-- UCLA (6-3, 3-2) will face Arizona (3-6, 0-5) Saturday, making it the 19th meeting in their history. UCLA leads the series 15-9-2, but the teams are 6-6 in the last twelve meetings. UCLA won last year's meeting in Tucson, 27-24.
-- Arizona, after winning two of its first three games of the season, has lost five in a row.
-- John Mackovic is in his second year as Arizona's head coach and has a record of 8-12 while at the school. He is considered to be on the hot seat.
-- The one time Mackovic has faced UCLA was in 1997 when he was the head coach at Texas. UCLA won that game 66-3. That game started UCLA's 20-game winning streak that spanned over 1997 and 1998.
-- Arizona's Bobby Wade is averaging 13.57 yards per punt return, which is 24th in the nation.
-- Arizona is last in the conference in scoring offense, rushing offense, rushing defense, total offense, third-down conversions, sacks by, and sacks against. They are second-to-last in the conference in total defense.
-- UCLA defensive end Dave Ball's 10 sacks so far this season ranks him sixth on UCLA's single season list. Carnell Lake is the season record-holder with 13.
-- UCLA tight end Mike Seidman leads the nation in passing yards per game for tight ends, averaging 57.78 yards. His 520 yards for the season rank him #2 on UCLA's tight end single-season yardage list, second only to Paul Bergmann's 577 yards in 1982. His 31 receptions rank him fifth among tight ends for a season, which Bergmann's season record being 44 catches in 1983.
-- Since taking over the field goal kicking duties, Nate Fikse is 7 for 7.
-- Tyler Ebell is the first freshman in UCLA history to rush for at least 100 yards in five games. He holds the school freshman rushing record, having gained 734 yards so far this year.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA'S DEFENSE
This one isn't hard to analyze: UCLA has a freshman quarterback that they don't want to have to throw the ball too much. If there's strength to Arizona's defense, it's their passing defense. UCLA has a good running game, fourth in the Pac-10, and Arizona's rushing defense is dead last in the conference.
I think UCLA might run the ball quite a bit.
Arizona's defense is what they call a "double-eagle flex," the same scheme that they've used for years that produced many of those good Arizona defenses in the ‘90s. It's a gap-control, pressure-style that, this year, hasn't been successful in doing either.
There isn't much Arizona's been able to do against defending the run. Last week they gave 193 yards on the ground to Oregon State. Oregon gained 188 yards on the ground against them. Stanford – 175. Those teams, along with UCLA, are the top four rushing teams in the conference. Arizona knows it needs to stop the run, they've tried different little gimmicks against it, even stacked the box more at times. But they just simply haven't been very successful. It's a bit curious, too, since Arizona has some talent up front, led by defensive end Joe Siofele. He's pretty quick, has a good explosion off the ball, which leads to him getting into the opponents backfield quite often. Siofele started at linebacker last season, but has had to plug in at defensive end because of injuries, and has done well.
The star of Arizona's defense is definitely linebacker Lance Briggs (pictured at right). Briggs has amassed 71 tackles for the season, even after missing one game, and eight tackles for a loss. An all Pac-10 pick from a season ago and on many pre-season All-American lists, Briggs is considered by many NFL scouts as one of the best prospects in the Pac-10.
Next to him is a pretty decent backer in senior Ray Wells, but after that, the Wildcats are pretty young at the linebacker positions. They've also been nicked up throughout the season and shifting players between positions to make up for it. While Briggs is good, and Wells is solid, the Arizona linebackers have been exploited in the running game this year.
Arizona has also been hampered by injury in their secondary. Two veteran defensive backs – cornerback Michael Jolivette and safety Jarvie Worcester – have been injured and are doubtful for Saturday's game. Stepping in at safety for Worcester has been a true freshman, Lamon Means, to go along with a redshirt freshman, Darrell Brooks, at cornerback, making Arizona's secondary fairly young and inexperienced. Junior strong safety Clay Hardt has stepped up and played pretty well.
But given that Arizona can't defend against the run well and is pretty decent defending the pass, there's not much reason for UCLA to put the ball in the air unnecessarily. Tyler Ebell is proving that he isn't a fluke, running for 100 yards in five successive games. With UCLA's offensive line – led by Arizonan Mike Saffer – really gelling better in the last couple of weeks – Ebell looks to get loose on the Arizona defense. The good backs in the Pac-10 that have played Arizona have put up good rushing numbers and you'd expect Ebell to do the same. It's not good news for Arizona that UCLA's battering ram, Manuel White, returns to action this week. He not only gives UCLA the short-yardage back it needs, but gives UCLA more opportunity to throw to its running backs out of the backfield, which is a good option to have with a freshman quarterback. UCLA, with a freshman quarterback on the road, was able to mount a solid rushing game last week against Washington, a strong rushing defense, so it's pretty natural to assume that they'd do even better against Arizona, the worst rushing defense in the Pac-10.
Arizona will dedicate more manpower to stopping UCLA from running, and make young quarterback Drew Olson (pictured at left) have to beat them through the air. For UCLA to roll up a big win, Olson will have to be efficient in executing the position, making the short, high-percentage throws needed to keep drives moving. He missed on many of those last week at Washington, but after a very good week in practice, he should be able to improve this week against Arizona. Especially since UCLA has been doing a better job of protecting its quarterback as of late, and Arizona is not good at rushing the quarterback anyway. While UCLA will most certainly be stubborn in its running game, look for the pretty well-devised passing game plan that we've seen in the last two weeks to continue this week against Arizona. Also, Coach Toledo has said that Matt Moore will definitely make an appearance.
