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First look: UCLA at Arizona

10/16/2011

It's either the perfect time for UCLA to catch Arizona, or the absolute worst.

The Bruins are 2-1 in the Pac-12 Conference and have designs on winning the South division as the second half begins against a Wildcats team in turmoil after a 1-5 start got coach Mike Stoops fired last week.

That kind of shock can either suck the life out of a team or re-energize it, so UCLA has to be ready for the latter heading into the Thursday night ESPN game.

"Whenever there is a change, whatever the reasons why, there is always kind of a fresh start and so they’ll feel that this is a fresh start," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "From that standpoint, you just know that they are going to have a lot of energy when they step on to the field and we’ve got to match that."

On paper, Arizona appears to be reeling. They have lost 10 consecutive games against FBS opponents, defeating only FCS Northern Arizona during that stretch. The last FBS team Arizona defeated? UCLA last last Oct. 30.

But that streak is a bit misleading. The Wildcats have lost twice to elite teams Oregon, Stanford, and Oklahoma State to account for six of those 10 losses, and to USC to account for two others.

And while the defensive numbers aren't pretty for Arizona, which ranks No. 115 in the nation in total defense, consider that Oregon and Oklahoma State are among the top five in total offense, Stanford is No. 15 and USC is No. 29.

The Bruins, No. 62 in total offense, haven't displayed that kind of offensive firepower, but should still be able to run the ball against a Wildcats defense that is giving up 196 yards a game on the ground.

Stopping the Arizona offense will be an even bigger challenge for UCLA. The Wildcats, with quarterback Nick Foles, are third in the nation in passing with 383 yards a game through the air. The Bruins have had problems against elite quarterbacks such as Case Keenum and Andrew Luck, so Foles, who is second in the nation with 2,225 yards passing and tied for 10th with 15 touchdowns, could also pick apart a soft UCLA pass defense.

But what Keenum and Luck had that Foles doesn't is mobility. Foles has been sacked 12 times this season and only 13 FBS teams have given up more sack yards lost than Arizona's 107. Arizona starts two freshman and a sophomore on the offensive line so clearly that inexperience leaves Foles vulnerable and it also keeps the Wildcats from posing much of a running threat. Leading rusher Keola Antolin is averaging only 49.17 yards per game.

The Arizona defensive front seven is similarly inexperienced with linebacker Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls the only players with full time starting experience before this season. The Wildcats are fairly solid in the secondary, however, with free safety Robert Golden and cornerback Trevin Wade in their third seasons as full-time starters and sophomore cornerback Shaquille Richardson, a one-time Bruin, tied for the Pac-12 lead with three interceptions.