It is the first day of Fall and football is in the air! The UCLA Bruins football team is preparing for its first conference game of the season against the Arizona Wildcats. The game will kick off on Saturday, September 26th, at 5:00 p.m., PT in Tucson. It will be nationally televised on ABC and the ESPN Game Day crew will be on site, so you can expect a lot of attention for this game. How will the Bruins perform in their first contest on the "big stage" this season? In order to get up to speed on what we can expect from Arizona when they have the ball, here is Bruins Nation’s preview of the Wildcats’ offense.
2015 Offensive Statistics
Arizona is 6th in the nation in total offense, averaging 584.7 yards per game and an excellent 7.59 yards per play. In comparison, UCLA is 34th in total offense, averaging 477 yards per game and 6.22 yards per play. The opponents, however, need to be taken into consideration. While UCLA has not played the toughest non-conference schedule with Virginia (#101 in total defense), UNLV (#111 in total defense), and BYU (#86 in total defense), Arizona’s non-conference schedule is worse, with UTSA (#102 in total defense), Nevada (#109 in total defense), and Northern Arizona (#89 in total defense in FCS, not FBS). Virginia and UNLV, on one hand, and UTSA and Nevada, on the other hand, are similar, but BYU is much better defensively than FBS Northern Arizona (Arizona beat them 77-13).
Arizona is 7th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 324 rushing yards per game and 7.89 yards per rush. By comparison, UCLA is 22nd in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 240.3 yards per game and 6.06 yards per rush. Both teams are very solid in this department.
Arizona is 45th in the nation in passing offense, averaging 263.7 passing yards per game and 7.26 yards per passing attempt. By comparison, UCLA is 62nd in the nation in passing offense, averaging 236.7 yards per game and 6.4 yards per passing attempt. Considering the competition, both teams are similar, although Arizona's slightly better numbers were against slightly weaker competition.
The Arizona Wildcats welcome back redshirt sophomore Anu Solomon at the quarterback position. As a redshirt freshman, Solomon started all 14 games for the Wildcats last season, and amassed some impressive stats: 313 completions out of 540 attempts, for a 58% completion percentage, 3,793 passing yards (270.9 per game), with 28 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions. Solomon also rushed for 291 yards, with 2 touchdowns.
Solomon may have had his "freshman moment" during his game at UCLA, when he went 18-48 for 175 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 17-7 loss to the Bruins. I do not expect him to have that sort of game with an additional year under his belt and playing at home.
This season, Solomon has thus far exceeded his averages for 2014, albeit against poor competition. He is 71 for 104, for a 68.3 completion percentage, for 778 yards, with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Solomon’s back up, senior Jerrard Randall, has also had in impact for the Wildcats. Although he has only completed 2 of 3 passes, Randall has carried the ball 6 times for 209 yards, and 3 touchdowns, one of which was a 73 yarder. UCLA had better take note of Randall when he is in the game.
True sophomore Nick Wilson is the sixth leading rusher (based on yardage) in the country, with 434 yards (he leads Paul Perkins, who is seventh, by five yards). Wilson averages 7 yards per carry and also has 5 touchdowns. As a true freshman last season, Wilson rushed for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. Wilson is clearly one of the elite backs in the PAC 12 and UCLA will have its hands full with him. He is likely the most talented back UCLA has faced so far this season (and perhaps that UCLA will face during the entire season).
Senior Jared Baker also get carries when Wilson needs a rest. Baker has 17 carries on the year for 82 yards, with no touchdowns.
Arizona has five receivers who have caught a touchdown pass this season. Senior David Richards is a big receiver (6’4" 213 lbs.) who has caught 14 balls for 203 yards and 3 touchdowns. Junior Cayleb Jones is also big (6’3", 215 lbs.) and has 11 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown. Richards and Jones are typically the wide outs. Senior Johnny Jackson is a smaller receiver (5’10" 184 lbs.) who has hauled in 13 passes for 143 yards and 3 touchdowns. Nate Phillips (5’7", 180 lbs.) and Samajie Grant (5’9", 177 lbs.) are also smaller guys. Phillips has 11 catches for 104 yards and 1 touchdown, while Grant has 9 catches for 65 yards and one touchdown. Both Phillips and Grant are typically slot receivers.
