After a big shakeup in the polls last week, week four brings all the potential for even more upsets that could affect the playoff picture later in the season.
This week, we head out to the west coast in Tucson, Arizona for the first time this season for a top-20 showdown in the Pac-12 South between No. 9 UCLA and No. 16 Arizona for Campus Sports Net’s week four Game of the Week.
UCLA comes into Arizona ranked 9th in the Associated Press poll and 3-0 after barely edging out BYU in game that came down to the wire. UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr.’s squad was frankly outplayed by the Cougars last Saturday. The Bruins’ highly-touted freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen, had the worst game of his young collegiate career, throwing three interceptions. Junior running back Paul Perkins put the team on his back as he rushed for 219 yards and a touchdown along with four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, leading them to a 24-23 victory.
The Bruins’ defense couldn’t get off the field for the majority of the game, allowing 26 first downs and 405 total yards of offense. The time of possession was dominated by BYU, 40:37 minutes to 19:23 minutes.
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez leads his Wildcats into this week’s match-up ranked 16th in the AP poll with a 3-0 record after destroying Northern Arizona, 77-13. Last Saturday, Arizona’s high-powered offense broke a few school records in their performance, some of those including total yards in a single game (792), rushing yards in a single game (499) and points in a single game (77). Granted their performance was against an outmatched FCS team, Arizona showed just how lethal their offense can be.
The Wildcat defense played up to par, once again without their leader in junior linebacker Scooby Wright III. Arizona allowed just 17 points, 346 total yards, with the majority of those coming in garbage time, and forced three turnovers.
Keys to the Game
The Absence/Presence of Scooby Wright III
In 2014, Wright led the Arizona defense with 153 total tackles, 38 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, six forced fumbles with one recovery and one interception. This season the Wildcat’s star only played a few minutes in their season opener against UTSA getting one tackle before suffering a knee injury. After Wright left the game, his loss was certainly felt as the defense allowed 525 total yards and 32 points.
There has been speculation that Wright could come back for their Pac-12 opener against the Bruins, but he is still uncertain. If Wright plays against UCLA, the Wildcats will look make the Bruins one-dimensional and take away their run game, forcing the true freshman Rosen to beat them through the air. If Wright doesn’t play, which is most likely, it will be tough task to slow down a balanced UCLA team without his impact to wreak havoc and force pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The biggest difference in the outcome of this game will be all about turnovers. Arizona doesn’t turnover the football, only giving up two fumbles all year. On the other hand, UCLA is coming into a hostile environment with a true freshman quarterback in Rosen, who has thrown four interceptions already, throwing three in their last outing against BYU.
Unless UCLA can help limit mistakes of their young QB, this game could play straight into the hands of Arizona.
Players to Watch
Anu Solomon, Arizona Sophomore Quarterback
The key to success in Rich Rodriguez’s high scoring offense lies in the quarterback position and with Solomon, there is no question that he is a perfect fit. Solomon is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football this season completing over 68 percent of his passes. Through three games, the sophomore has thrown for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. That’s right, zero.
To win this game, Solomon just needs to continue what he has down through the first three games. He’s one of the clear leaders of this Arizona team. As long as he can get it done through the air and on the ground, the Wildcats can expect nothing but success behind the leadership of Solomon.
Josh Rosen, UCLA Freshman Quarterback
Among the top quarterback prospects of last year’s recruiting class, Rosen came to UCLA looking to one day lead the Bruins to the Promised Land; however, in the offseason Rosen’s chance came sooner rather than later after earning his stripes and was announced as the starter for the season opener against Virginia. In his starting debut, Rosen absolutely shined throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns, but since his first game, Rosen’s play has been below average in his last two starts, throwing four interceptions to just two touchdowns.
While Rosen is young, Arizona will look to make the true freshman beat them with his arm. While he has shown flashes of greatness, he has also been inconsistent with his decision making. For the Bruins to win Saturday, Rosen needs to play more like a senior in his first conference road game.
These two offenses have shown the ability to score and put up points, but the team that is most efficient and forces more turnovers will win. With a true freshman quarterback starting in his first conference game on the road, the Wildcats’ defense will slow down Perkins and UCLA’s running game, forcing Rosen to try and make plays and ultimately make mistakes, something Arizona’s Solomon just doesn’t do. Arizona is 0-3 against UCLA under Rich Rodriguez, but on Saturday he will get his first win against the Bruins since becoming head coach of the Wildcats.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports