2011 Arizona Preview – Offense
Arizona QB Nick Foles
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Arizona Wildcat Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What you need to know: As the offensive line goes, so goes the Arizona attack this year. While the Big 3, QB Nick Foles, RB Keola Antolin, and WR Juron Criner, are back in Tucson for one final season, the Wildcats must rebuild from the bottom up a front wall that loses all five of last year’s starters and a pair of Pac-10 all-stars. Making matters even worse, line coach Bill Bedenbaugh took an offer from West Virginia, leaving the group with even less continuity in 2011. The blockers must grow up in a hurry in order to support an offense that has plenty of firepower, including a possible first round quarterback and a terrific ensemble of pass-catchers being bolstered by Texas transfer Dan Buckner. One of the Cats’ non-personnel goals this fall is to produce more points deep in enemy territory after finishing 91st nationally in red zone touchdown ratio.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Nick Foles
Passing: Nick Foles
286-426, 3,191 yds, 20 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Keola Antolin
143 carries, 668 yds, 7 TDs
Receiving: Juron Criner
82 catches, 1,233 yds, 11 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshmen tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Dan Buckner
Best pro prospect: Foles
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior WR Juron Criner, 2) Foles, 3) Senior RB Keola Antolin
Strength of the offense: The starting backfield, the passing game, the receivers, third down conversions
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, tight end, red zone conversions, running back depth
State of the Unit: It’d be hard to imagine a program with a quarterback situation much better than the one in Arizona. Not only does the program welcome back a possible first round pick in next April’s NFL Draft, but the top three spots on the depth chart will be occupied by seniors. That said, the Wildcats will be looking for better production out of the position after not quite hitting on as many money plays through the air as they’d hoped.
It’s a long time between now and next February’s NFL Combine, but 6-5, 240-pound senior Nick Foles is already considered one of this year’s top pro prospects. Named honorable mention All-Pac-10 in each of the last two seasons, he went 286-of- 426 for 3,191 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 picks. A former transfer from Michigan State, he has the arm strength, accuracy, and pocket presence that earn quarterbacks plenty of money on Sundays. While he should leave Tucson as the program’s most prolific passer, he needs to deliver more consistently, especially in the postseason.
Senior Matt Scott lost his battle with Foles in 2009, yet has remained with the program as a veteran backup. In fact, the 6-3, 195-pounder started a pair of games when Foles was injured last fall, going 66-of-93 for 776 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. The best athlete among the quarterbacks, he’s rushed for 632 career yards and can turn a broken play into a first down. Third on the depth chart will be 6-3, 235-pound senior Bryson Beirne , a heady Wildcat with a firm grasp on the system. He looks the part and gets good zip on his throws, but has played infrequently since arriving.
Watch Out For .... Scott to be a redshirt candidate. It’s not written in stone, but it is a thought being considered by the staff. Since he’s not beating Foles, why not let Beirne be the backup and set up the talented Scott to be the favorite to take over for one year in 2012? The ‘Cats would prefer not to burn three seniors in one year.
Strength: Senior leadership. Not only is Foles one of the country’s top quarterbacks, but he’s backed up by a couple of seniors capable of jumping into the huddle if necessary. Scott did it successfully last October, and Beirne has more poise and system knowledge than your average third-stringer.
Weakness: Red zone production. Sure, the Wildcats generated 25 touchdown passes and more yards than any other Pac-10 squad, but they also went up top a league-high 524 times. Crunching the numbers indicates that Arizona had a paltry touchdown percentage that ranked below everyone but UCLA in the conference.
Outlook: Although Foles has been good over the last two years, a great finale is going to earn him a substantial signing bonus a year from now. As talented and dedicated as he is, he needs to actually produce like one of the game’s top quarterbacks and maximize a terrific receiving corps. Depth isn’t an issue, though if Foles remains healthy, don’t be at all shocked if Scott remains in Tucson for one more year.
State of the Unit: The two recruits who signed with Arizona in February will get what every rookie wants—a chance to contribute immediately and avoid a redshirt year. A key injury and the graduation of Nic Grigsby have left the Wildcats with almost no depth in the backfield. Couple that stark reality with a completely rebuilt offensive line, and the offense figures to struggle on the ground for a second straight season.
