A year ago, the Arizona Wildcats were underachievers with struggling head coach Mike Stoops and star quarterback Nick Foles. Now, insert Rich Rodriguez and Matt Scott and take a look at the nation’s fifth most potent offense in terms of yardage and despite a 4-3 record, they are a dangerous, overachieving team that is ahead of schedule.
In just about every offensive category, the Cats are tit for tat with Oregon and they’ll serve as the perfect appetizer for the Trojans’ defense before the November 3rd showdown at the Coliseum. But by no means that does make the Wildcats less of a challenge for the Trojans, especially with the Zona Zoo ramped up for their season’s biggest home tilt.
Arizona leads the nation in first downs, and are tops in the Pac-12 in plays, total yards, passing yards, gains of 10+ yards, gains of 20+ yards, trips to the red zone and helmet combinations for a team not based in Eugene.
They put up 617 yards on Stanford, and in a two-week stretch put up 83 points against teams ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll. Yet somehow, someway, Arizona began 0-3 in the Pac-12 and are without a doubt the best three-loss team in the nation.
For the Wildcats, it all starts in the passing game, where Matt Scott has really impressed in his first year as a starter. Scott, a senior out of Corona Centennial, has been a perfect fit for Rich Rod’s offense as a dual-threat quarterback, even though he’s a far better passer than Pat White was at West Virginia.
In the game at Stanford, Scott threw the ball a record 69 times, or 21 more times more than USC’s number of plays against Colorado if you’re keeping track at home.
What Scott has been able to do efficiently, especially compared to the USC passing attack, is spread the ball around to all of his receivers, as eight different receivers have caught at least 10 passes and nine have caught a touchdown pass.
Wideouts Austin Hill and Dan Buckner are a solid one-two combo at the top of the stat sheet for the Wildcats, and they bring different styles to the Cats’ passing attack. Hill is your prototypical Wes Welker slot receiver, while Buckner is the traditional do-it-all Arizona receiver that they’ve put out for years.
Depth could be an issue this week at receiver however, with two targets being bit by the injury bug. Both Terrance Miller and Johnny Jackson are listed as questionable after they both missed the Washington game with ankle injuries. Together they’ve combined for 31 catches and nearly 300 yards, and while it didn’t stop Arizona against the Huskies, Scott is going to have to throw the ball plenty to beat the Trojans and will need all of his horses.
For as pass-heavy as the Wildcats seem with Matt Scott
under center in the gun, at the end of the day, it’s still a Rich Rodriguez offense rooted in the zone-read option as only the originator could draw it up. Rich Rod’s done a stellar job adapting his scheme to his personnel, meeting his players half way and keeping aspects of the air-raid offense that Sonny Dykes’ instilled at Arizona from 2007 to 2009.
Judging on his debacle in Michigan, Rich Rod looks like he may have finally learned how to begin a coaching tenure, even if it includes a couple of heartbreaking losses to Oregon State and Stanford.
But alas, Arizona isn’t exactly a one-trick pony on offense. Last week against Washington, the Wildcats ran the ball 49 times and put up 277 yards on the Huskies.
Running back Kadeem Carey has been a big surprise in the conference, entering the upper echelon of the Pac-12′s elite runners including UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor. Through seven games, Carey has 842 rushing yards and his 11 touchdowns are second only to Oregon’s Kenjon Barner in the conference.
Arizona’s offensive line hasn’t been a liability to date, they’re in the middle of the pack in sacks allowed, but an ankle injury to senior center Kyle Quinn could prove to be a hinderance. According to Vegas, the center position is the second most valuable behind quarterback, and looking back at USC’s game with Stanford in September with Khaled Holmes, it’s hard to argue that.
Quinn missed the Washington game along with Miller and Jackson, and even though they were able to have success, keep in mind that the Huskies’ defensive line couldn’t penetrate a slice of swiss cheese. USC’s defensive line has been the anchor of the defense and the Trojans are co-leaders in the conference in terms of sacks, so we’ll find out early if Quinn’s potential absence will play a big role.
As of today, both Kyle Quinn and Terrence Miller are listed as both questionable and as starters on Arizona’s depth charter,
Arizona’s Projected Offensive Starters:
WR Dan Buckner #4
SLOT Richard Morrison #8
LT Mickey Baucus #68
LG Chris Putton #62
C Kyle Quinn #76
RG Trace Biskin #72
RT Fabbians Ebbele #73
TE Drew Robinson #87
QB Matt Scott #10
RB Ka’Deem Carey #25
FB Taimi Tutogi #31
SLOT Austin Hill #29
WR Terrence Miller #18
Note: Arizona lists 13 starters on their depth chart.