Arizona-UCLA preview: Scooby, GameDay, notes, prediction
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - OK, it's here. Finally, here.
It's been a fun week building up to the serious business of the Arizona-UCLA game Saturday night. Lots of internet click bait -- new red chrome helmets, ESPN's College GameDay in town, plenty of speculation on whether Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright will play, which no one really knows ...
Or maybe someone does.
"I was just with him," ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told local media Friday afternoon. "I'll put it to you this way: If he doesn't play -- a lot -- I'll be shocked. I think he looks great."
We do know that Wright, after missing the past two games because of arthroscopic surgery to clean up meniscus in his knee, was able to practice this week. Exactly how much and for how long and how he felt afterward ... that's the mystery.
I asked safety Will Parks after Wednesday's practice about what kind of emotional boost it would be to have Wright back this week, and he answered in his typically colorful way.
"I'll give him 18 boxes of cereal, whatever he needs, so that he can play," Parks said.
Wright is a multiple national-award winner, and, by my way of thinking, is the best run-stuffing, pass-rushing linebacker in the country. (I'd give the title of "Best Linebacker in Pass Coverage" to UCLA's Myles Jack, and his injury is an entirely different, but HUGE, storyline this week).
The emotional lift of having Wright would be nice, but likely temporary. More important is his physical ability to stop UCLA running back Paul Perkins and hound true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.
"There is something about a guy like that getting into the lineup that doesn't just impact his play, but the guys around him," Herbstreit said. "I'd look forward to seeing what he can do. He was one of the best guys at pressuring the quarterback, and he's a better player this year."
So much else to get to, so let's get to it ...
RB Nick Wilson
He's leading the Pac-12 with 144.7 yards per game, despite having been shut down early in each of the past two games because of Arizona's huge leads. Coach Rich Rodriguez says he doesn't really want Wilson to have a "Ka'Deem Carey-like workload," but if there is a Saturday to put that plan on pause, this is it.
How about 30 carries? Thirty-five?
"I don't know if people realize how strong, how physical a back he is," Herbstreit said. "I think he's a great complement to their spread and their tempo stuff that they do."
QB Anu Solomon
Watching film of last year's 17-7 loss at UCLA must have been painful for Solomon, who completed just 18 of 48 passes against the Bruins. He looks more in command this season -- and we wrote about -- but the real proof will be against a good team like UCLA.
"Not until this game do we find if he has taken that next step," Herbstreit said.
Although he's not a traditional running threat for a quarterback in a RichRod offense, his mobility is still key. ESPN reports that, "Since the start of last season, Solomon leads Power 5 players (with minimum of three games played) in completions, attempts, 20-yard completions, touchdown passes and passing yards per game from outside the pocket."
QB Jerrard Randall
I'm calling him the nation's second-most interesting backup quarterback -- whoever is on the sideline at Ohio State is No. 1 -- because he can change the game in a flash, like The Flash. I don't care that his touchdown runs of 57, 72 and 73 yards have come in garbage time against inferior opponents ... you don't need to be the inventor of the no-huddle, zone-read offense (hi, RichRod!) to see Randall's mad skills."We have to find a way to get Jerrard in the game," Rodriguez said.
That could be as a wide receiver or any other creative hybrid way to get him the ball in space -- especially with up to four wide receivers who might miss this game because of injury. Randall is a big-time x-factor.
QB Josh Rosen
It's all about Rosen. He is the Next Big Thing in college quarterbacks, but he's a true freshman. Can make all the throws, but he's a true freshman. Has a mature-beyond-his-years football IQ, but he's a true freshman.
"True freshman quarterbacks, it's their first year in college football and they can't be able to read defenses a lot," Parks said. "That's where we come in. Whatever we've got to do to keep him guessing, that's what we've got to do."
Rosen's four interceptions have all come when in passing situations. He is just 3 of 13 with three picks when "under duress" in the past two games, according to ESPN.
