The Arizona Wildcats will be doing everything they can to stop the UCLA Bruins from dropping another 67 points on Saturday. With a stronger Wildcat defensive line this year, the Bruins are going to have to work extra hard to protect the quarterback and open holes for the run game.
In the past, the Wildcats struggled with run defense, and this was no different even up until last year. Opponents averaged 4.2 yards per rush against these guys in 2018 and Joshua Kelley was able to put up 136 yards and the touchdown that sealed the 31-30 nailbiter win in Pasadena.
Here is a look at the defense UCLA will be facing.
One of the areas head coach Kevin Sumlin was determined to fix were weaknesses on the defensive line. In the offseason, Arizona got two junior college transfers, Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa, both of whom are now starting up front. Tapusoa will be starting at nose, and Mason will be taking the tackle spot.
Junior JB Brown is back on the end and redshirt sophomore Jalen Harris will start on the opposite end. Harris leads the team so far with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Brown played linebacker in 2017, but started a majority of the 2018 season on the end. He moved to the tackle position in the spring as an experiment but, with the addition of the junior college transfers, he has moved back to the end position. He says he wants to be the next Aaron Donald. He also happens to be the brother of former Bruin Jayon Brown. He’s a bit undersized, but what he lacks in weight he makes up for in effort.
The highlight of the Arizona linebacking corps has to be leading tackler junior Colin Schooler. Schooler has already recorded 14 tackles in three games this year and he is building on a solid resume that goes all the way back to high school. Although he was only a three-star recruit, he earned three letters in football alone as both a running back and linebacker and he also earned letters in track and field and basketball. As a freshman at Arizona, he was the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year and was named a First Team All-Pac-12 selection by the Associated Press as a sophomore. His abilities are doubtless and he will be the one to watch in the Mike position.
Additionally, Arizona will play juniors Tony Fields II at the spur position and Anthony Pandy on the weak side. Fields is tied with Schooler with 14 solo tackles so far and Pandy is right there with 13. Both of these guys each have an interception as well. Tristan Cooper has also been solid at this position, but he did not play last week against Texas Tech. This could have been due to personnel shifts that Sumlin was making, which resulted in better defensive play against the Red Raiders.
The Wildcat secondary is a strong group, led by senior Jace Whittaker and redshirt junior Lorenzo Burns. Both of these guys are experienced, quick, and versatile, evidenced by the fact that Whittaker already has three interceptions and can line up as both a corner and a safety. Burns is leading the team with four pass break-ups, so he’ll be the one giving our receivers fits, but Whittaker is right behind him with three.
Junior Scottie Young Jr. and sophomore Christian Young will be breaking up passes as well. Also, look for freshman Christian Roland-Wallace to see some action. Young has two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
The changes Sumlin made last week are looking solid and will give UCLA trouble. Washington State may have foolishly relied on their Air Raid offense against a team that had no pass defense, not expecting UCLA to score 67 points. Arizona’s defense may, in fact, be tougher than Washington State’s. So ,expect the score to be a lot lower this weekend.