UCLA sets focus on Arizona's Dawkins for key Pac-12 matchup
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) UCLA coach Jim Mora said he has been pleased by his defense's ability to contain ''the guy that can hurt you most'' this season.
He also recognizes that Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins will present a different kind of challenge Saturday.
Dawkins is averaging 130.3 yards rushing per game, second only to Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in the Pac-12, and his seven rushing touchdowns are one more than the entire UCLA ground game has produced through four games.
''We have to stop him as a runner first, because he can really, really hurt you that way,'' Mora said.
Dawkins had to become the main ball carrier in coach Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense because of injuries that have depleted the Wildcats' skill positions. Quarterback Anu Solomon has missed the last three games with a knee injury, while running back Nick Wilson is questionable to play against the Bruins with an ankle injury.
Promising freshman J.J. Taylor suffered a broken ankle against No. 10 Washington, and the depth at running back is so limited that senior receiver Samajie Grant practiced there this week.
Just because Dawkins is the focal point of Arizona's offense doesn't mean he is easy to stop. The redshirt sophomore had 176 yards rushing against the Huskies' touted defense, including a 79-yard scoring run. Mora compared Dawkins to a less-experienced but more explosive version of BYU quarterback Taysom Hill.
''This kid has lightning speed,'' Mora said. ''He is really, really, really fast, and he doesn't need a lot of room to get through. He is big and physical enough to break arm tackles.''
UCLA limited Hill to minus-7 yards rushing on 10 carries and sacked him four times in a 17-14 win, as the run defense delivered its best performance of the season. After holding McCaffrey to a relatively modest 138 yards rushing last week, UCLA defensive lineman Jacob Tuioti-Mariner credited defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and ends Takkarist McKinley and Deon Hollins with providing leadership to turn around a group that struggled badly last season, including allowing Arizona to rush for 353 yards.
''They are impact players, and just having them back brings more confidence in the defense,'' Tuioti-Mariner said. ''Having those specific guys on the field brings the intensity and everything.''
Here are some things to know before the Bruins host the Wildcats:
SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES: UCLA and Arizona have identical 2-2 records, 0-1 in Pac-12 play. Both teams have lost in overtime to teams currently ranked in the Top 10, UCLA dropping a 31-24 decision at Texas A&M in the season opener and Arizona falling 35-28 to Washington last week at home. And both teams are using their performances in the first month of the season to stay upbeat about their long-term prospects.
Said Arizona linebacker Paul Magloire: ''We're not that many points away from winning all four games.''
''I think we have a chance to do something special this year,'' Mora said. ''It's been made more difficult, obviously, by losing the other night (to Stanford), but we're still on track.''
DREAD OCTOBER: UCLA has lost its first game in October in three of four seasons under Mora, including defeats at the Rose Bowl in each of the last two seasons. UCLA was ranked No. 7 in the nation before a 38-23 loss to unranked Arizona State last season, while Utah dealt the 8th-ranked Bruins a 30-28 defeat in 2014.
INJURY ISSUES: UCLA defensive lineman Eli Ankou (elbow) is ''touch and go,'' Mora said. Arizona linebacker DeAndre Miller (ankle) and receiver Shawn Poindexter (foot) were both ruled out Thursday.
GRASS STAINS: The grass at the Rose Bowl is regarded as one of the best and most picturesque playing fields in college football, but Arizona probably wouldn't complain if it was replaced with an artificial surface this week. Arizona is 2-11 playing on grass under Rodriguez, including the 18-16 loss to BYU at University of Phoenix Stadium in the season opener. Both wins came at Colorado.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org