The last time UCLA played a ranked team from the state of Arizona, the result was a blowout in favor of the Bruins. As a result, they were put back into the College Football Playoff conversation.
While that conversation is somewhat unlikely, a win over Arizona will keep UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship conversation. The Wildcats have one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in Anu Solomon, a linebacker with quite possibly the best name in college football in Scooby Wright and a team capable of statement wins that many once counted out.
Here are three things to watch when No. 22 UCLA hosts No. 12 Arizona, Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
1. Solomon slinging it
Another week, another proficient passer. Such is life in the Pac-12 Conference.
Arizona runs one of the more traditional college spread offenses under their guru head coach Rich Rodriguez, with dual-threat redshirt-freshman Solomon under center this season. A pass-first quarterback, Solomon is fifth in the FBS in with 374 passing yards per game and he’s averaging about 10 rushes per game.
But we all know the problems UCLA has had with stopping the run. And in case you aren’t up to speed, just ask Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson, who gained 98 yards and threw for 95 more in a loss to the Bruins.
"His ability to throw the ball on the run, that makes that offense go," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. "Every play they really have three options, sometimes four. They’ve got their handoff, he can pull it and run, he can pull it and throw it to a slant, he can pull it and throw it to a wheel. They’re the epitome of a team that makes you defend the entire field every single play."
Aside from Solomon, the Wildcats run a pair of backs who split the workload. Nick Wilson has rushed for 592 yards and seven touchdowns while Terrance Grigsby-Jones has 496 yards and has found the end zone three times.
2. Scooby dooby defense
The Wildcats run a 3-3-5 defense in order to combat speedy spread offenses, much like the one UCLA runs. But defense hasn’t been Arizona’s strong suit after the loss of most of their defensive personnel. Coming into this game, Arizona is ranked No. 10 in the Pac-12 in total defense and 11 in passing defense.
However, the Wildcats are much better at stopping the run (139.7 yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns allowed) than the pass, and that begins with linebacker Scooby Wright III.
The once-unheralded recruit turned winner of multiple National Defensive Player of the Week awards this week, is second in the conference, behind UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, in tackles with 78 tackles, including 14 for a loss of 61 yards.
"Scooby, I’ve said it before, but he’s an athletic guy, maybe more athletic than people give him credit for, and he’s only going to keep getting stronger," Rodriguez said. "But he does have that feel of when to separate and make a play and that’s what the good ones have."
UCLA running back Paul Perkins has quietly put together a prolific season. The redshirt sophomore needs only four more yards to reach the 1,000 rushing yard mark and become only the 13th Bruin to do so.
Perkins is currently 11th in the FBS with 996 yards and his 124.5 yards per game average is 13th. And the remarkable thing is, Perkins has accomplished this while being forced to sit out for entire halves and for a few games, he was even playing behind Myles Jack and Jordon James.
Watch for that first rush, because it could be special.