Once upon a time, the Arizona Wildcats had a reputation for playing rock-ribbed defense.
The Wildcats (4-2, 2-1 Pac-10) have thrust themselves into contention in the Pac-10 by outscoring opponents.
This brings a grimace from coach Mike Stoops, a former defensive coordinator. He expects his defense to improve when slumping UCLA (3-3, 0-3) visits Arizona Stadium on Saturday.
"Defensively, I think our pride is hurt," Stoops said this week. "Just because our pride's hurt doesn't mean we're going to play better on Saturday. But we better. We have to play better defense, and hopefully we will."
Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel expects the same thing from his defense, which has stumbled after a strong September.
Coming off a four-win season, UCLA rode a stalwart defense to a 3-0 start. But the defense has disappeared for long stretches since, and UCLA has dropped its first three Pac-10 games.
"We enjoyed it in the month of September," Neuheisel said. "It's been elusive in the month of October. We are going to come out and play with everything we have. That's what you can count on from us."
The Bruins limited San Diego State, Tennessee and Kansas State to a combined 38 points, and the highlight came in a fourth-quarter goal-line stand against the Volunteers in Knoxville.
Then the Bruins entered Pac-10 play, and their defense hasn't been the same. UCLA gave up 24 points to Stanford, 24 to Oregon and 45 to California.
"We've got to do a better job of tackling," Neuheisel said. "Defensively, both against Stanford and Cal, we gave up too many yards after contact."
Neuheisel said he wants his defense to play "fast and furious" against Arizona.
"Hopefully, we'll see the improvement as soon as this Saturday," he said.
It's a tough assignment, because the Wildcats have become a potent offensive force behind quarterback Nick Foles, who leads the conference in passing after three college starts. Since Foles replaced Matt Scott under center, the Wildcats have put up 37 points at Oregon State, 26 at Washington and 43 against Stanford.
The Wildcats have needed that sort of production because their defense has slipped to 72nd nationally, allowing 26.0 points per game.
Arizona seemed helpless as Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, a first-year starter, picked the defense apart early in last Saturday's game in Tucson. At one point, Stanford scored on six of seven possessions, not including a one-snap possession at the end of the first half.
But the Wildcats woke up just in time, stopping the Cardinal on their last four drives. Those possessions ended in a missed field goal, a punt and two failed fourth-down conversions.
"The law of averages were with us," Stoops said with a chuckle.
The UCLA game is the second in a three-game homestand for the Wildcats. That stretch ends with a game against last-place Washington State, but then the schedule becomes murderous.
Arizona visits California, then returns to face league-leading Oregon in its final home game. The last two games are at Arizona State and Southern California, and Arizona hasn't beaten either of those squads on the road since 2001.
Last week's victory over Stanford left Arizona in a four-way tie for second place with USC, Oregon State and Arizona State.
"We've battled through a lot and we've put ourselves in a pretty decent spot," Stoops said. "But these are all one-week seasons. One loss can put you right back in a tough position."