2012 Arizona Preview - Fired Up Again
Arizona QB Matt Scott
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Arizona Wildcats
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- By Richard Cirminiello
There's enthusiasm once again in Tucson thanks to the arrival of Rich Rodriguez as the new head coach.
Head coach: Rich Rodriguez
First year: 0-0
Off. 26, Def. 25, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Arizona Players
1. QB Matt Scott, Sr.
2. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Soph.
3. C Kyle Quinn, Sr.
4. WR Dan Buckner, Sr.
5. S Tra'mayne Bondurant, Soph.
6. DE Justin Washington, Jr.
7. OT Fabbians Ebbele, Soph.
8. LB Jake Fischer, Jr.
9. S Marquis Flowers, Jr.
10. CB Jonathan McKnight, Soph.
Sep. 1 Toledo
Sep. 8 Oklahoma State
Sep. 15 South Carolina St
Sep. 22 at Oregon
Sep. 29 Oregon State
Oct. 6 at Stanford
Oct. 13 OPEN DATE
Oct. 20 Washington
Oct. 27 USC
Nov. 3 at UCLA
Nov. 10 Colorado
Nov. 17 at Utah
Nov. 23 Arizona State
After eight disappointing seasons under Mike Stoops, the Wildcats were jonesing for a change at the top, and the new regime brings some much-needed fresh energy to Tucson. Stoops finished his tenure nine games below .500, winning just a single bowl game, and never surpassing mediocrity in the Pac-12.
With a different regime comes a sense of newness in every crevice of the struggling program. It's out with the old and in with the new as it pertains to practice, recruiting and the type of players that Arizona will be targeting. Oh, and the locals might also need a quick crash course on the systems as well.
The Wildcats are making wholesale changes in philosophy, aiming to bring more speed and attacking to both sides of the ball. On offense, Arizona is installing Rich Rod's spread-option, a run-based system that was wildly successful at West Virginia, yet failed to come through in the Big Ten at Michigan. The ‘Cats caught a break when multi-dimensional QB Matt Scott was redshirted in 2011, preserving one more season of eligibility. He harbors the right mix of athleticism and poise to click in the offense, but needs to prove that he can remain healthy for an entire year.
The defense is shifting to coordinator Jeff Casteel's unique 3-3-5 stack alignment, which also received positive reviews in Morgantown. The next two months will be all about getting the staff better acclimated with the personnel, and getting those personnel gradually more comfortable with an unfamiliar playbook.
Change is in the desert air. What took you so long, Arizona? The Wildcats have been an undervalued program for many years, boasting the campus, climate and facilities to perennially attract a different caliber of athlete to town.
Rodriguez's job is two-pronged: He needs to get his new school to realize its potential, while also resuscitating his once-booming career. The coach has the ingredients to deliver, but patience is highly recommended in 2012. Arizona has too many holes, and too little depth to escape the ranks of the mediocre this early in such a sizable rebuilding project.
What to watch for on offense: A lot more from the ground game. Arizona threw the ball 577 times in 2011. That will not happen again this year. Rich Rodriguez's spread-option is a ground-friendly attack, one that will lean on the running game to set up the pass. The coach prefers his quarterback to be nimble and multi-dimensional, much the way Pat White and Denard Robinson were for him at West Virginia and Michigan, respectively. His newest pupil behind center will be Matt Scott, a fifth-year senior who just might be a good match for the new attack.
What to watch for on defense: The fate of the pass rush. A year ago, Arizona was woefully inept at getting pressure, sacking the quarterback 10 times in 12 games. An overnight turnaround appears unlikely. The ‘Cats are light on speed and disruption up front, sporting a line that's typified by lumbering tweeners between tackles and ends. Junior Justin Washington is a possible exception, though he needs to find a way to play the way he did as a rookie in 2010. If Washington fails to rebound, the defensive backfield will be left naked for a second consecutive season.
The team will be far better if… the defense gets a firm grasp of Jeff Casteel's system as quickly as possible. The Wildcats need answers up and down the two-deep in order to begin reversing last season's hideous results. Arizona ranked no higher than 107th nationally in scoring and total D, allowing at least 34 points in nine separate games. This team is ill-equipped to win many shootouts, so it's up to the defenders to an about-face from 2011.
The Schedule: Get ready for the fireworks right away with Toledo and Oklahoma State two big time offenses coming to Tucson to kick things off. It would've been nice to play South Carolina State to tune things up as the first game of the year, but it'll have to serve as a light scrimmage before dealing with the road trip to Oregon. Not only is there the bad break of playing the Ducks from the North, but there's also a trip to Stanford after the home date with Oregon State. With two weeks off to prepare, beating Washington is a must before hosting USC and going on the road to face UCLA. In all there are only four road games, and while going to Utah will be tough, the Arizona State showdown is at home to close things out.
Best offensive player: Senior QB Matt Scott. Scott gets the nod since he meshes nicely with what the offense plans to do … and partially by default. The Wildcats have a lot of holes to fill after losing last year's top quarterback, running back and wide receiver to graduation. Scott does have a chance to leave Tucson on a very high note, taking over an offense that wants to accentuate his foot speed and strong arm. If the senior gets enough support from those around him, and masters the system, All-Pac-12 honors are not out of the question.
Best defensive player: Sophomore S Tra'Mayne Bondurant. Bondurant will be to the D what Scott is to the offense—a surprisingly good match for the new system and staff. The Wildcats' new 3-3-5 alignment puts a premium on safeties who can pop like a linebacker, yet still cover like a defensive back. Bondurant is one of those types of defenders. He did all but work the concessions in his debut at Arizona, parlaying 45 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and six pass breakups into the team's Newcomer of the Year award and All-Pac-12 honorable mention recognition.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore RB Ka'Deem Carey. While the situation is direr on defense, one upstart on D will have a nominal impact on this unit. The offense, on the other hand, is liable to get a massive jolt if Carey blossoms into the kind of back many believe he's about to become. The top recruit from 2011 got off to a fast start in his debut, rushing 91 times for 425 yards and six touchdowns, while adding 15 receptions for 203 yards and two more scores. While the sophomore doesn't play defense, he can help the beleaguered unit by keeping them on the sidelines for long stretches of time.
The season will be a success if ... the Wildcats make it back to a bowl game … any bowl game. Yeah, the bar is going to be set at a modest level, but that's exactly where it should be. Not only is the coaching staff new and the playbook drastically different, but Arizona is facing a shortage of playmakers and depth on offense and defense. Rich Rodriguez will be forced to use a ton of young and inexperienced players, which is likely to catch up to the team as the season grinds on. At a very basic level, the ‘Cats are simply way behind the Pac-12 powers in terms of overall talent.
Key game: Nov. 23 vs. Arizona State. No game on the schedule will have more at stake for a first-year staff than the one versus its cross-state rival. Rodriguez & Co. would love nothing more than to get a fast start in the annual "Duel in the Desert". Sun Devils newcomer Todd Graham will have a similar goal over on the visitor's sideline, making for an intriguing back story in a competitive game that could decide bowl eligibility for both.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Arizona 94.5 – Opponents 161.6
- Sacks: Arizona 10 – Opponents 23
- Third-quarter scoring: Arizona 113 - Opponents 71
- 2012 Arizona Preview |
2012 Arizona Defense |
Arizona Depth Chart