CFB Preview Week 4: The Arizona Spread Versus UCLA

CFB Week 4 delivers some important conference clashes, including the UCLA Bruins visiting the Arizona Wildcats in a battle for Pac-12 supremacy. Mark Schofield looks at a key matchup given the news UCLA’s Myles Jack will miss the rest of the season: the Wildcats Anu Solomon against the Bruins Kenny Clark.

We head out west for a big Pac-12 showdown this week, with the #16 Arizona Wildcats hosting the #9 UCLA Bruins in prime time Saturday night. This is the first conference game for both teams, who each enter with 3-0 records, and sit atop the Pac-12 South standings, along with Utah. This game might come down to the battle between Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense, triggered by sophomore Anu Solomon, and the talented Bruins defense, led by nose tackle  Kenny Clark.

Arizona’s Offense

Rodriguez’s spread system incorporates many of the elements used throughout the college football landscape. It begins with a solid running game, spearheaded by Nick Wilson. The sophomore running back has totaled 434 yards on 62 carries thus far, with five touchdowns and a staggering 7.0 yards per attempt.

Here are two examples of Wilson finding room to run in this zone blocking scheme. From their victory over Nevada, the offense has 11 offensive personnel on the field with Solomon in the shotgun alongside his running back. The Wolfpack have their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game showing Cover 2 in the secondary:CFBPreview4ArizonaPlay1Still1

The Wildcats run a simple zone run to their left, with Wilson cutting in front of his quarterback and taking the handoff. The RB cuts behind the tremendous lead block of his center on the play-side linebacker and is quickly into the secondary:

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Here is how the blocking comes together. On the back-side of this play, right tackle Lene Maiava (#77) launches out of his stance and gets his head to the inside of defensive tackle Rykeem Yates (#55), cutting the DT off from pursuit. Right guard Jacob Alsadek (#78) is uncovered, so he immediately works to the second level to cut off the back-side linebacker, Jordan Dobrich (#49):CFBPreview4ArizonaPlay1Still2

On the play-side, the initial threat is defensive tackle Salesa Faraimo (#97) in the A Gap. Since this play is heading to the left, left guard Zach Hemmila (#65) blocks down on the big DT, allowing the center, Cayman Bundage (#61) to pull around the LG and take on the play-side linebacker, Matthew Lyons (#9). Finally, left tackle Freddie Tagaloa (#72) locks onto the defensive end and gets him turned away from the play:CFBPreview4ArizonaPlay1Still3

This is what all of that looks like in motion:

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Arizona executes the blocking scheme flawlessly. None of the defenders are able to disengage. The defensive tackles fail to occupy blockers and free up their linebackers to flow to the football, resulting in a big gain by Wilson and the Wildcats.

The Passing Game

Like many college offenses, Arizona builds off their zone running game when throwing the football. On this first play, Solomon is in the shotgun with 10 offensive personnel on the field, in trips formation to the right with a single receiver on the left. Nevada again has their 4-2-5 defense on the field using Cover 2 in the secondary:CFBPreview4ArizonaPlay2Still1

Notice that the inside trips receiver is uncovered prior to the snap ‒ because Solomon sure does:

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After meeting the RB at the mesh point, Solomon pulls the ball back and whips it out quickly to Johnny Jackson (#30), the inside trips receiver, on a curl route. The safety breaks on the throw but cannot arrive before Solomon and Jackson complete the connection.

Building the offense out a bit more, here the Wildcats utilize run/pass option for a more intermediate route. Solomon is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, with slot formation on the right and pro formation to the back-side of the play. The Wolfpack once more have their 4-2-5 nickel package in the game, showing Cover 2 in the secondary:CFBPreview4ArizonaPlay3Still1

Wilson is to the right of the quarterback, and after the snap he and Solomon mesh in the backfield, with Wilson aiming for the left side. However, the QB keeps the football, and uses a half roll to the right, putting pressure on the defense that he can keep the football and run. The slot receiver runs a quick out which is covered well by the nickel cornerback and the press corner to the outside. But the outside receiver, senior David Richards (#4) runs a deeper slant route coming to the inside:

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With the defense playing Cover 2, and the play flowing to the sideline, Richards is able to find a soft spot between the two safeties. Solomon’s rollout has brought the intermediate defenders a step forward and the QB delivers the ball into the space with a strong throw. From there, the WR makes a few defenders miss and picks up a nice gain for the offense.

