Arizona football: Five burning questionsby Anthony Gimino on Oct. 20, 2010, under Sports
Well, I don’t know how burning these are, but the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta — who seemingly covers the Washington Huskies football team 24 hours a day in his very excellent blog — asked me five questions to give his readers a general overview on the Wildcats.
So, I answered them.
They are posted on his blog, but I figured I might as well double dip and post them here, too.
1. Can you give us a general overview of the Arizona offense, and how it might change with Matt Scott at quarterback?
Scott is the X-factor schematically, which could give Arizona a slight advantage against Washington. Will the coaches dip back into last season’s playbook and have Scott run some read-option plays? They were content to make him a pocket passer when he came in for injured Nick Foles last week, and Scott, after working with new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo for several months, looks like a much better passer. In any case, there could be an element of surprise here with how Arizona uses Scott.
With Foles, this was mostly a spread offense that likes its variety of quick, short passes and screens. Dink and dunk. Arizona can also switch to a two-back power set, although that has yet to be as effective as the coaches would like. As far as deep threats, Juron Criner is about as good as anyone in the league, although a turf toe injury has been a recurring problem. If there isn’t a solid Scott-to-Criner connection Saturday, the Huskies can start ganging up on all the short passes.
2. And how has the UA defense played to date?
The defense has been a pleasant surprise, becoming a fast, swarming unit (although it is not to be confused with any of the defenses of the Desert Swarm era). The defensive line makes it all work, especially senior ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, whose pressure on the quarterback means that the Wildcats don’t have to blitz much. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Justin Washington (knee) might not play this week, which is a fairly significant loss, as he has been the only inside player to get a push up the middle. The all-new starting linebacker group — Derek Earls, Paul Vassallo and Jake Fischer — has held up very well, showing Pac-10 speed and instincts. That group was the team’s biggest question mark in camp. Overall, Arizona has held four of its six opponents — including Cal and Washington State — to their lowest point total of the season.
3. How has it done against other mobile QBs like Locker, who has played two of his better games statistically through the years against the Wildcats?
Mobile quarterbacks have given the Wildcats problems in recent years, which is a bit of a mystery, given that Mike Stoops’ defenses have generally been fast and disciplined. Just a couple of weeks ago, Oregon State’s Ryan Katz — who has good wheels but nothing like Locker’s — had three back-breaking third-down scrambles that moved the chains. Defensive end Brooks Reed talked this week about not getting “behind” Locker when they rush from the outside, having to play more of a contain pass rush instead.
4. And a general overview of the special teams?
Hit and miss. Kick returner Travis Cobb and punt returner Bug Wright are threats. Wright missed last week with a shoulder injury, but is expected back this week. If he is held out of punt returns, then David Douglas gets the call, but he’s not going to go the distance on a return. Punter Keenyn Crier has a big leg but, until last week, was having trouble pooching punts inside the 20. That is something to watch in what should be a close game. Kicker Alex Zendejas has generally been solid, although the coaches won’t often test his distance.
5. Lastly, how about a general overview of Arizona’s season to date?
Was UA overrated when it was in the top 10, or is this a team that can play that well consistently: Well, Arizona might have deserved to be in the top 10 a couple of weeks ago because of the win over Iowa and its general resume, but this is team is probably more accurately in the 20-25 range. The way I think of it is this: Arizona is good enough to beat just about anybody, but isn’t so good that it can pull away from most Pac-10 teams. A couple of stats for you: Before beating cellar-dwelling Washington State 24-7 last week, the Wildcats’ previous five conference games had been decided by a total of 13 points. And there’s this: Arizona has gone 27 consecutive conference games without losing by more than 10 points. Basically, it will be nothing new if Saturday’s game comes down the final few minutes.