18 Arizona State in 2004, #7 UCLA in 2005 and #25 Washington State and #8 Cal last season.
-- While Karl Dorrell's overall record is 34-24, his won/loss record gets considerably worse post-October. In games played after Halloween, Dorrell is 7-12. He is 3-9 in games after October that were played either on the road or at neutral sites.
-- It's homecoming weekend for Arizona, which bodes well for them. In its last two homecoming games, the Wildcats, in 2006, beat #8-ranked Cal, and in 2005 beat #7-ranked UCLA. Arizona has played UCLA five times for homecoming in its history, with a record of 3-2.
-- The weather forecast calls for a warm day on Saturday, with the high temperature of 87 degrees.
The full preview of the Arizona game will be published on Friday.
ARIZONA'S OFFENSE V UCLA DEFENSE
This is Washington State's offense against UCLA's defense all over again.
On the road, against a spread-type offense, against a quarterback on his game.
And there probably isn't a quarterback in the conference who is more on his game than Arizona' Willie Tuitama (JR, 6-3 220). He was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week while setting a school passing record for one game, throwing for 510 yards against Washington, along with five touchdown passes. He leads the league in passing yards (311 per game), beating out WSU's Alex Brink (293). It's a season where Tuitama is truly coming into his own, and emerging as one of the best in the conference. He's showed steady improvement since being at Arizona, but this year his decision-making has vastly improved, throwing 21 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions.
Because of Tuitama, Arizona has the #1 passing offense in the conference (313 yards per game), while Washington State is #2 (296).
The similarities continue between Arizona and Washington State, with the fact that neither offense runs the ball very well. Arizona is the worst running team in the league, averaging just 77 yards per game, and just 2.9 yards per carry.
Arizona does have a young running back they're high on in Nic Grigsby (FR, 5-10, 178), who has looked very good against poor defenses and has generally been kept under wraps against good defenses. He shows flashes of brilliance, with very good quickness. Chris Jennings (SR, 5-10, 218) was slated to be the starter in the off-season, but got beat out by Grigsby, and he still gets a good share of work, both carrying the ball and catching it out of the backfield.
Receiver Mike Thomas.
Tuitama has gotten it done because he's has some very good wide receivers to throw to, including the guy leading the Pac-10 in receptions (63), Mike Thomas (JR, 58-195). Thomas is one of those enigmas - seemingly too small to be consistently effective, he has overcome his lack of height and uses it actually to his advantage, to slip through coverage and find seams. Terrell Turner (SO, 6-2, 190) offers the size, and he's had a huge season himself, with 37 receptions. Then there are a host of guys who all have 20 receptions on the season or more. In other words, Tuitama spreads the wealth, including to his running backs, with Grigsy having 23 receptions himself.
Freshman tight end Rob Gronkowski (FR, 6-6, 250) has emerged as a real talent, leading an Arizona group of tight ends responsible for 21 receptions collectively this season. Last week against Arizona, Gronkowski had one of the best highlights of the game, when he caught a short pass from Tuitama and them rumbled 57 yards for a touchdown, shedding many would-be tacklers on the way.
What has been really a key for Arizona is that they've stayed relatively injury free, especially on the offensive line. It's been a bit of a transition for Arizona's OL, going to a new spread in the off-season, spending most of their time in pass protection this season, and they've definitely benefitted by having continuity up front, with four returning starters staying healthy. Peter Graniello (SR, 6-5, 310) is the veteran who protects Tuitama's blind side. Arizona has given up a good share of sacks this season (22), but that's a relatively small number when you're throwing the ball at least 50 times her game.
UCLA's defense is still banged up some, even though they get back their leader, middle linebacker Christian Taylor, who didn't play last week due to a pretty serious concussion suffered in the Cal game. Other than Taylor, the personnel situation for UCLA's defense is about the same, with the Bruins still piecing together their defensive line, still missing two starters in tackle Brigham Harwell and end Nikola Dragovic. True freshman Brian Price has elevated himself to the top of the depth chart in place of Harwell, and it's a testament to how talented Price is, but also how UCLA just doesn't have anyone else there. Veteran back-up Jess Ward is out, as is Chase Moline. Jerzy Siewierski will sub in, but he's still a bit banged up himself, leaving veteran Kevin Brown pretty much on an island having to defend the middle of UCLA's defensive line.
Advantage: Arizona. It's Cougar <i>De Ja Vu.</i> The one big difference is that you shouldn't expect Arizona to go to its rushing game as much as Washington State did. Expect Arizona to rely on its passing game and then hope that it can get some yards on the ground to complement it.
UCLA's nickel D got worked against Washington State and, unless it can miraculously turn it around in a week, you'd have to think it will be just as vulnerable against Arizona. Getting back Taylor will help, but going consistently with two linebackers really puts the Bruins at a disadvantage. It takes UCLA out of its aggressive defensive style, with less blitzing, and puts it back on its heels. There's the theory that UCLA could do the bend-and-not-break that it did against Washington State, but sooner or later it's going to break.
Arizona, in its new spread offense, uses multiple sets. It can come out with four wide receivers, but it can still utilize a two-back formation at times. In the off-season, Arizona studied Texas Tech's pass-happy offense, and it look pretty similar to it this season. Tuitama will throw the ball probably 70% of the time, and most of the time out of the shotgun. It's the type of offense that UCLA has, under Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker, shown some consider vulnerability against, and this week you have a quarterback who's really feeling it. UCLA also hasn't done well against good quarterbacks on the road.
