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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA faces an Arizona team in transition

The Wildcats will be playing their first game since Mike Stoops was fired as coach, but they still have quarterback Nick Foles.

October 19, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Stopping Arizona quarterback Nick Foles will be one of UCLA's top priorities in Thursday's game.
Stopping Arizona quarterback Nick Foles will be one of UCLA's top… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

UCLA could leave Tucson in a temporary tie for first place in the Pacific 12 Conference's South Division. That would be a watershed moment for Rick Neuheisel, now in his fourth season as coach of the Bruins. Times staff writer Chris Foster examines the game's issues and matchups:

Nick of time

Arizona's 1-5 record brought an end to Mike Stoops' time as the coach in Tucson. But the Wildcats have one big thing going for them: quarterback Nick Foles.

Foles has passed for fewer than 378 yards in a game only once this season, when he had 239 yards against Stanford.

UCLA has made average quarterbacks such as Oregon State's Sean Mannion and Washington State's Marshall Lobbestael look good. Quality quarterbacks such as Houston's Case Keenum and Stanford's Andrew Luck have only improved their NFL draft ranking in games against the Bruins.

Foles is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick. He is second nationally behind Keenum with an average of 375.8 passing yards per game.

The Bruins' pass defense ranks 76th nationally, and the secondary will be without at least one starter, safety Tony Dye, and possibly another, cornerback Sheldon Price.

Ball and chains

Neuheisel sees a way for UCLA to win without completely shackling Foles: "We've got to keep them from scoring touchdowns and try to keep them to as many field-goal chances as we can."

But if Foles doesn't have the ball, he can't hurt the Bruins.

UCLA's running game needs to be on track. Running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman have played keep-away before by getting chunks of yards and first downs.

Franklin has 509 yards rushing in six games and needs 14 yards to move into 12th place on the UCLA career list ahead of Kevin Williams (1989-92).

Arizona ranks 100th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams against the run.

A little Prince?

The UCLA "pistol" run game will be triggered by quarterback Kevin Prince.

This is Prince's third start this season. He was injured in the previous two. He also came away injured in his last two starts of 2010.

Prince's game plan sounds like a solemn, repeat-after-me pledge: "I'm not going to shy away from running. I'm definitely going to try to protect myself. I'm going to try not to take big hits. I'm going to try to get out of bounds, slide, whatever I have to do."

The Bruins' safety net behind Prince hasn't played a college football down.

Richard Brehaut, who started three games, is out because of a broken leg. That leaves freshman Brett Hundley as the backup.

Getting the boot

Arizona kickers have missed five extra-point tries and are two for six on field goals. So kicker John Bonano has replaced Alex Zendejas, who replaced Jaime Salazar.

If Bonano fails, the Bruins can recommend checking out the soccer team. They lured Tyler Gonzalez away from being the UCLA soccer team's manager, and he now handles the kicking, looking stronger each week.

Numbers game

• UCLA has lost three in a row in Tucson since 2003.

• The Bruins had two Thursday night games in 2010 — against Oregon and Washington — and lost them by the combined score of 84-20.

• Arizona has three sacks, the fewest among FBS teams.

• The Wildcats have lost nine consecutive games to FBS teams. Their last victory: 29-21 over UCLA in 2010.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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