This time last year, UCLA (2-2, 0-1, Pac-12) and Arizona were featured on College Game Day. Both teams were undefeated and ranked No. 9 and No. 16 respectively.
Now they’re struggling to string together wins over quality opponents. Both the Bruins and the Wildcats are looking for their first Pac-12 win after dropping close home matches the week before.
Here’s a scouting report of Arizona (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12), led by fifth-year coach Rich Rodriguez.
Strength: Run game
X-factor: Quarterback Brandon Dawkins
Arizona’s most potent weapon is also its only weapon.
The Wildcats live and die by the run game. They’re 10th nationally in rushing yards and 13 of their 16 touchdowns this season have come on the ground.
Dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins is a big part of the run game, stepping up after starter Anu Solomon injured his knee. Dawkins averages 8.88 yards a carry and 130 yards a game, rushing for seven touchdowns through three starts.
But the redshirt sophomore isn’t nearly as dangerous in the air. He’s completed 62 percent of his passes, but thrown just three touchdowns to one interception. Dawkins isn’t as experienced as UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and this will be his first big road game as a starter.
Solomon is one of the most decorated players in Wildcat history. He’s currently fourth in school history with over 6,000 yards in his career, but he’s just one of eight Arizona players injured and likely to sit out for the game.
Two of the other injured players are major contributors to the run game.
Starter Nick Wilson injured his ankle earlier this season and his replacement freshman tailback J.J. Taylor broke his ankle against Washington last week. Per ESPN, Taylor is out indefinitely while Wilson is listed as questionable for this Saturday’s game.
[Predictions: See who the Daily Bruin staffers are picking this week]
Arizona’s receivers are experienced, but aren’t used as extensively as last year. Dawkins’ top target is sophomore Shun Brown who leads the team with 13 catches for 213 yards this season. Receivers Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey are the Wildcats’ next top-three passing options, but Dawkins relies primarily on his running ability and short passes to get first downs.
In his first big road game, Dawkins has an experienced offensive line protecting him. They’re physical and have opened up the gaps for Dawkins to run the ball but have allowed eight sacks on the year.
UCLA’s defense has improved since playing Texas A&M with two big games against BYU and Stanford. The Bruins will rely heavily on redshirt junior Eddie Vanderdoes and senior defensive lineman Takk McKinley to stop the run game. Without McKinley, UCLA had no pass rush and Texas A&M was able to open up a big lead in the third quarter. Both players missed the UNLV game but suited up against the Cougars and Cardinal to put more pressure on the quarterbacks. If the defense can do what they’ve done for the last two weeks, Dawkins won’t be able to pick up the yardage he’s accustomed to.
Weakness: Size, Injuries, Inexperience
X-factor: Free safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
If there’s a game where the Bruins’ offense can get into rhythm, it’ll be against the Wildcats.
First-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates is working with an undersized group that really doesn’t have the ability to blitz or stop the run.
Arizona has given up 102 points so far this season, including 35 in an overtime loss to Washington last weekend. The Huskies ran for 352 yards against just 160 yards passing.
The Wildcats will be one of the worst rushing defenses the Bruins have faced this year especially without linebacker Scooby Wright. Arizona has given up over 5 yards a carry, 11th in the conference just ahead of Cal.
Part of the reason is their defensive line. Their starters are quick, but they’re undersized which gives a chance for opposing teams to control the line of scrimmage.
The linebackers are the core of the defense. Redshirt senior Cody Ippolito, Paul Magloire and Michael Barton have been solid and disruptive especially in the blitz game.
As bad as the rush defense is, the Wildcats are relatively good in coverage. Flannigan-Fowles leads the team with two interceptions and 20 unassisted tackles. DaVonte’ Neal and Dane Cruikshank have been able to pressure receivers, but the rush defense is so bad that teams usually opt to run against Arizona.
UCLA’s offense hasn’t been consistent thus far, but Arizona doesn’t look like a team that will put up a challenge for them. The Bruins should be able to run the ball early and often against the Wildcats to gain confidence after a lackluster few weeks.