UCLA OFFENSE V. ARIZONA DEFENSE
The similarities between the UCLA-Washington State game and the UCLA-Arizona game end with this match-up. Arizona actually has a better defense. It's a very frightening concept to consider when comparing the two opponents - that the Washington State defense that completely shut down the UCLA offense last week isn't near as good as Arizona's defense.
Admittedly, Arizona's defense has had some pretty big lapses this season. Last week it allowed Washington to roll up 572 total yards and score 41 points.
The Wildcat D, though, isn't one that is particular worse at the run or the pass, but pretty decent at both.
The featured player is NFL-bound cornerback Antoine Cason (SR, 6-1, 185), who many experts consider one of the clearest future pros in the Pac-10. Cason hasn't let up in his senior season, having four interceptions and 57 tackles while most teams have tried not to go his way. Opposing offenses have tried to go after Wilrey Fontenot (SR, 5-9, 174), but Fontenot is pretty good himself. A few weeks ago, it was thought Arizona's secondary would take a hit when starting safety Dominic Patrick (SR, 6-1, 210) suffered a torn ACL, but the Wildcats have been happy with the play of Nate Ness (JR, 6-1, 190). Patrick still plays but on a limited basis. The other safety, Cam Nelson (SO, 6-1, 200) is also having a good year.
Arizona's front seven are big and physical, and led by Will linebacker Spencer Larsen (SR, 6-1, 240), who leads the Pac-10 with 92 tackles. Larsen has especially turned it up in the last three weeks, with three straight games of 10 or more tackles. Ronnie Palmer (JR, 6-3, 245) at middle linebacker and Dane Krogstad (SR, 6-2, 240) at the Sam complete a very good, experienced linebacker threesome. The thing about Arizona's linebackers are their size, averaging more than 240 pounds between the three of them.
Up front, defensive tackle Lionel Dotson (SR, 6-4, 286) might be having an all-conference type of year. He has 39 tackles so far this season and is on a pace to easily break the record for the most tackles by an Arizona defensive tackle. He's also had 5.5 sacks. Louis Holmes (SR, 6-6, 265) is the JC transfer who was considered a top talent when he came to Tucson a year ago, and he's having a good senior season.
The Arizona D will see a UCLA offense that you can easily say is struggling. Last week, against a poor Washington State defense, UCLA gained just 267 yards. The Bruins are eighth in the Pac-10 in offense, and 97th in the country in passing efficiency. Perhaps the worst offensive statistic is a third-down conversion percentage of just 36%.
They've had bad execution, penalties, blown plays and assignments, untimely breakdowns, badly thrown passes and badly dropped passes. And in this offense, which works to dink-and-dunk its way down the field, all it takes is one mistake to send it off track.
It also is a bit banged up. It's lost its best running back, Kahlil Bell, for the season. The other running back, Chris Markey, probably isn't 100% recovered from his turf toe. Quarterback Patrick Cowan is definitely not 100% recovered from his knee injury, and the unit's best receiver, Brandon Breazell, came out of last week's game with a rib contusion and has been in a red, no-hit jersey all week in practice. With its depth at receiver depleted, UCLA has been forced to use some receivers, like Ryan Graves and Jamil Turner, that you never thought would see the field this season.
There aren't too many indicators that bode well for UCLA. Perhaps UCLA fans can get some hope out of the fact that Cowan is getting around far better this week, compared to last week when he didn't practice leading up to the Washington State game. Even if he isn't considerably better physically it should help that he practiced, at least.
Advantage: Arizona. UCLA's offense is a mess right now. Not only is it a scheme that has yet to prove itself under Dorrell, the game plans this season haven't seemed to take advantage of whatever strength UCLA's offense had against the opposing defense. So, there isn't a lot of confidence there. And, as listed above, the offense is operating with many of its skill guys either out or hampered by injury. If UCLA's offense did, actually, put together a good game against Arizona's defense this week it would be a heroic effort.
Arizona generally has solid special teams. The Wildcats have been pleasantly surprised by new punter Keeyn Crier (R-FR, 6-1, 180), who leads the Pac-10 with an average of 44.7 yards per punt and is ninth nationally. He has been particularly adept at placing punts within the opponent's 20. Arizona's field goal kicker, Jason Bondzio ((JR, 5-9, 170) is having a good year, being 16 of 20 on field goals, and hitting 6 of 6 between 40 and 49 yards.
We are 3-5 on the season in our predictions, which is easily the worst year in memory. It's not so much that we've been off in reading the match-ups, but UCLA has been notoriously unpredictable this season, losing to Utah and Notre Dame, but beating Cal.
Probably the biggest factor in determining who wins this game is trying to get a grasp on whether UCLA has some fight left in it for the season, or whether it's packed it in. The loss at Washington State last weekend was substantial, and it will be interesting to see if the Bruins can rebound mentally or if it was the beginning of the latter-half-of-the-season slide.
If you look at the match-ups on paper, Arizona has a clear advantage. UCLA's offense is out of sync and injured. UCLA's defense is particularly injured and going up against another effective spread offense with a very effective quarterback. It's a road game, post-October, which doesn't bode well for UCLA under Dorrell, being 3-9 in those types of games during his tenure.
The UCLA defense has been holding the program together for far too long, and has been on the field far too long and must be tired, and, with the injuries, this is the week the dam finally breaks.
So, really, the biggest factor UCLA has going for it this week against Arizona is if we pick the Bruins to lose.