The Wildcats use a fast-paced offensive attack that has produced more than 553 yards per game to rank No. 4 in the nation. They have run 708 plays in eight games for an average of 88.5 per game. Last week against USC, Arizona ran 94 plays.
"They go fast and furious and they score a lot of points, so we’ve got our work cut out for us," coach Jim Mora said.
Last week, UCLA escaped against and an Arizona State Sun Devils team that also ran a high-tempo offense. The Bruins gave up a season-high 535 yards and a season-high-tying 43 points, but managed a last-minute drive for a 45-43 victory. They got caught off guard at times and were unable to communicate defensive changes as the Sun Devils ran play after play as quickly as they could after each previous play ended. ASU got off 94 snaps, 15 more than any other team had against UCLA this season.
"We have to get the calls in and, most importantly, we have to set the front correctly," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "We have to do the right things and make the right calls. Last week we got a little flustered and we started making incorrect calls, and that’s when they busted things open."
Part of the issue is trying to run substitutes on and off the field to keep fresh and then getting all of those players on the same page in short order. Mora said Arizona State was running the same play over and over because UCLA didn't have time between plays to make the necessary adjustment. That has been a focus in practice this week.
"We thought we had seen a high-tempo offense every day out at practice, and Arizona State took it to a new level," Mora said. "I think what we learned is that you can’t waste time at the end of a play mulling around. You have to get back up and get focused in on the next play."
Cornerback Aaron Hester said the team needs to play with a heightened sense of urgency in order to keep pace. The Bruins need to be ready to line up as soon as each play ends, and they can't waste time worrying about the last play when a new one is about to begin.
"We’re definitely not scared," Hester said. "We just have to go out and play our technique and do what we’re supposed to do."
UCLA has faced plenty of fast-paced offenses already this season, with the Rice Owls, Houston Cougars and Arizona State, and will get Arizona on Saturday and Mike Leach's Washington State the week after.
For Mora, a career defensive coach in the NFL, it's a new adventure. In the NFL, he said, the number of plays per team is in the 70s and could be in the low 60s against a good defense. The Bruins themselves have topped 80 plays in half of their games this season and had 78 last week at Arizona State.
"These college games are wild sometimes," Mora said. "It’s a new experience for me; some of these shootouts and some of the numbers that are getting put up. It's beyond anything I’ve ever imagined before. It’s just a different game. It takes a little getting used to."