UCLA vs. Arizona: A look at the issues and matchups
Repeated mediocre seasons result in demands for coaching changes. So when UCLA plays 15th-ranked Arizona on Saturday, Coach Rick Neuheisel can look across the field and take solace that Wildcats Coach Mike Stoops is still around. A 17-29 record in Stoops’ first four seasons had the hot water boiling in Tucson. Consecutive 8-5 seasons quieted things down. Staff writer Chris Foster looks at the game’s key issues and matchups:
What’s the rush?
UCLA’s Richard Brehaut is making the third start of his career — behind an offensive line that has been an open gate at times when it comes to pass blocking.
Arizona is seventh in the nation in run defense and second in sacks, led by defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed.
UCLA will need to keep Elmore and Reed from doing a tag-team number on Brehaut. That means three things have to happen that didn’t always occur in the Bruins’ last game, a 60-13 loss at Oregon:
Receivers have to run the right route; the line can’t crumble; and Brehaut has to get rid of the ball on time.
UCLA trailed Oregon, 15-0, at the end of the first quarter. The Bruins trailed California, 14-0, at the end of the first quarter.
Someone — Neuheisel? — needs to set the alarm clock and not let the Bruins hit the snooze button. The “pistol” offense — the Bruins’ version, anyway — functions poorly when trying to come from behind.
Arizona, on the other hand, has wasted little time. The Wildcats have outscored opponents, 102-41, in the first half.
UCLA had five second-half rallies to win games in 2005. Since then, the Bruins are 7-19 when trailing at halftime.
The Bruins don’t know who will be guiding Arizona’s offense.
Starting quarterback Nick Foles dislocated a kneecap two weeks ago, but he practiced all week. His NFL-type skills carved up UCLA in a 27-13 victory last season.
The more mobile Matt Scott is expected to start. He stepped in last week and completed 18 of 22 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-14 victory over Washington. He also had 65 yards rushing and, discounting one sack, his six other carries resulted in first downs.
Arizona could throw both at UCLA, keeping an already-staggering Bruins defense off-balance. UCLA has given up 969 yards in the last two games.
Three consecutive top-15 recruiting classes and the Bruins still seem to have all the depth of a kiddie pool.
UCLA is down to two quarterbacks and three cornerbacks who are on scholarship. They have only four scholarship wide receivers and two offensive tackles available for this game.
The injured/not available list includes six starters.
Meanwhile, Arizona appears to be on solid footing. The Wildcats lose Foles, Scott carries on ... and on. They lose defensive tackle Justin Washington and Sione Tuihalamaka plugs the hole against Washington. They lose cornerback Trevin Wade and Shaquille Richardson steps in and intercepts two passes against Washington State.
UCLA needs to win this game and next week’s at the Rose Bowl against Oregon State. Lose just one of those and the Bruins will need to win two of their last three — at Washington, at Arizona State and home against USC — to be bowl-eligible. Lose them both and it will be time to consider what coaching staff changes may be coming.
Arizona needs this game because the road to what would be its first Rose Bowl game doesn’t get any easier. The Wildcats’ next three are at No. 1 Oregon, at No. 13 Stanford and at home against No. 24 USC.