When the dust settles this summer, 5-8, 195-pound senior Keola Antolin will have emerged as the feature back, with his first good chance at a starring role. A steady complement throughout his career, he led the Wildcats with 668 yards and seven touchdowns on 143 carries, adding 28 catches for 204 yards and two more scores. Tougher than his frame might indicate, he runs with good leg drive and has the quickness and stop-start ability to make defenders miss. An all-purpose playmaker, he’ll hide behind linemen and explode into daylight.
The trouble begins with the backups. Junior Greg Nwoko, slated to be the backup, tore his ACL in the spring and might not return until very late in the year. That means that the new No. 2 is 5-9, 190-pound sophomore Daniel Jenkins , who came out spring ahead of 5-8, 180-pound classmate Kylan Butler . Jenkins is a speedy cutback runner, who will get through the hole in a hurry. Buried on the depth chart last year, he logged just eight carries for 26 yards. Butler is a similar type, difficult to corral in space and dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.
Watch Out For .... Antolin’s durability. Although he’s a tough little runner, he’s never been in this position, taking over as the feature runner. With the backup situation being so precarious, he could handle more than 20 touches a game, a heavy load for such a diminutive back.
Strength: Jackrabbits. The Wildcats boast three similar runners, undersized backs who can make people miss en route to averaging more than five yards a carry. With Antolin leading the charge, the Arizona running game is flush with gamebreakers who can get around the edge and into the secondary.
Weakness: Power running game. The injury to Nwoko hurt the Arizona offense on so many different levels. Not only did it chip away at the backfield depth, but it also robbed the Wildcats of a punishing runner capable of softening defenses and moving the chains in short yardage. As it stands now, they won’t have a runner in the rotation north of 195 pounds.
Outlook: Arizona has a potential 1,000-yard back in Antolin, but he’ll have to prove that he can be a workhorse for the first time in his career. Don’t bet against him getting it done. He has the requisite talent and work ethic to go along with a sense of urgency that evolved after Nwoko went down in the spring.
State of the Unit: For the second consecutive fall, Arizona returns the heart of its receiving corps, with last season’s top three pass-catchers back for their senior year. Making matters even better, the Wildcats will also be introducing a high-profile transfer from a major program. QB Nick Foles has been working with this group for the last couple of seasons, knows its tendencies, and can maximize all of its potential.
Senior Juron Criner could have been a well-paid NFL player at this time, but opted instead to return for one more year in Tucson. One of the game’s better big-play receivers, with 20 touchdown catches over two years, he caught a team-high 82 balls for 1,233 yards and 11 scoring grabs a year ago. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, he has both the size and the speed to burn opposing defensive backs, a combination that’s been too much for the rest of the Pac-10 since he moved into the lineup.
At the other outside position will be 6-1, 205-pound senior David Douglas, a steady veteran who can play multiple positions. A polished all-around receiver, he has the strength to fight through blocks and some of the best hands on the team. A quiet complement to Criner, he was second last year with 52 catches for 515 yards and five touchdowns. For the time being, he’s holding off 6-4, 220-pound junior Dan Buckner , a touted transfer from Texas. Blessed with all of the physical tools for success, he hauled in 45 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns in his final year in Austin.
The most experienced of the inside receivers is 6-0, 205-pound senior David Roberts , a steady pass-catcher, who had 44 grabs for 487 yards and two scores last fall. Well-sized for the slot, he has soft hands and does the small things well, like running tight routes and blocking downfield. In four-wide sets, he’ll be joined by shifty 6-0, 180-pound sophomore Richard Morrison , one of the most improved receivers during the offseason. Although he only had 19 catches for 188 yards, a half-dozen came in the bowl game, he’s still learning after switching from quarterback. The ‘Cats will also employ the services of 6-4, 225-pound junior Terrence Miller , an inside receiver in an H-back’s body. Not afraid to go over the middle, he caught 29 passes for 345 yards, saving his best for November.
