NEPD Staff Writer: Stephen Sheehan
Two teams in flux faced off Thursday night. Well, it was supposed to be two.
Playing for the first time without the fired Mike Stoops, the Arizona Wildcats completely embarrassed the UCLA Bruins on both sides of the ball.
The Wildcats took advantage of the Bruins’ banged up secondary which was missing its best defensive player, safety Tony Dye, who has had neck issues throughout the year.
Arizona scored early and often, racking up an incredible 42-7 halftime lead.
Quarterback Nick Foles led a high-powered attack that simply couldn’t be stopped. The senior showed excellent touch throughout the night save for one poorly thrown interception.
Foles displays a strong arm and the ability to make throws on the run, especially in play action. One negative that is evident in his game is that he doesn’t perform particularly well under pressure and isn’t overly athletic to avoid pressure when the pocket collapses.
However, when given time, Foles plays as well as anyone in the country. He showed terrific chemistry with fellow seniors Juron Criner (more on him later) and Gino Crump.
Throughout the first half, Foles displayed the ability to make all the throws, including some well-timed comeback routes to Criner.
Criner, who has been slowed by some nagging injuries, responded in a big way Thursday with a season-high 10 catches for 101 yards and three touchdowns.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder abused UCLA’s young defensive backs in every way possible. He corralled his first TD when he faked an inside move, causing the cornerback to stumble, which freed Criner up for an easy catch.
The senior then displayed some impressive speed on a fly route where he simply outran the corner for another easy TD.
However, the play of the night came when Criner utilized his best asset – his physicality – to simply outmuscle the defender for the trifecta. Criner showed impressive leaping ability and strong hands to pluck the ball from behind the defensive back’s head.
Both team’s running backs flashed in this game as UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin had a strong first quarter as a pass catcher with two catches for 40 yards and a TD. However, he contributed only 11 yards on six carries.
One prospect who is getting little attention, but definitely caught my eye was Arizona running back Keola Antolin.
Despite being listed at 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, Antolin looks thick and runs with power. The senior has been a very productive player during his career, and showed great instincts and speed as a north-south runner, racking up 77 yards on only eight carries. He reminds me of BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the way he runs hard and can break tackles.