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UCLA Football Oppo Preview: RichRod's Wildcats

After narrowly beating a poor Colorado team, UCLA now faces the conference leading Arizona Wildcats, who bring one of the top offenses to the Rose Bowl.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Rodriguez.  Bringing his name up can draw immediate curse words in certain circles, ie West Virginia and Michigan fanbases, but he's also credited with the creation of the modern spread option offense.  A few years ago, Rodriguez was one of the hottest coaching names around, but toxic exit from West Virginia and a failed coaching job at Michigan later, Rodriguez simply isn't looked at in the same light.

As the Wildcat fans have found out, Rodriguez did not forget how to coach during the turmoil.  In fact, he may be a better coach for having gone through it.  He's still brash at times and can make a scene on the sideline, but he's been humbled.  RichRod's offense in Arizona has not slowed down a bit, currently ranked #6 in the country despite breaking in a freshman quarterback.  The offense is still the run first spread option that he has always run, but he blends air raid principles into his passing game that make it very difficult to defend. The failed stint in Michigan also allowed him to reunite with defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who gives him just enough defense to win.

Casteel has more than 25 years of coaching experience and had a decent amount of success at West Virginia.  He runs a 3-3-5 defense which is particularly suited to stopping spread offenses with an emphasis on getting faster defensive backs on the field.  The results aren't always pretty, but with an offense like Arizona's, the defense really just needs a few key stops to make the difference.

Turning to the special teams unit, the kicking game returns punter Drew Riggleman (26 punts, 47 yards per punt) and newcomer Casey Skowron (14/19 field goals, 32/32 XP's) has taken over place kicking duties and kickoff duties (31/52 kickoffs for touchbacks).

After facing excellent return teams in Cal and Colorado, UCLA gets another superb punt returner in DaVonte' Neal.  Neal is averaging over 21 yards per punt return, and has returned 3 punts for 123 yards and a touchdown in the past two weeks.  The kickoff return numbers are typical, with the team averaging close to 20 yards per return, but Arizona has some explosive athletes that can hit holes in a hurry.