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Arizona-South Carolina State: Five things to watch

Matt Scott

Matt Scott won’t have to play the whole game if the Cats get a big enough lead. Photo by Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Wildcats shouldn’t have much trouble tonight against lower-division South Carolina State, which lost last week 27-14 to Bethune-Cookman.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some interesting storylines.

For the Cats, the most instructive development could be the debut of backup quarterback B.J. Denker. The hope is that Arizona doesn’t need the junior college transfer this season, but if something bad does happen to starter Matt Scott, the coaches need to get Denker game experience and to have something of an idea of what he can do on the big stage.

We covered that topic here earlier this week, so we won’t duplicate it here in five things to watch.

Here are other potential storylines:

1. A letdown

Arizona is in a soft spot, coming off the upset victory over Oklahoma State that propelled the Cats to No. 24 in the AP poll and a week away from a huge Pac-12 opener at highly-ranked Oregon.

Disregard any story headlined by “Arizona not taking South Carolina State lightly.” It would only be news if the Cats said they were taking South Carolina State lightly. This is a mindset you only know after kickoff, not before.

There are, of course, ample reasons for Arizona to be properly motivated, to not take anything for granted. It’s not as if coach Rich Rodriguez and the rest of the coaching staff suddenly stopped cussing in practice in this week. He always says his goal always is to make practices harder than games.

His initial message to the team this week: Ignore its debut in the national polls.

“We didn’t talk much about us being ranked, but just staying glued to the process,” he said. “Doing what we like to call ‘Keeping the main thing the main thing.’”

2. Matt Scott’s hustle

This category is really just an excuse for me to talk about my favorite Arizona non-scoring play of the season. It happened in the opener vs. Toledo, on a play that didn’t even count — Daniel Jenkins’ 64-yard touchdown run that was nullified by holding.

If you were watching, that was Scott throwing the final block for Jenkins about 45 yards downfield.

What was a quarterback doing there? Just Scott being, as Rodriguez says, “as good a competitor as I’ve been around.”

While Jenkins took off along the left sideline, Scott carried out his play fake to the right, cutting up-field and then spotting the big play developing.

“They have to carry everything out,” Rodriguez said of his quarterbacks. “He probably saw an opportunity to hit somebody. I think Matt wants to be a linebacker. He’s not big enough or strong enough, but he is tough enough.”

Said Scott of the play:

“Honestly, ever since high school I have been doing that. We ran the zone read. We were in a rival game, and it was the same thing. A zone read, the running back cut back to the boundary, and I kept on going.

“I actually caught up to our running back, hit one of the guys on defense into another guy on defense and our running back scored. Ever since then, I have been like, ‘You know what? Maybe I should run down guys just in case. I like hitting. I look for those hits.”

That’s Austin Hill (left) and Juron Criner in last year’s season-finale. Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

3. Austin Hill’s impersonation of Juron Criner

Hill, a sophomore receiver, has posted back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, making acrobatic, athletic plays, including his diving catch in the end zone vs. Toledo.

Hill is tied for fourth nationally with 131.5 receiving yards per game. He is averaging 21.9 yards on his 12 catches.

He was Criner’s backup last season after redshirting in 2010.

What did he learn from Criner?

“Probably his body control,” Hill said. “He read the ball really well in the air, and he made spectacular catches. I love that about Juron. … He is kind of a big brother to me. I looked up to him a lot. I’m happy I got to play behind him.”

4. The pass rush

Arizona didn’t have any sacks last week, despite 60 pass attempts from Oklahoma State. Look for further development of UA’s third-down package, in which fullback Taimi Tutogi comes in as a pass-rushing end and Kirifi Taula replaces the nose guard. The pass rush remains Arizona’s most troublesome area heading into Pac-12 play next week.

5. More young guys

Rodriguez would like to get more guys involved in the rotation, especially on defense. Not in an equal rotation, but he is hoping to develop a few more guys who can go in for a series or two and not have a big drop-off.

A lopsided score in the second half would give RichRod a chance to experiment.

“We’ve got to get more guys ready to play because we’ve had guys play over 100 plays two weeks in a row,” Rodriguez said. “But we have to trust them before we put them in there. For young guys, that’s a big thing for them to show up in practice.”

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