When Arizona uses a tight end, it’ll summons from the sidelines 6-6, 265-pound sophomore Jack Baucus , who caught just four balls for 22 yards and a touchdown, and is more valuable as a run blocker than a pass catcher.
Watch Out For .... Buckner’s role within the offense. While there’s no doubt he has immense talent, the staff is going to make him earn his spot in the rotation, as the post-spring depth chart indicates. He’ll obviously be utilized, but bumping Douglas down a notch is not as easy as it sounds.
Strength: Veteran talent. The Wildcats are both deep and experienced at wide receiver. There’s a tremendous of size, speed, and shiftiness, giving Foles no shortage of viable options when he drops back to throw. When Criner stretches the defense, it’ll allow Roberts, Morrison, and Miller to do more damage on the underneath routes.
Weakness: Tight end. Long gone are the days when Rob Gronkowski was every bit as dangerous as one of the wide receivers. Baucus will make the occasional grab, but is more of a glorified guard, and junior-college transfer Drew Robinson was slowed by injuries in the spring.
Outlook: From the moment Criner chose to return for his final year, Arizona was guaranteed of having one of the top receiving corps of the Pac-12 … if not the country. The Wildcats have a little bit of everything, from star power and a heralded transfer to a handful of talented and unselfish role players.
State of the Unit: When the Arizona offense stumbles this fall, it’ll likely have more to do with internal meltdowns than opposing defenses. Easily the biggest concern of the offseason, the Wildcats lost all five of last year’s starters to graduation, making new line coach Robert Anae one of the most important staff members of 2011. If he can’t whip this group into shape by September, the ‘Zona skill players won’t be nearly as effective as they’re capable of being.
The closest thing the Wildcats have to a veteran up front is 6-2, 300-pound junior C Kyle Quinn , a terrific with two letters, but just a single career start. He learned from one of the best in Tucson, Colin Baxter, and will be looking to emulate his toughness, durability, and consistency.
Flanking Quinn at guard will be 6-5, 295-pound junior Trace Biskin on the right side and 6-4, 298-pound sophomore Chris Putton to the left. One of the program’s top recruits from 2008, Arizona is still waiting for Biskin to pan out. He has the size and footwork of a tackle, which is going to help in his quest to keep the quarterback clean. One of the unit’s stronger players, Putton played in five games a year ago, including the final three contests.
Over at left tackle, the responsibility of protecting Nick Foles backside could belong to a redshirt freshman, 6-8, 303-pound Mickey Baucus . He’s done a nice job of adding weight without losing his athleticism, simply needing more reps to improve his overall game. His twin on the right side is 6-8, 305-pound Fabbians Ebbele , a similarly-built redshirt freshman also hailing from the state of Illinois. He has the talent to develop into a fortress in pass protection once he gets his feet wet and starts blocking with a little more tenacity. Although he got more pub than the other members of the 2010 recruiting class, 6-7, 303-pound redshirt freshman Trent Spurgeon is lagging behind Baucus at left tackle. Slated for playing time in the rotation a year ago, he was never able to make it on the field.
Watch Out For .... the maturity of the new bookend. Few around Tucson doubt that Baucus and Ebbele both have bright futures as Wildcats, but what about the immediate future? Neither has taken a snap, which is cause for concern for an offense that has to give its quarterback the time he needs to locate open receivers.
Strength: Footwork. Reason for optimism along the line comes from the athletic ability of the new set of starters. Quinn moves very well off the snap and the new tackles both played basketball at the prior level, testament to their agility and penchant for not being lumbering, heavy-legged blockers.
Weakness: Experience. It’s all going to be new for this unit, from actually taking meaningful snaps to operating as a cohesive group. The collection of blockers has just one career start, Quinn in December’s Alamo Bowl, a jolt of reality that could take an entire season to overcome.
Outlook: The future is bright in the trenches, but the present promises to be rather scary. Right down to the new assistant coach handling the group, the offensive line is about to undergo an extreme makeover. While progress throughout the year is likely, it’s going to start from a base skill level, with a pair of first-time performers set to man the flanks at left and right tackle.
- 2011 Arizona Preview |
2011 Arizona Defense |
Arizona Depth Chart
- Arizona Previews 2010 |