With last week’s upset over USC, Arizona has found itself right in the thick of things when talking about the race for the Pac-12 South. If Oregon can top the Trojans this weekend, the Arizona Wildcats would control their own destiny.
The first step for Arizona in that scenario may be the toughest step for the rest of the season. Arizona will have to go into the Rose Bowl during UCLA’s homecoming weekend and beat the Bruins (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12).
The last time that the Wildcats were in a game that was deemed to be of shootout-quality, Arizona failed to put a single point on the board in a 49-0 loss to Oregon.
Both offenses have shown potent potential, matching up as two of the top three teams in the conference in total offense. Arizona leads the conference with 553.6 yards of total offense per game while UCLA is third with 502.9.
One of the reasons that the Bruins have been so effective offensively is senior running back Johnathan Franklin. He averages 130.2 rushing yards per game and is just 21 yards away from being UCLA’s all-time leading rusher. Franklin didn’t get there overnight and he has been working at it long enough to make him a big problem for Arizona.
The extra ingredient that has made the Bruins so potent on the offensive side of the ball is the emergence of quarterback Brett Hundley. Just a redshirt freshman, he has come up big for the Bruins on countless occasions throughout the season so far. Hundley is second only to Arizona quarterback Matt Scott in total offense numbers in the Pac-12.
The UCLA offense is the most dangerous aspect of the game for the Wildcats. It is likely that Arizona will be able to score, but it has to stop UCLA’s offense enough to give it the advantage.
Looking at UCLA’s defense, the secondary is the biggest weakness. The Bruins are giving up 258.9 yards through the air per game this year and that number will likely go up after playing Arizona. Scott leads the conference in passing yards with 2,724 and it would benefit the Wildcats to test that secondary early.
UCLA’s ground defense is better. Led by linebacker Anthony Barr, the Bruins' rushing defense has been average for the most part of the season. Barr is second in the Pac-12 with eight sacks on the season and should be sent on a few blitzes, trying to pressure Scott. However,the Arizona offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack in two straight games and this is a matchup to watch closely.
The game will come down to how often the Arizona defense can stop the UCLA offense. The Wildcats should score in bunches and put up quite a few points by the end of the night. Arizona has won the last five meetings between the teams and will be looking to make it six straight.
Players to watch:
#17 QB, Brett Hundley – Hundley has been impressive in his first campaign, as he is one of the leaders of the conference in total offense. He has led UCLA to just third in the conference in that category and can make plays and hurt Arizona’s defense with his feet if he’s not contained.
#23 RB, Johnathan Franklin – The senior running back is only yards away from being UCLA’s career leading rusher. Franklin won’t get cute with the ball either, as we expect him to run between the tackles and try to beat Arizona head on.
#11 LB, Anthony Barr – The junior is one player that can make a huge impact on the Bruins’ defense. Barr is one of the best talents in the conference when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Arizona will have to keep an eye on him while protecting Matt Scott.
#1 WR, Shaquelle Evans – While he isn’t in the elite receiver category yet, Evans needs to be watched by all Arizona fans because of the performance that Marqise Lee gave last weekend. The Wildcats’ secondary has some holes and Evans may try to exploit that.
Keys to the game:
1. Contain Franklin: There’s a reason that Johnathan Franklin is closing in on being UCLA’s all-time leading rusher. He is good and the Bruins are able to get him holes to run through. So far this season, Arizona has done a decent job holding running backs in check, but it must do the same against Franklin.
2. Pressure Hundley: With the impressive numbers that Brett Hundley is putting up, it may be easy to forget that he is just a redshirt freshman. However, Hundley will still make his fair share of mistakes. He has thrown eight picks already this season and some pressure from the defensive line could force him to throw a few more.
3. Open up the passing lanes: The Bruins’ secondary is, for lack of a better word, bad. UCLA is giving up over 250 yards through the air per game including 15 passing touchdowns. Matt Scott has had field days against poor pass defenses and there’s no reason he shouldn’t do the same here.
4. Protect Scott: Arizona has now gone two straight games without giving up a sack. If Arizona can continue to give the senior quarterback time to survey the field, it will help Arizona that much more.
5. Stay hungry: Wildcat players have been talking about the mantra “gotta eat” over the past few weeks, showing that they have to stay hungry and fight for every victory. If Arizona can stay hungry with a victory over UCLA, many possibilities open up for the Wildcats.