UCLA’s biggest cornerback, Fabian Moreau (6’0" 200 lbs.), is lost for the season with a broken bone in his foot. Moreau's skill and size will be sorely missed in this game. Although Marcus Rios is also 6’0", he is only 185 lbs. and will give up 30 lbs. and several inches against Arizona’s two bigger receivers. Is true freshman, DeChaun Holiday (6’2", 220 lbs.), ready to play for UCLA? What about Adarius Pickett (5"11, 190 lbs.)? These guys might be able to be better physical matchups against Richards and Jones, provided that they are ready for this stage. Hopefully, Ish Adams will be ready to for game action, in order to help with some of Arizona’s smaller receivers. UCLA’s secondary, and Defensive Cooordinator Tom Bradley and Defensive Backs Coach Demetrice Martin, will all have their work cut out for them in defending the Arizona passing game this Saturday.
Junior Josh Kern leads the Arizona Wildcats in receptions for a tight end, with 4 catches for 20 yards. Arizona has not used the tight end much this season, other than for blocking in the running game.
Arizona returns two of its five starters on the offensive line from the 2014 season, but is breaking in new players at left guard, right tackle, and left tackle. UCLA’s defensive front will present the biggest challenge that this group has faced as a unit this season.
The returning players are senior Cayman Bundage (6’2", 281 lbs.) and redshirt sophomore Jacob Alsadek (6’7", 298 lbs.). Alsadek started 11 games last reason at right guard and was a USA Today Freshman All American. He will continue at right guard against the Bruins. Bundage has a lot of experience at left guard, but is listed at center on the Wildcat’s depth chart. He started 12 games last season as a junior (missing the other two games), all 13 games as a sophomore, and played in 11 games as a true freshman. Prior to this season, all of Bundage's starts have been at the left guard position.
Redshirt junior Zach Hemmila (6’3", 293 lbs.) slots in at left guard. Hemmila was a reserve last season who saw action on the offensive line and on special teams.
Redshirt senior Lene Maiava (6’5" 301 lbs.) should get the start at right tackle. Maiava started 5 games last season at both right and left guard. Maiava also started two games in 2013. Redshirt junior Freddie Tagaloa (6’8", 316 lbs.) will start at left tackle. Tagaloa sat out last season after transferring from Cal. In 2013 at Cal, Tagaloa started seven games at the tackle position. Tagaloa will protect Solomon’s blind side.
Although the tackles are big, this unit (especially the interior lineman) is on the whole smaller than the one UCLA faced against BYU. I like how UCLA’s defensive front matches up with Arizona’s offensive line. I especially like Deon Hollins’ pass rushing chances against a much larger (and slower) Tagaloa at 6’8". I can see the possibility of Hollins blowing by and under Tagaloa’s attempts to block him. I can also see the possibility of defensive tackles Kenny Clark (6’3", 310 lbs.) and Eli Ankou (6’3", 305 lbs.) blowing up Arizona’s interior line, disrupting passing and running plays.
Strategy and Analysis
It is reasonable to expect that Arizona will adopt an approach to passing the ball very similar to the one employed by BYU last week. Dink and dunk to set up third and short. The difference is that Nick Wilson is a very talented running back, something UCLA has not yet faced this season (BYU’s Adam Hine had a nice game last week but he is not on Wilson’s level). Arizona has the potential to put a lot of points on the board—they’ve scored 42, 44, and 77 points respectively. The keys to winning the battle against Arizona’s offense, in my humble opinion, are the strength of UCLA’s defensive front and containing Arizona’s air attack. That is easier said than done. Saturday will be a battle when Arizona has the ball.
That will do it for Bruins Nation's preview of Arizona’s offense. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.