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UCLA Football Preview: A Struggling Arizona Defense Opens Door Wide Open for Bruins
With a decimated secondary and transfers all over the defense, UCLA has the opportunity to get back to .500 this weekend.
The Arizona Wildcats have been struggling this season, blowing a late game lead against Southern Cal and giving up 44 points to the Washington Huskies last weekend. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is looking to make some huge improvements this year after finishing last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and total defense and second-worst against opponent rushing and passing in 2019.
The defense has seen a lot of change, starting with the addition of defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads and losing several veteran defensive players to the transfer portal. Bu the Wildcats also have some interesting graduate transfers that are slated to take a starting role.
The defensive line will feature two graduate transfers in defensive end Aaron Blackwell and nose tackle Roy Lopez. Blackwell comes from New Mexico and Lopez transferred from New Mexico State. Both will hopefully bring some experience to lessen the load of new line coach Stan Eggen.
Sophomore tackle Kyon Barrs took an interesting route getting to the Wildcats. He was planning on attending Riverside City College but, after a key workout where former Arizona cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin was present, he ended up earning the opportunity to play for Arizona. As a freshman, he recorded 13 tackles in 11 games and he has the potential for a solid second year. He is high on the stats list already, with nine total tackles in just two games.
If the Wildcats had one strength on defense in the past, it was their linebackers. Unfortunately, this year they are working on replacing both Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II, who both transferred after the Coronavirus pandemic postponed the start of the 2020 Pac-12 season. But, another way to look at this position is that both of those guys were around last year when the the Wildcats were dead last in the conference in defense. So, at this point there is nowhere to go but up.
The Mike position will feature redshirt junior Parker Henley and freshman Derick Mourning, who have been interchangeable in this role in the last two games. Mourning has had a good amount of playing time so far and is going to give Arizona depth at this position going forward.
At Sam, redshirt junior Rourke Freeburg and redshirt freshman Kwabena Watson will be trading snaps and, on the weak side, Anthony Pandy will be the only starting senior in this group. Redshirt junior Jalen Harris will complete the unit in the Buck spot and has had a solid two games with eight tackles so far.
The departures of Tristan Cooper and Jace Whittaker already left a void for the Wildcats, but Arizona’s secondary became a huge concern when Scottie Young Jr., Troy Young, Xavier Bell and Chacho Ulloa all entered the transfer portal in the spring.
This unit has almost had to completely rebuild, leaving room for new players to step into starting roles. Sophomores Christian Roland-Wallace and Jaxen Turner are already making an impact, with Turner recording 11 total tackles in just two games. Redshirt seniors Jarrius Wallace and Lorenzo Burns will be at safety and corner respectively. Burns was another one of the Wildcats could have lost due to the delay of the 2020 season, as he has already graduated and made his intentions known to declare for the NFL draft. He made the choice to stay to boost his draft stock and is second on the team with 11 tackles.
Top Wildcat tackler Rhedi Short is one of only four scholarship players to return to Arizona this year and he leads the team with 14 tackles. When UCLA throws deep, this is the guy to watch for.
The Wildcats are yet to record an interception this year and have really struggled on defense. The Bruins have showed a ton of potential even in losing games , with early mistakes and too many turnovers costing them two games. Depending on the quarterback situation, UCLA is in a good position to pick up a win this weekend.