We are now 5 days removed from the 56-30 Gameday drubbing and fans (and possibly the team also) are at a loss at what to feel and think.
All-American linebacker Scooby Wright III is out for an unknown amount of time, this time with a sprained foot. If that wasn’t enough of a blow, quarterback Anu Solomon, also known as the only QB Rich Rodriguez trusts to throw the ball, has a concussion and his status is still uncertain.
Wildcat fans also find themselves outside of the polls (warranted or not) for the first time in over a year.
Arizona's long list of injuries heading into Saturday pic.twitter.com/wJEyfeviEx
That leaves us both physically and emotionally extremely banged up and Stanford just so happens to be getting back three linemen (two defensive and one offensive) and has their quarterback fully healthy and ready to roll.
Knowing that the leaders on both sides of the ball might not be there, what is a realistic expectation versus Stanford and the rest of the year?
In my preseason preview, I “predicted” a loss against the Cardinal, and that was assuming everyone was healthy.
Now, seeing how the Wildcats, particularly the offense, played in the 2nd half (plus their injury status), I feel safe on that prediction and here’s why.
Rich Rod’s offense is based off the run more than the pass. In theory, once the running back gets going, the entire offense opens up and allows the quarterback to pull the ball from the running back, pretend to run, then hit the wide receiver on a slant over the middle (or throw the deep pass thanks to a safety who read the run). His option scheme, as we’ve seen plenty of times, can be unstoppable against all sorts of defenses. However, if any team, even Arizona with a great running back in Nick Wilson, is regulated to running the ball 80% of the time, it doesn’t allow the offense a chance to hit the next gear.
Stanford is currently the 37th best defense (2nd best in the Pac-12), giving up only 331 yards per game and a stingy 132 rushing yards.
Now just think how many rushing yards they will give up knowing they don’t have to defend the pass. I’ll venture a guess as not too many.
If Solomon is indeed out, Stanford is going to put eight in the box and make backup Jerrard Randall throw the ball. After seeing his 4-16 production in place of Solomon, I doubt I’m the only one not exactly thrilled at this proposition.
Randall, however, will have had a week to practice throwing the ball and getting comfortable with his receivers, which should have a visible impact and hopefully force ‘the Tree’ to defend the pass once in a while.
As if the predicament wasn’t so gloomy already, Arizona is asked to stop a Stanford running attack which matches up extremely well against Rich Rod’s 3-3-5 defense. Arizona currently gives up 162 yards a game on the ground while the Cardinal average 184. I’ll venture another guess and say Stanford ends up closer to the latter.
Until Arizona locks in a defensive tackle who commands a double team on every play, it’s going to be rough when a 300 pound lineman hits the second level untouched and destroys a linebacker who weighs 70 pounds less. (Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s not pleasant.) To combat this, Arizona is going to have to bring another defensive player into the box, which opens up the play action, thus leading to a long TD throw that football fans know all too well.
While I may not have glowing expectations for this week’s game, I still hold this season in high regards if Anu doesn’t see an extended time on the sideline.
Besides the defense getting gashed by UCLA’s running back on seemingly every possession, Arizona’s primary concern should be on unforced errors.
If it wasn’t for atrocious snaps on both offense and special teams, the Wildcats don’t get blown out last week.
Consider that Arizona fumbled the ball TWICE in the first quarter and in a matter of six plays, the Bruins tacked on another 14 points. Instead of a 28-7 deficit, for all we know, Arizona scores on those possessions and the tide is turned, or at worse, it’s 14-7. Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘Alec is living in dreamland,’ and you’re probably right. What I’m trying to show is that without fumbles and interceptions, UCLA isn’t handed 21 easy points. (Mind you, Arizona only lost by 26.)
So no, the sky is not falling on the Wildcats.
National voters might have you thinking that, but once the offense’s captain is back to right the ship, Arizona, even without Scooby, has the ability to beat the likes of Utah, USC, and ASU if they play composed, get healthy, and hold onto the damn ball.