After last weekend’s monster comeback by the UCLA Bruins, fans are probably now more confused than ever. Who was that team? Are they capable of a winning season? Is this performance indicative of a turnaround or was it a fluke? This and more questions will be answered in the coming weeks as the team tries to establish some consistency on both sides of the ball.
This week, UCLA takes on the Arizona Wildcats in their second conference game of the season. The Arizona offense is ranked third overall in the country, putting up an average of 586 yards per game. The Wildcats have scored a lot of points in their first three games, including a 65-41 win over Northern Arizona on September 7. Some might say this also shows a lack of defense, but the UCLA 67-63 win over Washington State shows exactly the same thing.
Here is a preview of the team UCLA will face in Tucson on Saturday.
The Wildcats have an experienced, dual-threat quarterback in senior Khalil Tate. He can send balls deep into the secondary but also gain yards on the run. So, UCLA has to be ready to contain him in all directions. He came into his own in 2017 when he replaced then Arizona starting quarterback Brandon Dawkins and catapulted into conference history receiving four straight Pac-12 Player of the Week awards. He put up over 300 yards rushing in his first game and didn’t look back. He finished the year with 1,411 rushing yards, 1,591 passing yards, and 26 total touchdowns.
2018 was a bit of a different story. An ankle injury took away some of his mobility, but he was still able to pass for about 2,500 yards last season. He had a new head coach and changes in the offense, but was still extremely successful.
Now, in 2019, Tate is staring down the tunnel at a potential NFL career. He has 638 passing yards so far, but he is also the team’s leading rusher with 238 yards and an average of 10.7 yards per carry. Tate has eight touchdowns with six in the air and two on the ground. He is a true dual-threat and the only thing stacked against him is that Noel Mazzone is his offensive coordinator. So, if Mazzone’s tenure at UCLA is any indicator, the playbook may lack some creativity.
Redshirt junior Josh McCauley will be starting at center and the neat thing about this player is that the former walk-on was presented with a scholarship back in April. He started 12 games at center last year when the Wildcats were the Pac-12 rushing leaders with an average of 202.4 yards per game and they also had the third-fewest sacks in the Pac-12. His presence has both opened holes for running backs and Tate alike, but he has also made a major difference in pass protection.
On the right, we’ll see redshirt senior Cody Creason at guard and redshirt sophomore Edgar Burrola at tackle. Creason made the move from tackle to guard early in 2018 and Burrola is relatively new to the line, making six starts last year and also seeing action on special teams.
The left side will have redshirt transfer Robert Congel at guard and sophomore Donovan Laie at tackle. Congel spent his freshman year at Texas A&M and transferred last year to Arizona following head coach Kevin Sumlin to Tucson. He had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, but has seen action in all three contests this year. Last season, Laie became the first freshman in the last two decades at Arizona to start all 12 games. He, too, has started all three games this year.
While Tate is the leading rusher for Arizona, there are two juniors that are a nice complement to the backfield. J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell both have over 200 yards rushing in their first three games with Brightwell punching in three touchdowns and Taylor scoring two. Brightwell also has a 94-yard run. So, the Bruins are going to need to stop whiffing on tackles if they don’t want these guys running up the score. As good as UCLA has been at stopping the run off the blocks, the trio of Taylor, Brightwell and Tate are going to be a major threat to the win.
Tate lost some good receivers at the end of 2018 when Shawn Poindexter left for the NFL, and Shun Brown and Tony Ellison graduated.
They have been replaced by redshirt senior Cedric Peterson, redshirt sophomore Stanley Berryhill III, and junior Brian Casteel. Additionally, junior Tayvian Cunningham will see game action. He leads the team with 12 receptions, 158 yards, and two touchdowns. Berryhill isn’t far behind with 154 yards and two touchdowns of his own. A total of seven receivers have notched touchdowns for the Wildcats this year. Clearly, Tate has options despite losing some of his favorite targets.
Can you even really analyze this game after what happened last week? Vegas had Washington State winning by 19 and there was so much offense in the game that both teams covered the over/under on their own. At this point, seasoned fans are waiting for the other shoe to drop as UCLA has had a tendency to win a major game, but then flop the following week to a lesser opponent. If the same team which beat Washington State on Saturday shows up, it’ll be a win for the Bruins.