Column: Mistackles and miscues plague Wildcats defense in loss against UCLA

UCLA+running+back+Paul+Perkins+%2824%29+runs+into+the+endzone+for+a+touchdown+at+Arizona+Stadium+while+Arizona+defensive+lineman+Luca+Bruno+%2860%29+gives+chase+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+26.+Perkins+ran+three+touchdowns+in+the+UCLA+victory.+

Tyler Baker

UCLA running back Paul Perkins (24) runs into the endzone for a touchdown at Arizona Stadium while Arizona defensive lineman Luca Bruno (60) gives chase on Saturday, Sept. 26. Perkins ran three touchdowns in the UCLA victory.

Kyle Hansen

Saturday night was tough to swallow for Arizona football. Its matchup against UCLA was a chance to make a splash in the Pac-12 Conference and show the nation what the Wildcats are capable of.

Unfortunately, they were unable to answer the bell.

So far this season, there has been a discussion of who will be the X-factor for the Wildcats. Will it be Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson or the offense as a whole? How about Scooby Wright III? After Saturday night’s loss, the Wildcats showed us who would need to be that difference. 

The defense as a whole needs to step up.

Before UCLA, the Wildcat defense showed that it struggles early in the game and particularly against the run. Against NAU, it struggled stopping the running game and allowed the Lumberjacks to hang around with the Wildcats for the first quarter. It struggled stopping the run against Nevada, and UTSA was also an early scare.

Arizona’s defense struggled throughout the entire game Saturday, but particularly in the first half. UCLA’s offense was efficient, going 7-8 on third down in the first half and taking care of the ball. UCLA went 11-15 on third down for the entire game. 

Coming into the game, UCLA running back Paul Perkins and true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen were the biggest factors for the Bruins offense, and on Saturday they showed how. 

Rosen looked solid in his Pac-12 road debut, going 19-28 for 284 yards with two touchdowns. Rosen shredded the Arizona secondary with ease, but the defensive pressure never made him uncomfortable in the pocket. UCLA’s offensive line looked solid, stopping any pass rush the Wildcats threw at Rosen.

Rosen is one of many solid Pac-12 quarterbacks the Wildcats will face this year. Cody Kessler from USC, Mike Bercovici from ASU and Travis Wilson from Utah will all get a shot to carve up this defense. The Wildcats must figure out a way to generate more quarterback pressure, or else it’s going to be a long season ahead.

Perkins was the MVP of the game, rushing 24 times for 85 yards with three scores. Perkins shed tackles left and right and seemed to be running with ease. Backup Soso Jamabo also ran nine times for 96 yards with a score later in the game. The Wildcats’ tackling ability was poor. They could not wrap up Perkins, and UCLA was able to move the ball with ease. The Bruins also finished the game perfect in the red zone at 7-7, all touchdowns. Arizona went 3-5 in the red zone.

“We didn’t tackle well; it was real disappointing,” said head coach Rich Rodriguez after the game. “I thought we had tackled okay prior to today, but they had some good skill players, good running backs that make you miss, and our tackling was really poor. That’s been a concern for us all year, just because it’s hard to practice it, particularly when you’re hurt and banged up.”

Even Scooby, who is one of the most solid tacklers in college football, was struggling to wrap up. The defense just could not catch a break Saturday night.

In short, the Bruins’ offense took advantage of an unprepared Arizona defense.

Arizona needs to get better at pressuring the quarterback. That should be the priority, because hurrying quarterbacks will take some pressure off of the secondary. They get burned because someone like Rosen has all day to stand in the pocket and check over each of his options. A vet like Kessler or Wilson will cause even more damage given the opportunity.

This defense is not a bad one with players like Wright, Will Parks and Cam Denson lining up. They just ran into a buzz saw in UCLA. Perkins has been an untold story this year, yet he has been dominant through the first four games of this season. 

However, if the Wildcats want to remain in the Pac-12 mix throughout the year, some serious adjustments must be made on the defensive end. UCLA should serve as a wakeup call for the Wildcats.