UCLA at Arizona
Saturday, Oct. 14 | Arizona Stadium
Arizona fell from first in the Pac-12 South in 2014 to fifth in one year, then slid one rung lower in 2016, bottoming out with only one conference win.
The Wildcats (3-9, 1-8 Pac-12 last year) continued to struggle defensively in 2016, but were also had one of the most anemic offenses in the league. Despite leading the conference in rushing, Arizona was the Pac-12’s lowest-scoring team with only 24.8 points.
An unsettled quarterback competition and more shuffling on the defensive coaching staff leave the Wildcats with a lot of questions heading into the season.
“We’ve just got so many unknown guys that I think have the talent and are going to be good enough to win with, but until they do it in a game, you don’t really know,” head coach Rich Rodriguez told the Arizona Daily Star. “I feel good about their attitude. I think we’ve got a bunch of guys who love football. There’s no question we’ll be better.”
— Perfect: Head coach Jim Mora is undefeated against Arizona with the Bruins winning each game by an average of 23.6 points. The only other Pac-12 team yet to record a win against Mora is his alma mater Washington, which has only faced UCLA twice in the coach’s sixth-year tenure. Last year, the Bruins scored 31 points in the second half to pull away from the Wildcats in the final full game of Josh Rosen’s season before he suffered a shoulder injury the next week.
— We’ve got a runner: Arizona’s quarterback position is unsettled, but whether the eventual winner of the job is junior Brandon Dawkins or sophomore Khalil Tate, the starter will be a dynamic runner. Dawkins led the team in rushing last year with 944 yards on 131 carries, but battled injuries, which forced the Wildcats to burn Tate’s redshirt. Tate made his collegiate debut against UCLA, coming in during the third quarter, and finished the game as Arizona’s leading rusher (79 yards on 15 carries).
— Defensive struggles: Arizona’s 38.3 points allowed per game ranked 118th in the country during defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ first year in the desert. The pass defense relinquished 275.2 yards per game, which ranked 11th in the Pac-12. Yates, who coached linebackers along with his defensive coordinator duties last year, will coach cornerbacks and “spur” safeties this season after the Wildcats hired former Nevada defensive coordinator Scott Boone as its linebackers coach. Arizona allowed at least 35 points in each of its Pac-12 games, including a staggering 69-point total to Washington State.
Players to watch
— RB J.J. Taylor: A broken ankle ended Taylor’s freshman season just as it was taking off. He rushed for 265 yards in seven quarters against Hawaii and Washington before suffering the injury in the third quarter against the Huskies, which was his first career start. The sophomore told reporters that he wasn’t at full speed this spring, but he was still a star at the team’s Spring Showcase. With senior Nick Wilson, who has been fighting injuries since rushing for 1,375 yards in 2014, the Wildcats have two strong options at running back if they can stay healthy.
— S Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles: Arizona’s defense has been among the worst in the Pac-12 for the past two years, but Flannigan-Fowles was one of the unit’s few strengths. The junior free safety is the team’s top returning tackler with 78 last year. He added four tackles for loss and two interceptions.
— CB Jace Whittaker: Whittaker didn’t begin 2016 in the starting lineup, but he locked down the starting role by October with a breakout performance against Utah in which had four solo tackles and four pass breakups, the most for an Arizona player in a single game since 2007. He played in 11 games as a freshman in 2015, and is now a battle-tested upperclassman playing opposite redshirt senior Dane Cruikshank.
Arizona in a GIF
UCLA 2017 schedule
Sun., Sept. 3: Texas A&M at UCLA, 4:30 p.m. PT, FOX/FOX Deportes
Sat., Sept. 9: Hawai’i at UCLA, 2 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks
Sat., Sept. 16: UCLA at Memphis, 9 a.m. PT, ABC/ESPN2 mirror
Sat., Sept. 23: UCLA at Stanford
Sat., Sept. 30: Colorado at UCLA
Sat., Oct. 7: BYE
Sat., Oct. 14: UCLA at Arizona
Sat., Oct. 21: Oregon at UCLA
Sat., Oct. 28: UCLA at Washington
Fri., Nov. 3: UCLA at Utah, 6:30 p.m. PT, FS1/FOX Deportes
Sat., Nov. 11: Arizona State at UCLA
Sat., Nov. 18: UCLA at USC
Fri. Nov. 24: California at UCLA, 7:30 p.m. FS1/FOX Deportes
Fri., Dec. 1 or Sat., Dec. 2: Pac-12 Football Championship Game