UCLA football fans know that the Bruins have to be nearly perfect if they want to win the Pac-12 Conference, let alone the South Division. That will be extremely difficult considering the fact that UCLA is in both one of the toughest conferences and divisions in the nation. It also does not start off easy for the Bruins as they play a Pac-12 foe that has always been a challenge, especially when they have to rumble in the desert like they will on September 26.
The Arizona Wildcats
Dec 31, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez talks with his players in the huddle in the first quarter against the Boise State Broncos in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl at Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 4th year
2014 Record: 10-4 overall, 7-2 Pac-12
Ever since Rodriguez arrived in Tucson, he has done nothing but good. Some how, he has turned a team that arguably has had some of the least amount of talent in the Pac-12 (when he started) into contenders.
Example given: last season he beat Oregon (the Duck’s only loss of the regular season), won the South Division (the first time they won the conference/division since 1941) and coached his Wildcats to a 10-win season (the first since 1998). All of that with a freshman quarterback and running back. Impressive.
Though Arizona has given the Bruins a lot of trouble in recent seasons (five wins in a row from 2007-11), the Bruins have had the Wildcat’s number for the last three. In 2012, UCLA won 66-10 in Pasadena. In 2013, UCLA won in Tucson behind a break out Myles Jack game, 31-26. Last year, UCLA topped Arizona at the Rose Bowl, 17-7.
That is good, but this year the game is back in Arizona where UCLA has only won 1 of the last five games, so this will not exactly be a cakewalk. With Arizona on the rise with one of the best Rich Rodriguez-led teams, this will surely be a battle.
The Arizona Offense
Dec 31, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon (12) hands off to running back Nick Wilson (28) during the first half in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl at Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Enter Anu Solomon, a redshirt freshman last year that is the third quarterback to take over in three years under Rodriguez. With not many expectations, Soloman lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Though they got trounced by an Oregon team they beat in Eugene only weeks before, and then had a rough time in a loss against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl (Soloman was sacked on the last play of the bowl with the potential to tie the game), it was something for the young man to learn from.
In his first year behind center, Soloman collected 3,793 yards through the air with 28 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Add to that 291 yard rushing and 2 touchdowns on the ground and he could easily be mistaken for a more experienced QB if you did not know he was a freshman.
Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Cayleb Jones (1) against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the 88th annual territorial cup at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 42-35 to win the Pac-12 south title. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
But Soloman is not the only weapon Arizona has on offense. Sophomore Nick Wilson held his own last year as a fierce, pounding running back. He is strong, smart and has a knack for finding the holes in the line. He finished fourth in the conference with 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. Arizona also balanced that attack with junior wide receiver Cayleb Jones. In a pass-heavy conference, Jones was 8th in the Pac-12 with 72.8 yards per game.
But such a young bunch did not do it alone. Arizona had an experienced line in 2014. Not so much in 2015 as they lose three starters, though retain the services of senior Cayman Bundage. That leads to the big question… will Arizona be better next season? Yes… on offense.
The Arizona Defense
Now to say the Wildcat defense will take a step back is a bit much. Saying if they do not get going early in the season, then they might have trouble later on is not (especially since Arizona has no byes the entire season). Arizona has 12 football games straight through from Sept 3 (which starts the season on a Thursday) to November 21.
And why not? They have someone that snacks on offenses… Scooby Wright III. You know, the Nagurski/Lombardi/Bednarik award winner. He was the best linebacker in the country last year, but now he is a year older and once again looking to reign terror on the Pac-12 offenses.
But does he have enough to back him up? Arizona lost a lot of starters on defense and though they have a lot of young talent, they have other problems they need to fix. The Wildcats were 10th in the conference in total defense (451.0 ypg) and 8th in scoring defense (28.2 ppg). It does not matter who the personnel is, if they cannot slow the Pac-12 teams, there is no way they can succeed.
The UCLA at Arizona Outlook
More from UCLA Bruins Football
- UCLA Football: It’s time for the nation to meet Dante Moore
- UCLA Football: Where are they ranked heading into week 4
- UCLA Football: Position battle breakdown for Utah showdown
- UCLA vs. Utah: Location, time, prediction, and more
- UCLA Football: Highlights from Chip Kelly’s appearance on the Jim Rome Show
Last time the Bruins were in Tucson, they unleashed the two-way beast that is Myles Jack. Though we will endlessly hear about Jack’s performance throughout the telecast, which we do not mind, we expect a more evenly balanced game from both teams.
Ultimately, this might just come down to defense. Does Arizona have enough behind Wright to stop the experienced (except the quarterback) offense of UCLA? Can the UCLA quarterback get things going against AZ? And can the Wildcat offense go through what could be the best defense in the conference?
The Way-Too-Early Prediction
UCLA 21 – Arizona 20