Watch for true freshman receiver Junior Taylor to get on the field more, which is fitting since he's returning home to the state of Arizona. Taylor replaces injured Ryan Smith as the #3 receiver on the depth chart.
Advantage: UCLA. It's not a good matchup for Arizona. With a defense that's not good against the run, you really don't want to face an offense like UCLA's – one that's really starting to gel on the ground. UCLA, though, will probably have to pass to sustain drives since Arizona will be geared to stopping UCLA's running game. But you can probably expect UCLA's freshmen quarterbacks to combine for their best outing yet to date. The two haven't thrown an interception yet, so it would seem overdue that one would be coming soon. Arizona, too, has been good at getting points out of its defense, so maybe watch for some Arizona points that way. But UCLA's offense is building confidence, and its young quarterbacks continue to get comfortable, along with a very good running game. Arizona's defense would be just about what the UCLA coaches would wish for in getting its offense tuned up further for USC and Washington State.
ARIZONA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
This is where the game is very lopsided. UCLA's defense is playing really well, and Arizona's offense is in the tank. UCLA is third in total defense in the league, while Arizona is last in total offense.
Arizona's offense has been hurt pretty badly by injuries, particularly to its offensive line. It lost two starting offensive linemen before the season to injuries, and has been a patchwork ever since. The center and right side of its line is made up of two sophomores and a true freshman, , with two true freshman backing up those players, one of those being John Parada from Alta Loma High.
You couple this with probably the most devastating injury to happen to the team – a season-ending knee injury to starting tailback Clarence Farmer – and you can understand why the Wildcat running game is miserable. Farmer has been replaced by two freshmen, Mike Bell and Beau Carr, but he's hard to replace, having led the Pac-10 in rushing a season ago.
The Arizona running game is so bad (how bad is it?), that they've averaged 0.3 yards per rush in the Pac-10 this year. That's one-third of one yard per rush. That's a foot. The Wildcats are averaging 50.8 rushing yards per game for the season, last among the 117 teams in Division I. In fact, Arizona hasn't posted positive rushing yards in a game three weeks (minus 23 last week against Oregon State and -17 against Washington State the week before). This makes Washington's running game that UCLA faced last week look impressive.
In fact, Washington's offense is very, very similar to Arizona's. No running game, and a decent passing game, that is probably only decent because it has a good receiver, an okay quarterback, and nothing else to do but throw the ball.
The best offensive player for Arizona is wide receiver Bobby Wade (pictured above), who leads the conference in receptions per game (7.8), receiving yards per game (108.2) and all-purpose yards (156.7). He's similar to Washington's Reggie Williams; you can hope to contain him but you can't really stop him. And actually the best way to contain him is for the opposing defense to own the line of scrimmage, make Arizona go three and out and keep him off the field, like OSU did last week when they held him to a season-low 4 receptions for 34 yards.
Arizona's quarterback, Jason Johnson, is a solid passer. Arizona's passing game is the #22-ranked passing offense in the country but, again, it's similar to Washington in that it has to be since they can't run the ball at all. Johnson is setting Arizona passing records in much the same way that Pickett is at Washington. Johnson is a bit more accurate of a passer, but not the athlete that Pickett is. He's also very prone to pressure, not really a great scrambler. In the last three weeks, he's been sacked 19 times and thrown five interceptions. UCLA, on the other hand, is mounting the best pass rush it has in years, led by emerging star, Dave Ball. But it's also a result of much of the blitzes and pressure being sent by Phil Snow's schemes. Hasn't it been fun watching UCLA's defense turn into a pressuring, aggressive, blitzing defense this season?
One player to definitely keep tabs on for UCLA this week is Jarrad Page. Page, the true freshman safety, is coming off the best game of his young career at Washington. He had a career-high eight tackles and made his first career interception. Page looks to be getting better and better every week.
But while it's fun to get excited about the emerging young stars on UCLA's defense, it's not hard to cite the excellent play of its veteran stars, like Ricky Manning (pictured at left). Manning is putting together a great senior year, coming off a series of the last three or four games that might be the best stretch of his career. He'll get the assignment to cover Wade much of the time, and it should be a great battle of the two team's most talented veterans.
Advantage: UCLA. The Bruins will dominate Arizona through its front seven. It would be shocking if Arizona could suddenly run the ball well. It would be shocking if UCLA, suddenly, didn't pressure the quarterback. While all the matchups here are in UCLA's favor, there's even one more that could be huge for the Bruins. Arizona's offense tends to turn the ball over, and UCLA's defense tends to force turnovers. Just in the matchups UCLA should dominate this game, but UCLA could get even more points from Arizona turnovers.
PREDICTION: It's difficult to predict anything but a UCLA win. The only thing that would lead you to temper that would be how tough the Wildcats played Washington State two weeks ago in Tucson. They also played Oregon fairly tough at home for a couple of quarters before relenting. But Arizona, at 0-5 in the conference, heading toward a losing season, injured, with a head coach under fire, just doesn't have much to inspire a win here. The fact that it's at Tucson and UCLA's offense is still under wraps due to freshmen quarterbacks will keep this from being a complete rout.