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November 4, 2005

UCLA/Arizona Preview

The Bruins travel to the University of Arizona this weekend for another chance to go 1-0 this week. Will this be the week the Bruins put it all together and can get some much needed playing time for the underclassmen? The Bruins are a marked team. Beat the Bruins and the opposing teams season is suddenly a good one. Arizona brings plenty to the table that the Bruins should be concerned about.

The Wildcats will have an emotional edge this week because this is their homecoming game. They have spent all week getting ready to try to earn the biggest victory in the Stoops era. This will be the fifth ranked opponent the Wildcats have faced and the second team in the top ten.

It has been said that a team is only as good as its last game. Last week Arizona won its first Pac-10 game and now believes they have something to build on. The Wildcats started a new quarterback and this kid is for real.

When Coach Mike Stoops took over the job at Arizona, he inherited a team in disarray that did not know how to win. Stoops hit the recruiting trail and brought in some real difference makers for the Wildcats. One of his recruits is a six-foot-two 212-pound true freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama.

Tuitama started his first game last week against Oregon State and delivered the Wildcats first win over a Pac-10 team this year. He threw for 335 yards on 13 for 22 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He showed he is a leader and a player UCLA must keep pressure on throughout the game.

Tuitama has a couple of very good targets to throw to in six-foot-two 205-pound red-shirt sophomore Anthony Johnson and five-foot-eight 173-pound freshman Mike Thomas. Both of these players caught a touchdown pass in their win against Oregon State.

The Wildcats leading all-purpose yards leader is also wide receiver Syndric Steptoe. Steptoe is a five-foot-nine 170-pound junior who also returns kicks and punts for the Cats. He has 789 all-purpose yards and averages 112.7 all-purpose yards per game. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

Arizona's running game is not their strong suit. The Cats ran the ball thirty times for a net yardage of forty-nine yards against Oregon State.

The Wildcats on the season have run the ball 259 times for a net yardage of 776 yards for three yards per rush average. Their leading rusher, senior Mike Bell, comes in at six-feet, 211-pounds. He has run the ball 141 times for a net yardage of 645 yards.

As usual it is what's up front that will count in this game and Arizona does have some size and talent on the offensive line. Take a look at this starting line and one has to wonder why they haven't opened huge holes.

At left tackle is Peter Graniello, a six-foot-seven, 293-pound sophomore. Next to him at left guard is John Abramo who checks in at six-feet-four 301-pounds.

At the center position junior Erick Levitre is six-foot-one 270-pounds. At the right guard position they use two players. Six-foot-five, 315-pound senior Kili Lefotu and red-shirt freshman Joe Longacre at six-foot-four, 315-pound will split time at the position. A huge six-foot-eight 300-pound senior Tanner Bell mans the right tackle position.

Up until the Oregon State game the Wildcats had struggled mightily. Coach Stoops changed quarterbacks and now they seem to have found a way to score points quickly. Tuitama now gives them the ability to stretch the defense and that will help open up the rest of the Wildcats offense.

Coach Stoops has always been a good defensive coach and this year's defense has been driving him crazy. They have the ninth rated rushing defense in the Pac-10 and Oregon State was able to run the ball for 218 yards for a five-yard per carry average. UCLA should be able run the ball on this team.

As is the case in any football game, taking care of the ball will be huge. Last week, the Wildcats benefited by intercepting Beaver quarterback Matt Moore six times. Moore also fumbled the ball once.

Like usual it appears that the Wildcat defense is very opportunistic.

Against the Beavers the pass defense was terrific that took the game away with their six interceptions.

The Wildcat defensive backs are led by six-foot-three, 195-pound junior free safety Michael Johnson. Johnson accounted for three of the six interceptions. Johnson is a much-heralded recruit and was the star of Stoops' first recruiting class. He has both size and speed and UCLA must know where he is at all times.

Senior red-shirt free-safety Darrell Brooks, stands six-foot-one and weight 201-pounds, is the teams leading tackler with 69. He has one tackle for a loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles to his credit.

At one cornerback position is Antoine Cason. Cason checks in at six-feet, 182 pounds and is the second leading tackler for the Wildcats. He has 40 tackles with one tackle for a loss. Cason is an outstanding cover corner who has three interceptions this season.

The overall problem for the Wildcat defense is they the defensive backs are making way too many tackles. When defensive backs are making all the tackles what that means is the opposing offense is gaining way too many yards.

Arizona has another huge problem to overcome in this game. This is a team without a punter. Danny Baugher was averaging 47.5 yards per punt before he went down and his replacement, place-kicker Nicholas Folk, must pick up the slack and give the Wildcats some breathing room when they are in trouble.

UCLA owns an 18-9-2 lead in the series versus the Wildcats and the Bruins have won the last four contests. UCLA also has a winning record at Tucson (8-7) and the winning team in this series averages 29.9 points in the victory. There will be plenty of points scored in this game.

Last year the Bruins saw Drew Olson throw four touchdown passes in the Bruins 37-17 victory at the Rose Bowl. It was a huge day for both Olson and Marcedes Lewis who caught three of those touchdowns.

Arizona won a couple of awards for their victory over Oregon State. Arizona safety Michael Johnson was named the National Player of the Week for his three interceptions, one that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown, and nine tackle effort.

Willie Tuitama was named the College Football News.com Player of the Week for his 335-yard and two-touchdown effort against the Beavers. This is the fourth week in a row UCLA is playing a team who had players win conference or national awards for their play the previous week.

Look for UCLA to come out fired up and ready to play this week. They seemed to have caught a second wind and are very aware of what's at stake. They need to be focused and ready to play because there would be nothing better for the Wildcats and their fans than an upset of UCLA.

It would give them something to hang their hat on until basketball season rolls around.

Once again the Bruin mantra is let's go 1-0.

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