Pass defense will be tested

UCLA’s defense has spent much of the last three Saturdays chasing around opposing running backs and not catching them. Against Arizona, the Bruins will have something else thrown at them . . . literally.

The Wildcats appear to have hit their Sonny Dykes’ stride with the passing game. Since Nick Foles took over at quarterback, the Wildcats have been executing Dykes’ spread offense “on all cylinders,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

Foles has passed for 1,097 yards and eight touchdowns in three weeks since taking over as the starter following a 27-17 loss to seventh-ranked Iowa. That includes 415 yards in a 43-38 victory over against Stanford last week, when he completed 40 of 51 passes.

Despite a meandering start, Arizona ranks 14th nationally in total offense.

“This is probably the best group of receivers we’ll see all year,” UCLA free safety Rahim Moore said. “The quarterback is putting up big numbers. . . . This is a big challenge. It is going to determine how much we love football and how much we want to win.”


Foles, a transfer from Michigan State, initially played behind sophomore Matt Scott.

“Nick was a little behind schematically,” Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said. “He was not able to be as free as he can” during training camp. In the end, Stoops said, “We based the decision more on Matt’s athleticism.”

That changed after the Iowa game. The Wildcats (4-2 overall, 2-1 in Pacific 10 Conference play) had only 501 yards passing the first three games -- and more than doubled that in three games since.

For the Bruins (3-3, 0-3), defense hasn’t been their strong suit. They have given up an average of 228 yards rushing in losses to Stanford, Oregon and California. Extra tackling drills were part of practice this week.

“We got to get back to taking better angles to the ball, and also just playing fundamentally sound and disciplined,” Moore said.


Depth chart

Nick Ekbatani will start at right guard instead of Stan Hasiak, Neuheisel said. Ekbatani left Wednesday’s practice because of what Neuheisel called “a tweak” in his left knee, but the coach said Ekbatani looked “fine” on Thursday.

Hasiak sprained his right ankle last week, and Neuheisel described it as “gimpy.”

After cracking his right fibula in the Bruins’ season opener against San Diego State, freshman cornerback Aaron Hester will make the trip with the team this weekend, Neuheisel said. But he said Hester’s ability to play would be a game-time decision.

Hester, who was cleared this week to practice, is competing for the starting spot with Sheldon Price, a freshman from La Puente Bishop Amat High.


Quick hits

Sophomore reserve tight end Nate Chandler and freshman scout-team tackle Nik Abele both had X-rays taken on their necks that were negative, Neuheisel said. They collided in Wednesday’s practice during a kickoff coverage drill.