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UCLA Football Preview: Arizona Wildcats Will be Without Khalil Tate

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Second week in a row that UCLA plays a team with a quarterback change.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

News broke early Tuesday morning that the Arizona Wildcats offense would be without their most valuable offensive weapon, quarterback and one time Heisman Trophy Candidate, Khalil Tate. Tate has been hampered for most of the year with an ankle injury that has really impacted his play, and he re-injured the ankle early in the first quarter against Utah last Saturday.

While our very own Chip Kelly is not exactly the fountain of thoughts in interviews with the press, he did offer some thoughts on Tate being out.

This Arizona offense hasn’t exactly been effective so far this year. They rank 10th in the Pac-12 in points per game, as they are averaging 22.3 ppg, and they also rank 8th in total offense averaging 376 yards per game.

So even with Tate, this offense has struggled this year. So let’s take a closer look at what the Wildcats will bring to Saturday night’s game.

Offensive Line

UCLA Bruins fans know all about offensive line concerns, and going into this season, Arizona’s offensive line was a concern as they lost three starters from last year’s line, and that concern has played out in front of the Wildcat fans in full bloom. It seems many believe the struggles of the Arizona offense can be attributed the struggles and inconsistency of the offensive line.

Layth Friekh was supposed to be the anchor for this line, but he has missed time due to a two game NCAA suspension, and has been in and out of the lineup due to injury. Kevin Sumlin has specifically called out his absence as a factor in the offensive lines’ performance. As a result, Arizona has had to utilize a line filled with inexperienced pieces, including true freshman Donovan Laie at left tackle.

The struggles of this line present a great opportunity for the Bruins to build on their performance last week in Berkeley.

Quarterback

The beginning of the article let the cat out of the bag in regards to the QB position. The Bruins will not see the player that single-handily created his own video game cheat-code against our defense last year, Khalil Tate.

The Wildcats will let sophomore Rhett Rodriguez start for the first time against UCLA this Saturday. Rodriguez came into the game last week for Arizona in their 42-10 loss to the Utah Utes. Rodriguez completed 20 of 28 passes for 226 yards and one TD.

I watched the game film on Rodriguez from the Utah Utes game, and it was truly hard to get a true read on Rodriguez because he came in against Utah with the game so out of hand that the Utes defensive line just over-matched the Wildcats offensive line and put continuous pressure on Rodriguez. Rodriguez was mobile in the pocket and was able to make throws when he had time. He didn’t look to have the strongest arm and is definitely not that largest presence at quarterback that I have seen, but Rodriguez was the QB for the Wildcats that led the offense into scoring position five times.

Rodriguez is a coaches son, as he is the son of former Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez. So usually these types of guys have an understanding of the game, and dare I say they often have the “intangibles” necessary to get the job done.

Below is a look some highlights of Rodriguez.

Running Backs

With the struggles of the offensive line, the UA running game has struggled against good teams. The Wildcats have only had one running back break the century mark this year in a game, and that was sophomore J.J. Taylor’s 27 carry 284 yard performance against the Oregon State Beavers.

J.J. Taylor had big things expected of him this year, as he was the Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year last season, rushing for 847 yards and five touchdowns. Taylor was expected to form a deadly combination with Tate this season, but that has not played out for the Wildcats. Taylor is still leading the Wildcats attack this year with 663 yards on 118 carries. He is definitely the workhorse for the team, and has a shifty and difficult to tackle running style. He rushed for 63 yards on 14 carries last week against the Utes, but the large deficit made it difficult for Arizona to run the ball.

Gary Brightwell, a sophomore who was once a wide receiver that has been converted to a running back is second on the Wildcats in rushing. Brightwell has rushed for 333 yards on 62 carries, and is the type of runner you would expect with a 6-1 206 pound frame, but while he definitely can hit the hole with authority, Brightwell is also the ability to make defenders miss.

Wide Receivers

Even with the struggles on offense, the wide receiver group is the most talented group on either side of the ball for the Wildcats. Paul Hornung Award watch-list member, Shun Brown is Arizona’s most targeted receiver as he has pulled down 35 receptions for 385 yards and 3 TD’s. Brown also returns punts as evidenced below:

Maybe the most talented and dangerous receiver for the Wildcats is Senior Shawn Poindexter has a 6-7 215 pound frame that has allowed him to pull down 24 receptions for a team leading 446 yards. Poindexter is the type of receiver that is going to get some looks from NFL teams based simply on his size and his production.

Final Thoughts

There was a belief early in the preseason that Arizona could potentially be a contender in this conference based on the offense and the weapons that were returning on that side of the ball. The one concern was the offensive line, and that concern has played out, but the ankle injury to Tate has been the real blow to this team, as he simply has not been 100% all year.

This sets up as a game that the UCLA Bruins, and I can’t believe that I am going to say this about a 1-5 team, better not overlook. It would be human nature to think the task of containing this Arizona offense got easier with the loss of Tate, but UCLA is still going to match up against a talented wide receiver group, and UCLA’s defensive backs better be prepared regardless of who is at quarterback.

Go Bruins!