Every week, we talk to someone who covers the opposing team to get an insider's perspective on our opponent. This week, we talked to Greg Burcham, a managing editor over at BruinsNation, to get his thoughts on this game.
1. Josh Rosen looked really impressive against Virginia, but struggled a little bit against BYU. How do you expect him to perform against Arizona this week?
Greg Burcham: Well, it's a little harder to predict now than it was a week ago, isn't it? Josh looked so polished and poised and calm in the first game that we thought maybe we weren't going to see a lot of the bad mistakes and poor decisions that you'd expect from a true freshman. But that's exactly what he looked like against BYU, especially in the first half when he threw 3 picks. One was just kind of a bad luck bounce on a tight throw, but two were just simply bad decisions - rolling right and throwing late back across the middle on a shortened field. To his credit, he didn't seem to show much wear for it, and he played a safe and solid, if not spectacular, second half. Rosen has great tools and an enormous ceiling, but while he may be adept at making college level throws, reading college level defensive fronts and coverages is still new to him. I'm sure your defensive coordinator noticed that BYU threw a lot of disguised fronts and zone blitzes at him, and that's what will force Rosen and Bruin fans to face those growing pains. So having said that, it's hard to predict which Josh Rosen we'll see in Tucson, but I think a lot of his fate will be determined by the success, or lack of, in the running game. If the Bruins can control the ground game, then Rosen will have the luxury of picking and choosing his spots and will hopefully have learned some lessons from last week about trying to do too much. If not, then the Arizona defense will really have the advantage on the kid.
2. Both Arizona and UCLA have seen their defenses devastated by injuries early this season. What defenders for UCLA do you expect to see step up now that Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes, and Fabian Moreau are out?
Greg Burcham: Yeah, don't you just hate injuries? Having said that, it would be great if Scooby could use one more week of recovery, just to be safe, you know? As for the Bruins, it's going to be committee approach. Vanderdoes was an honorable mention All Pac-12 Player last year, but the Bruins had some good luck with Eli Ankou and Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner filling his spot in the last 2 games. The Bruins are lucky to have probably the conference's top NT beside them in Kenneth Clark as he's going to demand a lot of double teams which leaves a bit more space for the tackles filling in for Vanderdoes. Fabian Moreau was the Bruins best corner, but they are pretty deep in the secondary, and the Bruins did get a bit of a break with the return of Ishmael Adams this week. Adams was suspended since the preseason after a knuckleheaded episode with an Uber driver got him arrested. All the major charges are now dropped (he may still face a misdemeanor count), so he was reinstated this week. Another option would be to move Randall Goforth from safety to corner and go with his backup Tahaan Goodman. Replacing Jack is near impossible because he is so good at playing both the run and pass. He plays one ILB in base defense and then slides outside to cover the slot receiver in the nickel. Look for Aaron Wallace or Isaako Savaiinaea and Jayon Brown to work in his ILB spot against the run, and we could see Adams come in to play that slot cover position in nickel. The problem with all that is it is so hard to sub against Arizona's high tempo offense, and it would be easy enough to audible to a play depending on personnel. Filling Jack's shoes will be the major challenge for DC Tom Bradley this weekend.
3. As a UCLA fan, what aspect of this match-up worries you the most? What aspect are you the most confident in?
Greg Burcham: This game worried me from the start of training camp since it's the first conference game and I simply expect the talent level and speed and competition to be that much higher than any of the preseason opponents (Virginia, UNLV, BYU). I don't think Arizona got enough credit in the run-up to the 2015 season. Most people were picking Southern Cal, then ASU or UCLA, and then Arizona and Utah kind of coming next. All Arizona is is the defending Pac-12 South champs who beat Oregon last year, and who have a lot of key players including QB coming back. The South is just so deep this year that there is so little room for error. On the other hand, and this may seem sort of counter intuitive, but I think this week's injuries will really rally the Bruins together in a sort of an us-against-the-world mindset, and I think they'll come out focused and play their best game so far this year. Now, they may or may not have enough talent across the lineup to beat a great team on the road anymore, but I feel confident that we'll see a great effort from U.C.L.A. this Saturday. And U.C.L.A. has been really solid on the road the last couple years.
4. What is your prediction for the game?
Greg Burcham: The Pac-12 refs will screw something up. That's pretty much a given. Honestly, I think the the main focus of the Wildcats' defense should be stopping the Bruins run game which racked up 296 yrs against BYU. If the D can contain the Bruins running game, then the pressure falls on Rosen to keep the offense moving, and I'm sure the Arizona DC saw some things from the BYU game that he'll use or tweak to confuse Rosen. You have to like the reliability of Anu Solomon over Josh Rosen right now. That, combined with the high tempo offense of the Cats, should let them really dictate the play to the Bruins defense, especially if they can pinpoint certain personnel in the secondary. It should be a very interesting matchup, and whichever teams survives this will have a huge step up in the Pac-12 South race.