At the rate things are going, the Arizona Wildcats are going to need a big second half of the season to make a push for a bowl game. The good news is the Wildcats could get three key players back with half the season to play.
Starting safety Adam Hall might be back even sooner.
Hall is one of three players trying to come back from spring ACL injuries, the others being starting linebacker Jake Fischer and fullback Greg Nwoko. Defensive tackle Willie Mobley tore his ACL in May playing pickup basketball and is out for the season.
“They’ll be a couple of weeks away,” coach Mike Stoops said of the others on Monday, “but I’m confident they will be back.”
More specifically, Hall is slightly ahead in his rehab and the game at Oregon State on Oct. 8 “would be a good estimation” for his return, Stoops said.
He added: “I’m not putting USC out of the question,” referring to Arizona’s game in Los Angeles on Oct. 1.
The target for Fischer and Nwoko is the Thursday night home game against UCLA on Oct. 20, which comes after a bye week.
Hall and Fischer are participating in seven-on-seven drills in practice and are doing everything except live tackling. Stoops said of Hall, “He’s going to progress into a live situation before long.”
All this assumes nothing goes wrong in the final rehab push. Hall and Fischer have redshirt years available, so that is still a consideration.
“It depends on how good they feel,” Stoops said. “If they have to play a game or two where they don’t feel comfortable … I don’t want to put anybody in an uncomfortable situation where they don’t feel 100 percent.”
Arizona is 1-2 heading into this week’s home game against 10th-ranked Oregon. The rest of the first half consists of the USC and Oregon State games. UA might do well to be 2-4 at the mid-point, when the schedule won’t include any more Top 10 teams (and maybe just a couple of fringe Top 25 teams).
Hall’s hitting ability and experience would greatly help a secondary that has struggled to stop the pass. He could pair with Robert Golden at safety, with Marquis Flowers moving from safety to nickel back. Or Golden could move back to cornerback, although defensive backs coach Ryan Walters has said Golden’s better position is safety.
Fischer’s return means Arizona wouldn’t have to rely as much on freshmen at linebacker.
Nwoko, at 235 pounds, is the power back Arizona otherwise lacks.
“Those guys are not only great players, but they’re good leaders for us,” Stoops said.
“You lose a part of your DNA because they’re very disciplined, tough, hard-nosed players. Certainly, it takes away from those areas of your team when you lose players like that. It’s kind of a double-lose — not only their play and experience, but you lose the element of tough. Those guys are tough, tough football players.”
All three have been doing their usual off-field work — position meetings, film review, even traveling to Oklahoma State a couple of weeks ago. Running backs coach Garret Chachere said he has kept up Nwoko’s spirits by telling him how valuable he could be down the stretch.
Nwoko already has redshirted, so he can’t regain this year of eligibility if he sits out.
“I told him … if you can help us win four or five games and get to a bowl game, even though you wouldn’t have played an entire season, you may have played in the most important part of the season,” Chachere said.
“And that’s not a lost year by any stretch of the imagination.”