The strategy is clear: Make Rosen uncomfortable, make him make bad decisions. Doing it is an entirely different beast.
RB Paul Perkins
The best way for UCLA to keep Arizona off of Rosen is to run, run, run. Perkins, and a nice set of backups, can easily do the job, especially behind a veteran offensive line.
"He has everything you want in a back," Rodriguez said of the 2014 Pac-12 rushing leader. "He's bigger than you think. He runs with great power. He has good speed. He's one of the fastest backs in the league. He's got great vision. Makes you miss. Catches the ball."
CB Ishmael Adams
He is coming off a three-game suspension after he was arrested in late August for allegedly using force to steal a cellphone from an Uber driver. When the felony charge was reduced early this week, coach Jim Mora reinstated Adams to the team. Adams was not allowed to practice while on suspension, so UCLA won't get a full game out of him this Saturday, but he's a speedy playmaker on defense and as a return man.
--One of the great guessing games of the week has been the identity of the "guest picker" on the College GameDay program. That person joins the crew on the set near the end of the show and predicts games along with the ESPN talent.
Will it be triple crown-winning training Bob Baffert? Steve Kerr has been a popular guess, but this weekend marks his 50th birthday (still looks 29!), so I'm guessing he has other plans. Maybe someone from the entertainment world?
"This person has been really heavily in the news the past six months," said GameDay producer Lee Fitting, dropping hints Friday. "Has done something no one else has done in a really, really long time. And does have Arizona ties."
That all points to Baffert, but Fitting said he hasn't seen anybody "come close" to guessing the right identity on Twitter. Hmmm. Baffert guesses have been all over Twitter. Who knows? I'm sticking with Baffert as my guess.
--Fitting said the student turnout for Friday's 11 a.m. College Football Live show from the UA mall had more buzz than he's seen on a Friday this season or last season.
"I think a lot of that has to do with the fact we have four classes of students here who never seen GameDay," Fitting said. "And that's a big deal for them to be able to come out and see the guys and see the show and see what goes into this.
"For the first time all year, you feel a real buzz on Friday for one of the spots we've been at."
--Rodriguez always says that one of the recruiting challenges is to just get kids to visit; once here, they often like what they see. Well, with the national showcase game in town, more than 100 recruits are expected to make unofficial visits this weekend. Mission accomplished.
Probable: LB DeAndre' Miller (wrist); DL Luca Bruno (concussion); DB Carter Hehr (concussion)
Questionable: WR Cayleb Jones (ankle); WR Samajie Grant (knee); LB Scooby Wright (knee)
Out: RB Orlando Bradford; WR Tyrell Johnson (foot); WR Trey Griffey (foot); LB Haden Gregory (knee)
What it means: You see all those receivers on the list? Arizona still has David Richards and Nate Phillips ... and, well, it would be nice if Jones or Grant could play.
Out: DT Eddie Vanderoes (ACL), CB Fabian Moreau (foot), LB Myles Jack (knee).
Yikes. Those are three all-conference talents -- in Jack's case, All-American talent -- and while there is still talent galore on defense, those are big blows.
Jack's absence will be felt the most in pass coverage. He's athletic enough to take away an Arizona slot receiver, while being physical enough and fast enough to choke off those quick-hitting outs that the Wildcats use as bread-and-butter plays.
"There's not a more versatile player in college football," said GameDay host Rece Davis. "When UCLA had a problem, it was like, 'OK, Myles will fix that.' ... It's a huge loss for them."
There are a lot of facets to this matchup. Maybe the Arizona offense keeps rolling. Maybe Josh Rosen makes a couple of killer mistakes. Maybe a raucous home crowd makes a difference.
But I'm going to try to simplify it to this: I think UCLA has better talent on the offensive and defensive lines. That usually wins.
Should be plenty of fun ...
UCLA 35, Arizona 31.
- - -
Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.