Arizona-UCLA preview: Bruins' D, players to watch, prediction - Tucson News Now

Arizona-UCLA preview: Bruins' D, players to watch, prediction

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has lost all four of his meetings against UCLA by a combined 170-73.

But, as he might say, quoting The Lion King, "It doesn't matter. It's in the past."

He's right. Such trends are usually for suckers.

What matters is now. What really matters is how you play that day. Unfortunately, that last part is really hard to predict.

Will the Arizona squad that shows up to the Rose Bowl on Saturday night be the team that scrappily battled Washington into overtime last Saturday before losing 35-28? Or will it be the team that was trailing Grambling State late into the third quarter?

What does your crystal ball show?

Mine's perpetually on the fritz, but if I had to pick a problematic storyline for Arizona against the 2-2 Bruins, it is that UCLA has played well on defense in the past two weeks and "kicked our backsides pretty well," according to Stanford coach David Shaw.

Granted, as evidenced by Stanford's loss at Washington on Friday night, the Cardinal's offense isn't exactly a juggernaut right now. Still, UCLA allowed only three field goals to Stanford last Saturday night, until giving up a go-ahead touchdown with 24 seconds left and then yielding a last-play touchdown on a fumble return. UCLA ended up losing 22-13 to one of the most physical teams in the nation.

"I think that we are a physical football team, and we played hard and tough," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "I'm proud of how we played. ... We sure didn't get pushed around. That's for sure."

UCLA is big up front defensively. Defensive tackles Eddie Vanderdoes and Eli Ankou are 325-pounders in the middle. Takkarist McKinley is a freakishly athletic 265-pound defensive end.

Last week, the Bruins kept Christian McCaffrey out of the end zone. A week earlier, they held BYU to 23 yards on 25 rushes.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said UCLA looks "very similar" to Washington -- another big, athletic defense.

"They might be a little faster on the edge," Rodriguez said of the Bruins.

"Their secondary is outstanding. Vanderdoes and some of those guys up front, they remind me of Washington, but they might be a little faster on the edges."

Five players to watch

UCLA QB Josh Rosen -- The sophomore wunderkind, projected by some to be a future No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, has been kind of "meh" this season. He ranks 78th nationally in passing efficiency with a rating of 132.0. (Dawkins is 61st at 136.3.) In Rosen's defense, his offensive line isn't as good as last season's, his receivers aren't as dynamic, he doesn't have Paul Perkins at tailback anymore and UCLA is transitioning to trying to be more of power running team. Other than that ...

Arizona QB Brandon Dawkins -- He might have to be a one-man crew. With starter Nick Wilson (ankle) still questionable, Orlando Bradford dismissed and J.J. Taylor having a broken ankle, Arizona has major questions at running back, which will allow UCLA to focus on Dawkins and spy against his runs. Still, you gotta think he's going to break off a couple of big plays at some point.

UCLA LB Jayon Brown -- He's been used as a quarterback spy the past couple of weeks, which means he'll likely be shadowing Dawkins on zone-read plays and on scrambles. "Brandon Dawkins is a very fast quarterback and very talented," Brown told reporters this week. He leads UCLA with 33 tackles.

Arizona WR Samajie Grant -- Arizona coaches moved slot receiver Tyrell Johnson to the backfield last week to help out with thinning depth, but he fumbled twice in six touches. UA tinkered in practice this week by using Grant at running back. The senior played the position in high school. "He's just an explosive player," Rodriguez said. "I'd like to get him some more touches anyway, because he can do some things with the ball."

UCLA WR Ishmael Adams -- The former All-Pac-12 cornerback was moved to receiver in the offseason, which says something about the depth and talent of the UCLA secondary and the accompanying dearth of those traits at receiver. Adams is electric with the ball in his hands as a returner, but he's been quiet so far on offense, with nine catches for 107 yards.

Injury watch

--Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, who has been "questionable" for three weeks because of a knee injury, is listed as "out" for this week. If he wasn't going to play, there was no need for him to take up a spot on the travel roster Saturday.

--Safety Tellas Jones (ankle) is considered probable. He hasn't played since the first half of the season-opener.

--Running back Nick Wilson is questionable. Other backfield options are grinder Zach Green, redshirt freshman walk-on Branden Leon and converted wideouts Tyrell Johnson and Samajie Grant.

--Two defensive starters -- linebacker DeAndre' Miller (ankle) and nose guard Parker Zellers (knee) -- will miss their second consecutive game. So, too, will fullback Jamardre Cobb. Wide receiver Shawn Poindexter suffered a foot injury last week and will not make the trip.


UCLA's offensive line hasn't been great, and the running game -- despite talented backs Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi -- ranks just 113th nationally at 117.8 yards per game.

Some of that has to do with the level of competition -- Texas A&M, BYU and Stanford -- but the lack of success so far shouldn't deter the Bruins from coming right downhill against Arizona's small defensive front.

Arizona's defense gave itself a chance last week against Washington by winning a handful of critical situations -- including an interception at the 1 and a fourth-down stop -- but it is otherwise suffering death by a thousand cuts, allowing opponents to convert 50.9 percent (29 of 57) of their third-down chances.

Look for the Bruins to run for more than 200 yards Saturday night.

UCLA 35, Arizona 17.

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