The 2011 football season is already 1/3 of the way complete and it has not been the start the Arizona football team was looking for. We take a position-by-position look at the 1-3 Wildcats.
Nick Foles has been excellent. The only knock on him may be the lack of overall scoring, but that is about it. Foles has thrown for over 1,400 yards, completing 70.5% of his passes. Most impressive is his 10 touchdown passes without throwing an interception. He could have even more touchdown tosses if it was not for three or four drops the past two games.
The Arizona running backs have yet to have a breakout game. Local product Ka’Deem Carey has become a fan favorite and has shown flashes of being a breakaway runner, but has yet to supplant senior Keola Antolin. The duo averages 4.5 yards a carry but is combining to rush for just 82 yards a game.
The Wildcats have the deepest crop of receivers in school history and have the most talented group in the Pac-12. Juron Criner has played like an NFL player, but missed the Oklahoma State game due to an appendectomy. He returned to action a week later and put up big numbers, but did have a few uncharacteristic drops, including a few that appeared to be sure scores. Dan Buckner has shown flashes of being a big time complement to Criner, while freshman Austin Hill shows that the future is bright.
The preseason fears about the inexperienced line have come true. The Cats have yet to establish the run and dominate the line of scrimmage. They have also been inconsistent in pass blocking, allowing to many shots on Foles. Realistically, a lot of these players would be backing up junior and senior players, but holes in recruiting have led to three underclassmen being thrust into the starting line-up. The good news is the group has some real talent and are getting great experience that will make them better a year or two from now when their strength and experience catches up to their raw athleticism.
The defensive line has struggled this year. The Wildcats are rotating five underclassmen at defensive tackle and have gotten pushed around at times. Returning starter Justin Washington has not had the big tackles for loss that were his forte a year ago. The trio of redshirt freshmen are all talented, but not as strong of savvy as they need to be. The defensive ends have yet to put great pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have had mental lapses on their contain responsibilities against the run. Injuries have actually caused the coaches to slide Washington and fellow DT Sione Tuihalamaka out to DE.
Inconsistency has been the norm. The entire unit has struggled with responsibilities, especially in covering the tight end. Stanford exploited this throughout the second half of their win against the Cats. Paul Vassallo has been a tackle machine, but true freshmen Rob Hankins and Hank Hobson have been pressed into duty before they are physically ready.
Injuries have really hurt this group. Losing Jonathan McKnight right before the start of the season really hurt. Shaq Richardson was better the past two games, but really struggled the first two games. The safeties have also missed some coverages and zone help, but Trevin Wade is having a terrific senior season.
Kyle Dugandzic has had a great start to the season as the team’s punter. His inconsistencies during fall camp seem to be behind him. The same cannot be said of the place kickers. Jaime Salazar beat out incumbent Alex Zendejas in fall camp, but gave the job right back by missing three of his four field goal attempts and an extra point. Zendejas returned to the spot for the Oregon game, but missed one of his first three extra point attempts.