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UCLA Football at Arizona Offensive Preview: Who Will Be the Wildcat Under Center?

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UCLA could face one of two quarterbacks on Saturday when they travel to Arizona.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Colorado Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back into football action with the Bruins taking on the Arizona Wildcats this Saturday at 6:00 pm PT. The Wildcats are coming off a big win against Colorado, beating the Buffaloes 45-42 with quarterback Khalil Tate breaking the FBS quarterback rushing record and basically replacing starter Brandon Dawkins, who was injured on their opening drive. Let’s take a look at the pieces of the Wildcat offense.

Quarterbacks

Notice there’s a plural in that heading. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is still reluctant to make a decision between senior Brandon Dawkins and sophomore Khalil Tate. While Tate was named the Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Week and was even tweeted by LeBron James, Rodriguez has named Tate and Dawkins co-starters on Saturday’s current roster. I’m sure this is a move on his part to make UCLA prepare for two quarterbacks. Clearly, after last week’s performance, Tate is a dual threat and needs to be contained like a running back, but also pass rushed. Dawkins started most of last year and every game up until last Saturday, so there is a lot more film available on him. He performed inconsistently, which caused an outcry for starting Tate. Fans got what they wanted last week, and every yard was needed as the Wildcat defense let down and gave up 551 yards, 281 of which came from Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay. Tate accounted for all three of Arizona’s first-half touchdowns. On his first full drive, he ran one in from 58 yards out. On his second drive, he had a 28-yard rushing touchdown. In the second half, Tate ran one in for 47-yards and later, he had a 38-yard breakout run, becoming the first Arizona quarterback to ever run for 200-plus yards. He would run in one more and airmail one for 60-yards to Tony Ellison. I don’t know about you, but I think I know who is starting on Saturday.

Running Backs

The funny thing about this position is that both quarterbacks that have played this season are also the top two rushers. This is one thing that could possibly kill us on Saturday, as I reflect on how Steven Montez put up a season high 108 rushing yards when the Buffs were at the Rose Bowl. Sophomore J.J. Taylor has the most yards behind the quarterbacks, with 258 for the season so far. He broke his ankle last year against Washington, but was touted as one of their offensive weapons for 2017. Senior Nick Wilson isn’t far behind Taylor, with 213 yards of his own and one touchdown. With 20 of their 26 touchdowns coming on the ground this year, and half of those coming from the quarterbacks, the UCLA defense better be ready to contain the run from the quarterback and running back position.

Wide Receivers

The Wildcats have five receivers with yards in the triple digits, and three of those guys have found the endzone. Tony Ellison and Shun Brown have 200+ yards and two touchdowns apiece, so when the Wildcats do air it out, expect these guys to be in the mix. Tyrell Johnson has 10 receptions for 136 yards, and while he hasn’t found the endzone yet, he can be someone relied on to move the ball. I’d expect the Wildcats to keep the ball on the ground and capitalize on their quarterback’s feet, but let’s not take this unit lightly.

Offensive Line

According to Arizona Central and offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, the Wildcat offensive line thinks too much. “They’re trying to solve a puzzle out there instead of trying to obliterate somebody. We’ve got to get past that. We’ve got to come out from the opening bell and go play.” Arizona is actually fourth in the country in rushing yards, averaging 319.4 yards per game on the ground. Their offensive line was supposed to be their secret weapon when they played Utah two weeks ago, but the Wildcats fell short by one score, 30-24. Last year, this unit was seen as a liability. The untimely death of center Zach Hemmila really threw the team off, and the line was led by a freshman that just couldn’t fill his shoes. This year, that same guy, Nathan Eldridge, has been named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List. This unit has experience to build on and has clearly improved from 2016’s mess. This unit has only allowed five sacks so far this year.

Analysis

If we can stop the run, we’re golden. But again, I worry about team after team blowing past our defense and running up and down the field. Additionally, we have struggled with the pass rush. We only have nine sacks so far this year, and the Wildcat front line has only allowed five. Their quarterbacks are quick on their feet and with our defense struggling to pressure quarterbacks, I’m afraid Tate will have another record breaking game. We’ll see if the bye week has given our Bruins time to get back to basics and make some improvements.

Go Bruins!