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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A on Arizona football with Daily Bruin reporter Matt Cummings

Tyler Baker
Alsadek UCLA

Arizona faces UCLA on Saturday in the Wildcats’ first true road game of the 2016 season. Arizona and UCLA are both 2-2 on the year, but the Bruins’ losses are to much better competition in Texas A&M and Stanford.

Matt Cummings, senior sports writer for The Daily Bruin of the University of California Los Angeles, shared his thoughts about Saturday’s game.

Daily Wildcat: Josh Rosen had a tremendous freshman year. How is he doing so far as a sophomore?

Cummings: The expectations for Rosen are always going to be sky-high, so it’s hard to say he’s met them thus far as a sophomore.

The Bruins implemented a new offense this offseason that gives Rosen more control, but also more pressure to read defenses and work through his progressions.

Through the first couple games, the young quarterback seemed to still be adjusting to the newfound responsibilities. He threw three interceptions in the opener at Texas A&M, and after the game, told reporters he would never again play as poorly as he did in the first half against the Aggies. So far, that’s been true, though he still hasn’t seemed to put it all together.

His completion percentage is up a tick from last year, but he’s only thrown five touchdowns through the first four games and has yet to produce the type of dominant performance Bruin fans might want to see out of him. Of course, he had a significantly more experienced receiving corps last year with the likes of current NFL-ers Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte.

Rosen did play his best game of the season [last] Saturday against Stanford. Considering the Cardinal’s defensive prowess, that’s encouraging, but much of his success did come after Stanford lost its two starting cornerbacks to injuries.

Throughout the first four games, [Rosen has] displayed his usual excellence in the intermediate passing game. UCLA has the eighth-most passing plays of 10-plus yards in the nation and ranks No. 11 in the country in first downs through the air. But Rosen has yet to have success throwing deep to any of his receivers. We’ll see if that changes on Saturday.

What is the mood for UCLA so far? Would you say it is over-achieving, under-achieving or doing about as expected?

Much of the UCLA fanbase—or at least the vocal segment of it—remains devastated by the late meltdown against Stanford—the Bruins’ ninth straight loss to the Cardinal—and thus would probably say the team has under-achieved.

There’s validity to that assessment, but I’d argue the Bruins have done about as expected. They’re 2-2, but their two losses have both come in very tight games against teams now ranked in the top 10 in the nation, and they played as tough against Stanford as they have in years.

The realistic goal heading into the season was to win the Pac-12 South and then hopefully beat Stanford in the title game. That’s still possible, and in fact, there’s no real reason to expect UCLA not to do that.

But after last week, there are definitely fans that see UCLA heading down the same frustrating path toward an eight-win season despite the talent for a better outcome. The game against Arizona will likely have a big effect on people’s outlooks for this team. A loss would generate a pretty significant uproar, and fans would probably abandon all hope for the season.

Arizona’s running game is carrying the offense so far. How will UCLA try to combat that?

In recent years, UCLA has had a ton of trouble against the run. Last year, its performance in that aspect was so lacking that the Bruins spent all offseason committing to becoming bigger and more physical to prevent butt-whuppings like those that came at the hands of Stanford and Nebraska.

That new-found commitment to stopping the run didn’t seem to pay off early on, as Texas A&M and UNLV gashed UCLA for a combined 378 yards in the first two games, but the Bruins turned in a dominant run-stopping effort the next week against BYU. The Cougars managed just 23 yards on 25 carries, the lowest rushing total by a UCLA opponent since 2008.

Against Stanford, UCLA allowed 207 yards on the ground, but that’s really just a testament to how incredible Christian McCaffrey is. The Bruins actually presented a stout defensive front; McCaffrey just churned out yards that other backs don’t get.

A large amount of Arizona’s running game comes from its quarterback Brandon Dawkins, so UCLA will likely use its linebackers as spies. The Bruins like to refer to the concept as “covering” the quarterback, but it’s essentially a quarterback spy.

Their two most prominent linebackers, Jayon Brown and Kenny Young, have both looked very good the past two weeks in terms of controlling the running game, so it should be a good matchup.

Brown and Young were able to cause problems for BYU’s running quarterback Taysom Hill, but Hill looked slow in that game. Dawkins is certainly not slow, so it will be a more difficult test this time out.

What is a name Arizona fans do not know that will have a big impact?

With Eli Ankou’s status unclear after the defensive tackle injured his elbow against Stanford, freshman Boss Tagaloa figures to see a good amount of playing time this week on the interior of the line. He’s seen more time as the season has gone along and his play has progressed as well.

Though he’s not the dominant behemoth that Eddie Vanderdoes is, Tagaloa has increasingly been able to hold his own against opposing offensive linemen. His work— especially if Ankou is unavailable— will be key for the UCLA defense in stopping Arizona’s running game between the tackles.

Prediction…who wins and why?

The UCLA defense has been much improved in recent weeks and has already demonstrated a schematic answer for a running quarterback (Taysom Hill), as well as an ability to limit big gains from a dangerous play-maker (Christian McCaffrey), so I don’t expect Brandon Dawkins to have as much success as he’s enjoyed in recent weeks.

On the other side of the ball, the Arizona defense has been pretty bad, especially against the intermediate throws that are such a staple of Rosen’s game.

I think the sophomore quarterback will pick the Wildcats apart, and the running game has a good opportunity to get loose as well against the Arizona defense.

I’ll pick UCLA to win, 31-17.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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