This Saturday’s contest will feature a pair of 3-2 competitors each searching for their second consecutive conference win, since both programs are coming off wins against Colorado.
Arizona might be just one game over .500, but both its losses came by six points or fewer against 4-1 teams Utah and Houston. Quarterback Khalil Tate is coming off an FBS record performance, in which he rushed for 327 yards – the most ever by a quarterback in a college game. Such momentum coupled with home-field advantage could stifle UCLA early on.
Here’s a breakdown of Arizona’s offensive and defensive schemes heading into Saturday’s matchup in Tuscon, Arizona.
Base formation: Spread Option
Run/pass ratio: 64/36
Strengths: electric rushing attack
Weaknesses: consistent pass play
X-factor: quarterback Khalil Tate
The run/pass ratio should say it all when it comes to Arizona’s offense.
This is a group that is leading the Pac-12 in total rushing, but also sits dead last in passing yards by over 300 compared to the closest team. The reason the Wildcats have been able to run the ball so efficiently is because of how many options coach Rich Rodriguez has at his disposal.
The quarterback situation at Arizona is truly fascinating. Enter Brandon Dawkins – a SoCal native who won the job in camp this year after proving himself to be adequate under center after Anu Solomon went down last season. The redshirt junior led the Wildcats in rushing yards last season, boasting 944 yards on 7.2 yards a carry and 10 rushing touchdowns.
In the month of September, the dual-threat signal caller sported a 63 percent completion rate and averaged 6.6 yards a carry on the ground with over 340 yards rushing and 11 total touchdowns. However, things got complicated quickly for Rodriguez and his staff after Dawkins went down early in last week’s game against Colorado.
Sort of in a good way.
Now enter Khalil Tate – a quarterback who was a highly touted dual-threat quarterback coming out of powerhouse Junípero Serra in nearby Gardena, California. Stepping in for Dawkins, the game was never the same once he walked on the field. Tate led a shootout victory and broke the FBS record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback.
He also managed to go 12-of-13 passing for 154 yards and a touchdown toss, in addition to his 327 on the ground and his four rushing touchdowns. Watch him bust a 75-yard run against Colorado last week.
So what did coach Rodriguez do? Of course, he hasn’t named a starter, but interestingly enough he’s named both Tate and Dawkins as “co-starters.” Dawkins is still nursing an injury that sidelined him for the entirety of their last game, and Tate seems to be too hot not to start. Even if Dawkins does see the field, Tate is far too explosive not to credit as the X-factor for this offense.
The Inglewood native busted a staggering eight runs of 25 yards or more, with four going for over 45. Arizona’s offensive line is playing extremely well five games into the season and uses a deep rotation of six or more linemen for the majority of the game. Four of these players are returning starters from last year and have shown their veteran experience.
Look at this play in which they execute the read option perfectly, allowing Dawkins to rush for 14 yards on Sept. 9 against Houston.
To the surprise of many, senior running back Nick Wilson has had a quiet season so far, rushing for just 213 yards. While his 4.7 yards a carry definitely have helped the Wildcats’ rushing attack, most of this can be attributed to his season-high 87 yards against Northern Arizona – when he averaged 10.9 yards on just eight carries. Wilson has failed to rush for over 45 yards excluding this game, and shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the Bruin defense.
In order to see success in this game, UCLA must force Tate to make plays in the air and stop his ground game. The front seven has had a really difficult time preventing explosive plays this season, and that seems to be his specialty.
The defense will have to account for him at all times.
Base formation: 3-3-5
Blitz tendency: Heavy
Strengths: Hard hitting and physical secondary
Weaknesses: Prone to giving up big runs
X-factor: safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates was hired after the 2015 season, and the Wildcats have taken some time to adjust to his new scheme. However, after finishing 3-9 last season, Yates’ system finally seems to be working to a degree. His unit mustered up a season-high four sacks last week, boosting their total to 10 on the year.
What allows Yates’ defense to cause so many problems for offenses lies within the scheme itself. Although the Wildcats frequently line up in a 4-2-5 formation that includes four down linemen, the majority of the game is run in a 3-3-5. Under this scheme, three linemen accompany three linebackers, two corners and a safety.
The last two players are known as the “bandit” and “spur” positions – hybrid positions consisting of both safety and linebacker play. Depending on how the offense is lined up, the bandit or spur can help on the run or drop back in coverage. Redshirt senior Dane Cruikshank takes over the spur spot this season, after playing both safety and corner in 12 starts last season.
However, the bandit spot is where Arizona likes to bring pressure – and for the second year, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles has been the guy bringing it. The junior safety has piled up 27 tackles and three interceptions five games into the season. Fowles notched 12 starts at the bandit spot last year, and seems to be really thriving in a familiar role.
Watch him read Houston’s quarterback for an easy interception in the clip below.
That being said, this Arizona defense can still be prone to giving up big plays. Last week, Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay rushed for a gaudy 281 yards on 6.9 yards a carry. His and Tate’s performances set an FBS record for most yards by two players in game. Arizona’s pressure often bites them in the tail for creating huge running lanes on the outside.
Check out Lindsay burst a 45-yard run on an outside handoff in last week’s game.
The Bruins will have to sport a strong rushing attack in addition to maintaining their Pac-12 leading pass play. Junior quarterback Josh Rosen will have to find ways to confuse a defense that is constantly in motion. All in all, this could be a very high-scoring affair between one of the best aerial teams in the nation in the Bruins and one of the best rushing attacks in the Wildcats.