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UCLA Football vs. Arizona Preview: The Wildcats are Weak on Defense

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The Bruins will be dusting themselves off after a heartbreaking loss to Stanford. An Arizona beatdown should do the trick.

NCAA Football: Grambling State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on can be hard after such a heartbreaking loss, but the team has to and so do we. While taking Joe’s article into consideration (which, if you haven’t read, please do!), there is still a lot of football left to play and we know that historically UCLA does not make drastic changes midseason. This weekend’s matchup against the Arizona Wildcats will hopefully be a good way to lick our wounds and, in the words of Joe Dirt, "keep on keepin’ on".

The WIldcats are rebuilding. They are making a lot of changes on defense this year, including changing their scheme. They’ve run a 3-3-5 in the past, but will incorporate more 4-2-5 with the addition of Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates to the staff. The defense will still have flashes of a 3-3-5, with a fourth defensive lineman (The "Stud") lining up on the edge, serving as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. The main focus of the staff has been on getting the best 11 guys on the field, but it may not be in the same positions as last season.

According to Monday’s Spaulding Report, Mora wants to find a way to expand the run game and get more yards on the ground. This will be the game to do it, as Arizona’s defense is undersized and lacks the ability to blitz and stop the run. When the Wildcats played Hawaii two weeks ago, the Rainbow Warriors pounded 105 yards in the second half, when they had only earned 65 in the first. "We’re undersized," Rodriguez said. "They came right down at us. We’ve got to play with better leverage. We’ve got to figure out something, or everybody we play is just going to pound us. We’re not going to get bigger overnight." During Saturday’s overtime loss to Washington (final score, 35-28), they gave up a season-high 352 yards. 222 of those yards were in the second half. To be fair, Arizona was missing two key members of its defensive front. Linebacker DeAndre’ Miller and nose tackle Parker Zellers did not play because of injuries, which created an obstacle in their rotation. UCLA certainly knows what it’s like to have injuries on defense.

More to consider: Arizona ranks last in the Pac-12 in third-down defense. Opponents have converted 50.9 percent of their third downs against the UA. UCLA actually ranks 23rd nationally, converting 45.1% (the national leader, Texas Tech, converts an average of 51.7%). I would expect this percentage to increase, since UCLA has faced the likes of Texas A&M and Stanford, and has held respectable numbers. UCLA’s ranked surprised me, considering it seems like we can’t convert a third down when we need it (see: both losses this year).

Defensive Line

Redshirt junior Parker Zellers is questionable for this Saturday due to a knee injury he suffered during their matchup with Hawaii. He played in all 12 games in the rotation at nose guard last year, and earned 17 tackles, including one for loss and 15 solo stops. He is undersized, as most of Arizona’s line is, but plays a lot bigger. Senior Aiulua Fanene is listed as his backup, and saw action in 11 games last season. Sani Fuimaono will also bring experience to the line. He played in all 13 games last year and started 12 at nose tackle. He recorded multiple tackles in eight contests, including season-high four stops in upset of No. 10 Utah, including 0.5 sack. Redshirt junior Luca Bruno is a sturdy force up front despite his modest numbers, which included 29 tackles last year. Jack Banda will come into the rotation, and Justin Belknap is another name to watch for, who has climbed the depth chart and earned his spot on the line this year.

Linebackers

The Arizona defense is loaded with experience at linebacker. This unique defense features a position called the "Stud," a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid whose primary responsibilities are rushing the passer and dropping into coverage — but mainly rushing the passer. The expected starter at Stud was redshirt junior DeAndre’ Miller, who suffered a season ending injury in 2014, and he was injured again (ankle) two weeks ago in the Hawaii game. Iowa transfer John Kenny, who recorded four tackles last week against Washington, is listed as his backup. Cody Ippolito missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL but has come back as a starter this year. Paul Magloire is a redshirt senior who is already on the Bednarik Award watch list. He led the Wildcats with 54 unassisted tackles last year, and already 24 total tackles this year, including 0.5 sack last week in their loss to Washington. He is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round of the upcoming NFL draft, and also became a father to son Brayden last May. Tellas Jones is starting in the hybrid "Spur" position, which is a safety/linebacker combo. He has missed 2 1/2 games this year due to an injury he sustained in their season opener against BYU. The "Bandit", another hybrid safety position, will feature sophomore Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. He leads the Wildcats in interceptions and has definitely made his presence known this year. Not bad for someone that didn’t play his senior year in high school.

Secondary

Dane Cruikshank, a JUCO transfer, will occupy a spot at corner. He has good size and speed, and according to his coach, Donte’ Williams, "Dane is a unique talent. Any time you get a guy who’s 6’1", 6’2", 200 pounds and runs a 4.4 or 4.3, those guys don’t come around on a daily basis." DaVonte’ Neal will also fill a spot at corner, and had a good showing last week against Washington, recording six tackles. Jarvis McCall, Jr. switched from cornerback, where he started 17 games over the last two seasons, to safety during spring drills. "He’s doing well," safeties coach Jahmile Addae said back in August. "The position’s a little bit different in that he’s playing away from the ball. But he’s doing a really good job adjusting. He’s got coverage ability. He’s got length. He’s got size (6-2, 203). We’re excited about turning him loose back there and letting him do his thing." He has done well in four games, unofficially recording 14 tackles so far.

Analysis

We should run all over these guys. U of A was undersized and outmanned to start, and they have already caught the injury bug this year. I’m actually glad we’re playing Arizona this week. I feel like our offense has lost their identity, confidence, and swagger, and this is the week to get it back. Psychologically, this is a good team to beat even though they aren’t so stacked this year. We can take the conference win (which is important, since the Wildcats are also 2-2) and move on to games against tougher opponents with a solid win under our belt.

Go Bruins!

[Update]: As of yesterday, according to Arizona Desert Swarm, these are the injury updates for tomorrow:

Probable: Tellas Jones (Ankle)
Questionable: Nick Wilson (Ankle)
Doubtful:

Out: FB Jamardre Cobb (knee), LB DeAndre’ Miller (ankle), WR Shawn Poindexter(foot), QB Anu Solomon (knee), RB J.J. Taylor (ankle – out indefinitely), NG Parker Zellers (knee)