- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last Nov. 3, Arizona headed to UCLA riding a hot streak. It had won two in a row, obliterating Washington 52-17 and shocking then-No. 9 USC 39-36. The Wildcats were squarely in the Pac-12 South Division race.
Then Arizona made like a rotten Halloween pumpkin being hurled off the roof of a 50-story building. The Bruins delivered a 66-10 smashing that was pretty much over after the first quarter.
"Why did you have to bring it up?" replied Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez when asked about what went wrong. "About everything did. ... There wasn't a single thing we did well, in any phase. If you want to know what went wrong, it was everything."
UCLA led 21-0 after the first quarter and 42-3 at halftime. The Bruins outgained the Wildcats 611 yards to 257. Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey would go on to lead the nation in rushing, but he managed just 54 yards on 16 carries against the Bruins. That was a season low, as was his 3.4 yards per carry.
UCLA wasn't 56 points better than the Wildcats, who finished last season 8-5. It was just one of those games. The Bruins played well in all phases and the Wildcats played poorly.
Funny thing about games like that, though. The losing coach tends to volunteer a better memory of it. The winning coach wants his players to erase their recollection and any residual feelings that might influence their perception of how and why things went down as they did.
As Bruins coach Jim Mora effused, "It's pretty irrelevant to us."
Mora's Bruins are headed to Tucson to again face the Wildcats in another key South clash on Saturday night. He doesn't want his players to think this game will be easy just because last year's was. And Rodriguez is hoping his players might compete with a little more edge and focus, knowing they got humiliated last year in by far the team's worst performance in Rodriguez's first season.
"I would hope just from a competitor's standpoint, when you didn't play well against somebody, you'd want to have another chance to show you are a little bit better than what you did," Rodriguez said.
Last year's game also had another notable occurrence: B.J. Denker had to come off the bench for an injured Matt Scott, who suffered a concussion, and Denker would make his first career start the following weekend against Colorado.
While Denker is a much different and better quarterback than he was a year ago, this game more likely turns on Carey looking like a player trying to lead the nation in rushing for a second consecutive season rather than the guy he was in last year's UCLA-Arizona game.
Carey leads the nation with 153.1 yards rushing per game and averages a strong 5.7 yards per carry. While the Bruins' run defense has yielded some yards -- 167.6 per game, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12 -- it limits opposing runners to 3.9 yards per carry, which is tied for fifth in the conference.
Carey was largely irrelevant in last year's game because the Wildcats fell behind by a large margin, forcing them to throw, and throw ineffectively.
Arizona can't afford to let the Bruins get off to another fast start and take Carey -- and the crowd -- out of the game. Mora certainly knows that Carey is where everything starts for the Wildcats offense.
"This guy, I don't think you stop him," Mora said. "He's too good. He's leading the nation in rushing. You just hope to contain him a little bit, not let him break the long ones."
While Mora didn't have many thoughts about last year's game, he did have some ideas about why Carey is again putting up such big numbers.
"He runs hard," Mora said. "He's got great vision. He's good after contact. He's elusive. He's powerful. He's a slasher. He can catch it in the open field. He can break the long one. He can get the tough yards up inside. He's got all the attributes you look for in a great running back."
The good news for the Bruins is they have a strong defensive front seven, a 3-4 scheme anchored by a crew of linebackers who rank among the nation's best.
Yet defense is also where Arizona is most different from 2012. The Wildcats wore down last year on defense in the first year of using Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme. An inexperienced unit that wasn't that talented in the first place was hit hard by injuries. This year, the Wildcats rank among the Pac-12 leaders in most defensive categories. While still not exactly loaded with future NFL talent, particularly on the defensive line, the Wildcats are playing good team defense.
That said, the best offenses on the Wildcats' schedule have yet to be faced, and that starts Saturday with the Bruins and quarterback Brett Hundley.
Both teams are 6-2 overall and 3-2 in conference play, though the Bruins are 19th in the BCS rankings largely due to their first eight games being significantly tougher.
Still, both teams' seasons will be judged by how they handle their final four contests. The winner Saturday, for one, will announce itself as a South Division contender.
"This is at least where you want to be in November, with a chance to play meaningful games with a lot at stake," Rodriguez said. "And here we are with a big one Saturday night."
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