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Thursday, October 20, 2011
Defense key to Arizona turnaround

By Jason Starrett

In his first game as interim head coach, Tim Kish and the Arizona Wildcats host the UCLA Bruins on Thursday night (ESPN, 9 ET). Kish, previously the defensive coordinator, took over for former head coach Mike Stoops after Stoops was relieved of his duties last week.

Arizona has lost five straight games since a season-opening win over FCS Northern Arizona, but has won its past four meetings against the Bruins. In last season’s contest, Arizona jumped out to an early lead and racked up a season-high 583 yards of total offense in a 29-21 win at the Rose Bowl.

If the Wildcats hope to turn their season around they’ll need to start on the defensive side of the ball. Arizona comes into the game ranked last in the Pac-12 and among the 10 worst teams in the FBS in scoring defense (37.5 points per game), rush defense (196.0 yards per game) and total defense (487.7 yards per game). Arizona hasn’t finished worse than fifth in the conference in any of those categories since 2007.

If there has been a bright spot thus far for the Wildcats, it’s been the play of QB Nick Foles. Foles enters the game second among FBS passers in completions (201) and pass yards (2,255) this season and leads the Pac-12 in completion percentage (71.5). Foles has thrown for 7,932 yards in his Arizona career, third most in school history and sixth in the FBS since 2009.

On the other sideline, UCLA comes to town having leaned on its ground game this season to move the ball on offense. UCLA leads the Pac-12 in percentage of plays that were rushes (61.8) and trails only Oregon in rush yards per game (196.0). Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman have led the way, combining for 839 yards on the ground in six games this season. That total is the second most among teammates in the Pac-12.

In a matchup of differing offensive philosophies, the Bruins’ ability to control the ball and keep Foles & Co. off the field may be a deciding factor. UCLA has done a great job sustaining drives with its rush attack this season, having net an average time of possession of 34:05 per game (first in Pac-12, 10th in FBS).