By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The huge matchup between USC and Oregon won't be the only Pac-12 conference game that features a pair of ranked teams this weekend, as recent additions to the top-25, Arizona and UCLA, will battle at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
Arizona roared back to down USC last weekend with Matt Scott accounting for 469 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. The now 24th-ranked Wildcats had trailed 28-13 as late as 11 minutes into the third quarter but Scott took over and rallied the Wildcats to the win.
"I'm really proud of our guys. They hung in there," head coach Rich Rodriguez said, "I think it's just good to win a close game because it gets our guys to believe in themselves."
The Wildcats have been inconsistent, with the team looking unstoppable at times and horrendous at others. The disparity has been evident when looking at the team's home record (5-1) versus its road record (0-2).
UCLA will also be riding the momentum of a heart-stopping victory that pushed it into the national rankings. A 33-yard field goal from Kai'imi Fairbairn as time expired gave UCLA a 45-43 victory over Arizona State moving the Bruins to 6-2 overall this season and 3-2 in conference play, while putting them back in the top-25.
"I think it's a sign that we are maturing as a football team and believing in the systems," head coach Jim Mora said. "There are going to be some games like this where they are shootouts."
History is on the side of the Bruins in this matchup. UCLA has won 11 of the total 17 meetings between the squads, although last season that didn't seem to matter as the Wildcats rolled to a 48-12 win. UCLA hasn't actually gotten a win against Arizona since 2006.
Rodriguez can count himself lucky that he has had Scott to rely on this season. Although he has struggled at times, just like the rest of the team, Scott has been able to run Rodriguez's system effectively and has helped Arizona rise to the top of the conference in total offense (553.6 ypg). That is pretty impressive in a conference that features teams like Oregon and USC.
Scott has thrown for 2,724 yards, while completing 62.9 percent of his pass attempts. His 20 touchdowns are more than double his interception total (nine). Scott has been far and away the most productive quarterback in the conference, averaging 340.5 passing yards per game. No other signal caller in the conference is even near that, with All-American Matt Barkley ranked second at 283.3 yards per game.
Scott isn't just dangerous through the air but also on the ground. He has had no issue getting out of pocket and picking up yards on both designed runs and when the pocket collapses, piling up 365 yards and four scores rushing.
"Matt is a warrior. He gets yards for us when we need it. He runs well and he also has a great arm and gets the ball to receivers perfectly," wideout Austin Hill said. "He gets better every week."
Ka'Deem Carey though has been the real lightening rod out of the backfield, rushing for 961 yards and 12 touchdowns. Carey is the third most prolific rusher in the conference.
With Scott tossing it around at such a high rate Arizona receivers have put up some impressive numbers. None has been as productive as Austin Hill, who has racked up 937 yards and seven touchdowns on 54 receptions. His yardage total is the second most in the conference. Dan Buckner has also been a constant threat with 51 receptions for 656 yards and three scores.
Even though it was a shootout against USC, the Wildcat defense did its job in terms of capitalizing on mistakes. Arizona forced three fumbles and collected an interception in the win and now has a turnover margin of plus-four this season. Making sure to take advantage when other offenses falter is a key for Arizona, which is second to last in the Pac-12 in both total defense (483.9 ypg) and scoring defense (31.1 ppg).
On an individual level, Jake Fischer has been the standout in terms of tackling with a team-high 72. Marquis Flowers has been a menace to opposing ball carriers with 55 total tackles, 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Flowers has also contributed against the pass with a pair of interceptions. Tra'Mayne Bondurant has racked up a team-high 10.5 tackles for loss.
Dual threat quarterbacks and potent offenses are things UCLA can appreciate. Led by freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins have been the third best offense in the conference, piling up 502.9 yards on a weekly basis. The Bruins can also score at a high rate with the team good for 33.4 points per game.
Hundley has had some growing pains, but on the whole, he has been fantastic. He has completed a stellar 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,190 yards and 18 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Like Scott, Hundley has no problem tucking the ball and running, with five rushing touchdowns on the season and 267 yards on the ground.
The real workhorse for the offense is running back Johnathan Franklin. He has rushed for a conference-high 1,042 yards this season and is averaging strong marks of 6.7 yards per carry and 130.2 yards per game. Franklin was dominant in the win over Arizona State, racking up 164 yards on 26 carries with two key touchdowns.
Shaquelle Evans is the team's best receiver this season, bringing in 33 receptions for 488 yards (both team-highs). Hundley has relied more heavily on Joseph Fauria though close to the end zone, with six of Fauria's 22 receptions this season ending up as touchdowns.
Like Arizona, UCLA is normally involved in shootouts with opposing squads which has made its defensive numbers look less than stellar (416.1 ypg, 25.1 ppg). Creating negative plays has helped keep opposing teams at bay with the Bruins recording the third most tackles for loss (60) and sacks (28) in the conference.
Eric Kendricks has led the team from his spot in the linebacking corps with 74 tackles this season. Anthony Barr meanwhile, has really terrorized opposing teams with 12.0 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks. Those are both the top marks in the conference. Datone Jones (12.0 sacks, 4.0 tackles for loss) can't be ignored either on the front line.
This game promises to feature plenty of offense. Scott versus Hundley and Carey versus Franklin are matchups that pit some of the best players at those positions in the conference and maybe even the country. In the end, UCLA's ability to get in the backfield might be enough to slow the Wildcats down just enough to edge out a win.