Arizona football will try to take control of Pac-12 South against Bruins
At his introductory press conference last November, head coach Rich Rodriguez said his goal was to bring the UA to its first-ever Rose Bowl.
On Saturday, the No. 24 Wildcats will travel to Los Angeles to take on No. 25 UCLA at 7:30 p.m. in the Rose Bowl Stadium.
The BCS Rose Bowl doesn’t take place until Jan. 1, but the UA has caught the rest of the Pac-12 off guard as it makes a run for Rodriguez’s ultimate goal.
USC was supposed to win the Pac-12 South, yet the Wildcats upset it 39-36 last week at Arizona Stadium.
If Arizona defeats the Bruins and USC falls to No. 4 Oregon the Wildcats will be in a tie for first place in the South with UCLA and USC, and will hold the tiebreaker for having beaten both California schools.
Rodriguez doesn’t want Arizona getting too far ahead of itself.
“That is way out there,” Rodriguez said. “I’m worried about tomorrow’s practice. I haven’t thought about anything but what we have to do to win this game.”
The Bruins are not a team to look past, either. UCLA opened some eyes in week two, upsetting then-No.16 Nebraska, and its rushing attack led by Johnathan Franklin is 23rd in the nation and second in the Pac-12.
Franklin leads the Pac-12 with 1,042 yards, to go with six touchdowns, and is complemented by versatile freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who has 267 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s one of the best backs, probably in the country, definitely in the Pac-12,” defensive lineman Tevin Hood said. “He’s a hard runner. With the lead option and lead zone they run we need to focus on keeping up with him and Hundley. We can’t have any holes in the defense.”
Luckily, the Wildcats have a bit of practice going against a speedy quarterback-running back combination.
“We go against Matt [Scott] and Ka’Deem [Carey] all the time,” linebacker Marquis Flowers said. “It definitely helps going against the speed of a spread offense like that with a quarterback that can run, because Matt and Ka’Deem gave us all the looks. We know what can hurt us. We just gotta go out and play.”
Arizona has earned high marks for its No.5-ranked passing offense (first in the Pac-12), and rightfully so, but the running game has been impressive in its own right. The Wildcats are third in the Pac-12 in rushing offense with 199.2 yards per game, just behind UCLA’s 216 per game and a ways back from Oregon’s 330.6.
Carey has vaulted himself into the discussion of top running backs in the Pac-12 with 961 yards and 12 touchdowns, in an impressive competition which includes Franklin, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor. The sophomore back said he thrives on facing off with some of the best running backs the conference, and the nation, has to offer.
“He’s a great player,” Carey said of Franklin. “I love to go against another great running back. Going against Franklin, you just wanna outrush him and outperform him. He’s gonna be looking to do the same thing.”
Both UCLA and Arizona run similar, no-huddle offenses. They have mobile quarterbacks and talented running backs, and both are looking to take the reins from USC at the top of the Pac-12 South on Saturday with a little help from Oregon. Scott isn’t looking at the standings, or toward the possibility of a berth in the Pac-12 championship game.
“We just need to keep winning,” Scott said. “We can lose respect really easy by losing a couple games here or there. So we just want to keep going, keep fighting and try to get W’s. If we can do that we’ll keep getting respect.”