SunDevilSource: This is a historically bad season for Arizona, which follows Rich Rodriguez having a largely successful four years to start his tenure at the school. There are of course many aspects of what's contributed to this, but what would you say are the main reasons the season has been such a failure?
Jason Scheer: First off, it starts with injuries. Anu Solomon hasn’t been healthy all season, Brandon Dawkins was hurt at one point, and Arizona actually had to burn the redshirt of freshman Khalil Tate. Starting running back Nick Wilson has barely played, backup Orlando Bradford was kicked off the team, and third string running back (but the best of the bunch) J.J. Taylor broke his ankle. Arizona has also battled injuries on the offensive line as well.
Defensively, Arizona lost starting linebacker Cody Ippolito for the season and every single defensive starter except for Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Jace Whittaker has missed a game because of injury.
That’s not the only issue though. Quarterback play has been below average even when healthy and the offensive line has not been effective at all.
On defense, Arizona has been forced to play younger players, many of which aren’t ready. It’s generally running an aggressive scheme, but the players have not been effective at actually getting to the quarterback and the secondary is not good enough to be left in those types of situations.
Arizona just has a complete lack of talent at multiple positions and it has finally caught up.
SunDevilSource: Is Rodriguez's job safe regardless of what happens on Friday. Should it be? What's the general sentiment of the fanbase?
Scheer: I think he is safe, though I am not sure if it is because of previous job performance or the fact that it would cost Arizona quite a bit of money. He has to be on the hot seat going into next season, though considering that Arizona is one loss away from the worst season in school history in the modern era, the fan base isn’t happy at all and I don’t think many would be too upset at a coaching change. Of course, it’s a much more difficult decision when you factor in money and the average fan doesn’t think about that.
SunDevilSource: Do you think we'll see Anu Solomon or Brandon Dawkins at quarterback, or both? What's the main difference between the two and how the Arizona offense works with each player?
Scheer: Solomon hurt his ankle against Oregon State, so I would be surprised if he plays unless he made a fast recovery. If he is healthy, Arizona would likely start him and then see how well he does before deciding whether or not to put in Dawkins.
The biggest difference is that Solomon can throw and Dawkins isn’t much of a thrower at all. Also, Dawkins is a considerably better runner.
With that running ability comes a major issue for the offense in that he fails to make progressions before taking off and running. Dawkins keys in on a receiver and if he is not open within seconds, the play has already broken down and he’s taking off.
Solomon is the better thrower, but he still makes some awful decisions as shown by taking a sack for a loss of 19 last week and deciding to lateral the ball instead of running for the first down a few weeks ago.
The offense with Solomon would move better against Arizona State because of the secondary issues, but it is pretty one-dimensional with Dawkins behind center.
SunDevilSource: What isn't working for the team defensively from a schematic or personnel or play-calling standpoint? Who/what are the bright spots?
Scheer: Is everything an acceptable answer?
I don’t mind the scheme, but the talent isn’t there to run it effectively. Arizona has an aggressive defense, but you would never know it because the players don’t get to the quarterback. That leaves the corners on islands and they just aren’t good enough to be there. When Arizona plays zone, it doesn’t matter because the tackling is subpar, so from Arizona’s perspective, it might as well be aggressive to shake things up.
Arizona’s defensive line is way too small. The Wildcats have faced teams with fullbacks bigger than its starting defensive tackle and it shows right away. There isn’t one above average defensive lineman on the team right now.
The linebacker unit is pretty good with Michael Barton and Paul Magloire, but it has been banged up off and on this season, so it has not played up to expectations.
I do think there are some bright spots with freshmen Tristan Cooper and Isaiah Hayes, but their youth shows at seemingly the worst possible times.
SunDevilSource: What does Arizona have to do in this game to be successful on offense and defense?
Scheer: Offensively, it has to find some type of rhythm. Rodriguez’s offense is completely built on that and the Wildcats haven’t found it for weeks. Tempo doesn’t work if you can’t complete a pass. With Dawkins likely to start, Samajie Grant has to find a way to run the ball because a one-dimensional Brandon Dawkins is going to have major difficulty.
Defensively, Arizona has to run blitz and make sure it stops the running back on the initial tackle. Arizona has had major problems tackling the past few weeks and ASU will run over the undersized Wildcats’ defense if it can’t tackle early.
SunDevilSource: What type of game are you expecting and what's your prediction?
Scheer: I think Arizona has to score early or else it will get away from the Wildcats. I would expect ASU to try to run the ball and it would be a surprise if it can’t do so with success. I don’t think this is going to be a high-scoring affair at all and I also don’t believe people understand how bad Arizona has been this season. Keep in mind, Arizona was only a three-point underdog against Oregon State and got blown out. Another week, another three-point underdog. ASU 45, Arizona 24