While Arizona throws the bulk of their passes at or near the line of scrimmage. These short passes and effective runs can work to suck in a defense and its secondary ‒ which is when Solomon and the offense will look down the field for a big play .

The Wildcats have 11 personnel on the field, with trips formation to the right and Wilson to the right of his quarterback. Nevada’s usual 4-2-5 defense is in the game, showing Cover 2 in the secondary:CFBPreview4ArizonaPlay4Still2

Arizona fakes Wilson on the zone run to the left, which works to bring the linebackers forward a few steps, opening up a throwing lane on the outside. The single WR on the left, senior Cayleb Jones (#1) runs a post route, and is wide-open with room to run:

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On this angle, you can see that the defense rolls their coverage to Cover 0 at the snap of the football, dropping the play-side safety down into the box to help in run support:

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As this safety crashes down to pick up Wilson, it opens up a big throwing lane for Solomon to find Jones on his post route.

Finally, one last issue on Arizona’s offense ‒ their tempo. The Wildcats often operate without a huddle, putting pressure on a defense to quickly identify the offensive formation and get lined up. Otherwise this can happen:

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Following an incomplete pass, the offense gets right back to the line of scrimmage and lines up with trips formation on the left. The defense is unable to identify the formation and get themselves lined up, so Solomon quickly calls for the ball to be snapped while the trips side of the field is bereft of defenders:CFBPreview4ArizonaPlay5Still2

The up tempo approach made this an easy play, as the opposition was not prepared to do their job and get into the proper position.

UCLA Defense

Given how Arizona operates ‒ building off their zone running game ‒ a player who could be a difference maker for the UCLA defense is their big nose tackle, Kenny Clark. The 6’ 3”, 310 pound defensive lineman is a stout anchor in the interior of the line, occupying blockers, flowing to the football and even making plays sideline-to-sideline.

On this play against the University of Virginia, Clark is lined up in 0 technique across from the center in the Bruins’ base 3-4 defense. The offense is in the pistol formation with 11 personnel on the field, trying an off-tackle run to the left.

Watch as Clark is able to stand-up the center and the right guard at the point of attack, occupying two blockers. The big nose tackle drives the center backward, into the ball-carrier, effectively ending the play in the backfield:

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With Clark occupying two blockers, the inside linebackers are able to flow to the ball carrier and make the tackle.

On this next play, Clark is again head-up on the center in the heart of the Bruins’ defense. The Cavaliers are in the wildcat formation, and bring a wide receiver in jet motion from the left. After the snap, running back Albert Reid (#5) takes the snap, fakes the jet sweep to the receiver, and heads for the interior of the line. But Clark is waiting:

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The center tries to cut block the nose tackle at the snap, but Clark is too athletic and shrugs off the contact, flowing right to the ball-carrier:

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There is a hole for Reid, but Clark collapses it stuffs this play for a very short gain.

Finally, having displayed what Clark is able to do against the run, a quick look at what he can do against the short passing/screen game ‒ something Arizona does a lot of. On this snap Clark is lined up at defensive tackle in UCLA’s 4-2-5 nickel defense, using a 2 technique across from the left guard:

Virginia sets up a RB screen to the left, and watch who chases down this play from behind:

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(Note: Myles Jack is in the black box, Clark is in the white box)

Myles Jack might have been the name everyone knew in the middle of this UCLA defense, but for this game, a lot rests on the shoulders of Clark. He will need to occupy blockers up front to prevent blockers from flowing to inside linebacker Kenny Young and Jack’s replacement on running plays, and given how many passes Solomon throws at or near the line of scrimmage, Clark has a chance to make plays against the pass as well. The Arizona spread versus UCLA’s defense will be fascinating matchup to watch.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy CBS/CBSSports & ESPN.

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