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Spaulding Roundup: Expecting The Bruin Defense To Be Under Siege In Arizona

Earlier this season leading up to both of our road games I wrote how the pressure was mostly on the opposing coaches (Kiffin and Harbaugh). I am not sure if that dynamic is going to be in play tomorrow in Arizona. Mike Stoops fresh off a bowl victory and 8 win season, seems to be humming along this year in Arizona towards another bowl season. After somewhat of a slow start this year (on offense) he (thanks to Sonny Dykes' spread scheme) seems to have put together the most explosive offense in the Pac-10. So I don't think there is going to be any sense of pressure on Stoops or the Arizona program.

If you were to look at the matchup tomorrow, I don't see any angle that is favorable to UCLA. This has the marking of one of those games during which Bruins have gotten humiliated and embarrassed in their recent history. I am fully bracing for a destruction in the mold of the humiliating losses against Oregon State in 99 and the epic meltdown against Arizona in 05. From what I have read so far this looks like a bad matchup for UCLA defense, which I think is going to be under siege and under relentless attack all day tomorrow from Foles and co.

The LA Times has a report on the preparation of Bruin defense as they get ready to take on the best offense of the conference (ranked 14th in the country):

"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.

We will see whether the extra tackling drills paid off and whether the coaches have done a better job of preparing our guys so that they can find themselves in best positions to make plays tomorrow. BTW, I think it's interesting how the Arizona coaches are indicating that Foles wasn't starting from the get go because he wasn't necessarily having great practices when he transferred over from MSU. Just goes with the theory of some atheletes are better gamers than practice players. Something to keep in mind while we have the Brehaut/Prince story unfolding in the coming weeks/months.

Going back to our defense, I think the key is going to not let Foles get comfortable. I hope Coach Bullough doesn't have the defense sit back in their base D to start the game and let Foles pick them apart with their short passing game, letting them kill our defense with thousand cuts. Again, not asking that he will need to come out with a dramatically different scheme. However, it would be nice if we see some different looks here and there, throwing the Wildcats a little off guard, and sending in pressure from places they are not expecting. More on that topic and other notes after the jump.

Their OL have done a great job of protecting Foles all season giving up. Interestingly it's an OL that has gone through a number of lineup shakeups throughout the whole season. According to Ryan Finley in the Arizona Daily Star, the Wildcats have had to throw out "more than a half-dozen different lineup combinations through its first six games." The results speak for themselves as the Wildcats feature the most explosive offense in the Pac-10, while allowing its QB to get sacked on only 4 occasions (pretty amazing number).

"They've been a really solid group for us," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "They're fundamentally very sound. We've seen a ton of blitzes, and they've picked them all up for the most part."

Just two starters, center Colin Baxter and right tackle Adam Grant, have started every game at their rightful positions. Injuries and illness have forced the rest of the line to shuffle each week.

The versatile Hall moved to right guard after Vaughn Dotsy suffered a concussion in Week 2, then shifted to left guard last week when Diaz got sick. Hall has also played tight end in running sets.

Diaz started the season at left tackle but moved to left guard when starter Conan Amituanai tore knee ligaments against Washington in Week 5.

Phil Garcia, fully recovered from two knee surgeries, came off the bench against Oregon State in Week 4, and started at left tackle. Blake Kerley, the Wildcats starting center for the first half of the 2008 season, entered Saturday's game as a guard in a goal-line package.

Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said he's never been around a deeper group.
As mentioned up top, this OL has only given up 4 sacks. They are only getting better and now the Arizona offense looks potentially even more explosive given the fact that they just got back their starting RB Grigsby, who is another one of those small explosive backs that tend to present matchup nightmares for overly aggressive Bruin D. Grigsby is averaging more than 8 yards per carry and was the key difference in Arizona's shootout win against Stanford, when he darted out for 50+ yard TD run with less than 3 mins left in the game. Grigsby has capable backups in freshman Greg Nwoko (a big 6-6, 220 back from Texas) and Keola Antolin, both of who averaging over 4.5 ypc every time they rush the ball.

In other words, this offensive line has anchored an extremely balanced Arizona offense which is going to come at the Bruin defense from all directions. I am not seeing any potential weak points in their lineup. The only way I can see the Bruin defense having a shot is if they are somehow able to disrupt the rhyhm of Nick Foles early on, who at least statistically hasn't taken on the caliber of Bruin pass defense until this season. However, after how our DBs (including ATV) was burned by Kevin Riley last weekend, I am not seeing a lot of signs of hope from that crew as well. Perhaps they will show a dramatic turnaround and come out with a sense of moxy and confidence (while playing disciplined and smart football) we haven't seen Tennessee. Having a hard time being optimistic about our chances at this point for obvious reasons given what we have seen in recent weeks.

Perhaps it will be our offense that will continue to build on the baby step (forward) from last weekend and keep their offense off the field. CRN as usual struck positives notes in a mid-season report article in the OC Register:

"I feel like our offense is continuing to progress and I'm always continuing to get more comfortable," Prince said. "The more reps you get, the more comfortable you get. I feel like we're slowly progressing and that's a positive."

One thing that is important for the Bruins, as they work their way into the second half of the season, is that they have not given up on themselves. Their goal is to win enough games to play in a bowl game this season and they're essentially halfway there.

"I'm not pressing the panic button even though I know there are a lot of naysayers who would like me to," Neuheisel said earlier this week. "That doesn't mean we're not going to practice with great urgency and it doesn't mean we're not going to keep focusing on details.

"I understand people would like it to happen immediately, in a quicker time period. All I know is I believe in the course we're on."

Well I am hoping we will see some signs of hope on Saturday. Again, don't care much for moral victories and I will certainly not be celebrating if the Bruins don't get humiliated (that would be pathetic). However, I'd like to see our offense come out with a mindset in which they are in a relentless attack mode, not settling for FGs, and sending their defensive team-mates a clear signal that they are going to do what they can to have their backs in the desert. I am not sure if it will be enough to break the expected siege but offensive production might be the only chance we have tomorrow to break through with an improbable win.