Home for the first time in five weeks, the Arizona Wildcats might have brought back a passing attack to show the locals.
The most recent game, at USC on Oct. 10, showed that Rich Rodriguez’s offense is more than just running back Ka’Deem Carey and hope for a miracle. B.J. Denker passed for 363 yards against the Trojans, slinging the ball downfield for five completions of 20-plus yards.
How good was Denker?
The UA record-keepers report he was the first Arizona quarterback in 28 games to throw for more 300 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Take that, Matt Scott.
So, the Cats can have a passing attack that doesn’t make you want to yell at your TV. Will Denker continue to connect with his receivers tonight against Utah (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)?
“The best thing he did in that game, which we hadn’t seen earlier, was some of those throws were anticipated earlier,” Rodriguez said.
“He didn’t wait until the guy was open. He knew where the guy was going and he threw him open, so to speak. (Quarterbacks) coach (Rod) Smith and I have been talking to our quarterbacks all year about the how the best ones have great anticipation and they throw guys open, they know where they’re going to be in the route.
“I think it goes back to guys working together — quarterbacks and receivers trusting that the receiver is going t be where he is supposed to be.”
The Arizona passing game, as is the case every week, is one of the things to watch. Here are four more:
2. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson
He’s a jumbo-sized sophomore (6-7, 240) who is good with his feet on zone reads or scrambles, your basic emerging matchup nightmare.
Wilson was third in the conference in passing efficiency until a recent six-interception game against UCLA. Wait. Six interceptions?
“Well, there was just a lot of bad luck,” Rodriguez said. “I think four or five of them were tipped. We need some of that luck Saturday.”
Wilson has a superb target in Dres Anderson, who is the Pac-12 leader in yards per reception at 21.1. He has four touchdown receptions of at least 49 yards this season. Think about that stat, and then remember USC’s pass catchers running free in the UA secondary. Or don’t.
3. The kicking game
Attention, Wildcats fans. You do not want this to turn into a kicking contest.
Arizona has a fifth-year senior in Jake Smith, who has been at three schools (Syracuse, Youngstown State and UA) and has followed your basic growing-up-kicker story. Utah has a guy who had never played football before this season.
Naturally, he’s a natural.
The former member of the U.S. Ski Team is 11 of 11 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 48, and has hit all 27 of his PAT tries. Yeah, he’s never missed in his career.
Smith was shaky vs. USC, including a missed 38-yard field goal and some too-close-for-comfort extra points. He’ll have to watch for backup Casey Skowron, who is back from a groin injury after being in close competition in fall camp.
The Wildcats have a commitment from a high school kicker/punter for the 2014 class, but perhaps they’re looking in the wrong place.
“We no longer go to the soccer fields to find kickers,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We go to the slopes.”
4. Size and strength
The average weight of Utah’s starting offensive linemen: 320 pounds. The average weight of the Utes’ starting defensive linemen: 278.75, including a pair of 300-pounders in the middle.
Arizona’s five starting offensive linemen average 291.6 pounds.
“Utah’s front seven is really physical, really aggressive, attacking you up front. Real strong,” said UA offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, drawing out the word “strong” for emphasis.
“That’s kind of been their tradition there. You look at their defensive front, it’s a veteran group. They stand out in how they use their hands and their strength.”
Utah handled powerful Stanford in the trenches in its upset last week, allowing the Cardinal to gain a mere 13 first downs. The Utes’ rushing defense is 31st nationally, yielding 133.7 yards per game.
Not that he won’t eventually get his yards, but running room for Carey could, again, be scarce.
“The No. 1 thing is we have to be fundamentally good — understanding leverage and finishing blocks, just keeping pressure on them,” Michalczik said. “That’s the way. You’re not always going to drive the guy back 10 yards, but if you keep enough pressure and leverage on them, they can’t get off to go make the tackle.”
5. The emotional pitch
Rodriguez questioned his team’s intensity at the beginning of the USC game, when the Cats fell behind 14-0 and then 28-3. A game earlier, Arizona trailed Washington 11-0 in the first half.
A faster start, with more emotion from the opening kickoff, would be nice.
Meanwhile, have the hot Utes (4-2, overall, 1-2 Pac-12) peaked … or are they just getting started? Utah has prove it can bring the energy it has displayed at home onto the road, as the Utes have left the state for the first time this season.
The Cats (3-2 overall, 0-2 Pac-12) are right where they should be record-wise, but the story of this season really starts to be written during the next three “winnable” games — Utah, at Colorado, vs. Cal.
On a night in which the program will recognize Tedy Bruschi at halftime for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, the best way to honor him would be to play with his famous passion.